By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/21/2020
Posted: 1/21/2008
Topics/Keywords: #SuperstitionMountains #Arizona #Zachary #Hiking Page Views: 3657
I take my grandson and his friend for a hike in the Superstition Mountains.

Today I found myself with an unexpected (and enforced) day off. Not every business closes shop for Martin Luther King's day, so I was surprised to find that mine did (especially since we'd just had both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day off). Even so, I would have gone into work because, as a "temp", I do not get paid for holidays. But the building was closed.

And so, being that the day was exquisitely beautiful, the kind of Arizona winter day that we recall in the summer as why we continue to live here, I offered to take Zachary and his friend, Lane, for a hike in the nearby Superstition Mountains.

Despite the presence of the road, dams, marinas, and scenery-destroying power lines, US 88 through the Superstitions—known as the "Apache Trail"—continues to draw us for its rugged, inspiring views; the lakes; and, of course, the convenience of nearby hiking. A half-hour's drive is all it takes to arrive at one of several trail heads for hikes easy enough for aging me, yet interesting enough for 8-year-old Zach, and with payoff views for both of us. Zach especially likes climbing, and the jumbled mix of Precambrian metamorphic and igneous rocks makes for just the right combination of reliable handholds and potential danger for a beginner.

In the pictures below, note the white band on the shore in the photo of Canyon Lake. They are currently "working on" the lake and have partially drained it; that band shows how low the water is now, compared to normal.

The Superstition Mountains have been a continuous draw for me. Although we did not visit them during our 1961 Trip to Arizona, on my next return (as a computer programming instructor visiting Scottsdale) circa 1993, I took a late afternoon drive up US 88 as far as Canyon Lake, capturing a breathtaking sunset view.

In 1997, Michael and I moved to Snowflake but made nearly weekly trips to Phoenix to deliver me to or pick me up from the airport. When I had back-to-back classes, we sometimes just explored the area rather than attempt the 4-hour-each-way trip home. On one of those explorations, we drove up US 88 a little farther, visiting Tortilla Flat and making a small climb just beyond.

Even without a sunset or clear sky, Canyon Lake is remarkable for its startling wetness in the midst of desert.

Canyon Lake in its normal state.

Eroded rocks of Tortilla Flat.Just a few miles past Canyon Lake is Tortilla Flat, a small outpost consisting of a restaurant, souvenir-and-ice-cream Tortilla Flat (be sure and sample the prickly pear ice cream!), and campground. But across the road from the shops is Tortilla Flat itself, a well-worn spot where a creek flows—seasonally—creating a perfect-for-meditation place where the eroded rock is as peaceful as the water.

The Superstition Mountains Recreation Area is a very different place depending on the time of year you visit, as well as whether it's been a dry year or a wetter year. For example, driving up into the mountains today we could see increased amounts of lichen growing on the rocks, testimony to this winters' rains. When Michael and I took these photos it was a spring following an equally wet winter; and the usually barren land had come to life.

An exuberant spring in the Superstitions.

Me, ten years and fifty pounds ago.What a difference ten years makes!

Michael: Always gorgeous.Michael and I were both a lot slimmer back then. These pictures are not retouched!

The Superstitions are an underappreciated jewel in the Phoenix area. No matter what your physical condition, I recommend them for at least a drive, an easy wilderness walk if you can get out of the car, and a hike of any desired level of difficulty. The Superstitions have it all!