By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/18/2020
Posted: 1/1/2010
Topics/Keywords: #Hikes #SuperstitionMountains #Arizona Page Views: 4379
We start off the New Year with a hike!

Last year, we hiked Piestewa Peak on New Year's Day, and it really gave a beautiful and healthy start to the year. So nothing was going to stop me from starting 2010 the same way. Although Mary was unable to join us as she had in 2009, we were joined by Zach's friend Josh. And so, with Michael completing our little group, we set out at about 2:30 pm to make the 30 minute drive to the trailhead that leads to Hieroglyphic Canyon.

Hieroglyphic Canyon boasts one of the best collections of Hohokam petroglyphs in the state, and I've wanted to hike this trail since I first heard about it a couple of years ago. However, on my first try I couldn't find the trailhead. Now, armed with better directions, I had every intention of making it!

What's The Deal

A few miles west of our house are the Superstition Mountains, which is a range extending eastward from Superstition Mountain. This range is what remains of a gigantic caldera of ancient volcanoes that were active here between 17 and 25 million years ago. In the intervening time, weather has worn numerous clefts in the walls of the mountains called canyons. We were heading for Hieroglyphic Canyon, named for the petroglyphs etched into rocks by the Hohokam Indians who occupied this area about a thousand years ago. People make this hike to enjoy the scenery, small wildlife, geology, the petroglyphs, and a small year-round spring, rare in Arizona, that was undoubtedly the reason the Hohokam were interested in the place when they lived here.

How To Get There

The trailhead, which is a good-sized, packed-earth parking lot, is located at

Latitude: 111 25' 30.481" S Longitude: 33 23' 374" E

If you don't have a GPS, it's still pretty easy. All you have to do is head East on US 60 past Apache Junction and the end of the divided highway section and turn left onto Kings Ranch Road (which is located between US 60 mile markers 202 and 203).

Follow Kings Ranch Road 2.8 miles, then turn right on Baseline.

After about a quarter mile, turn left onto Mohican. Another quarter mile gets you to Valley View Drive; turn left there. About this time you'll notice "Hiking" signs and you can just follow them. Valley View Drive will curve and become Whitetail Road. Turn right on Cloudview Avenue and drive straight to the parking lot, about a half mile.

The trailhead itself is at the North end of the parking lot. This is the trailhead for both Hieroglyphic Trail and Lost Goldmine Trail.

The Hike

If you are only going to the perennial spring, as we did, it's an easy hike of less than 2 miles in each direction. It's a gentle rise into the canyon.

Zach, Josh and Michael at the trailhead. Signpost: Hieroglyphic Trail

Technically I suppose we were still in a housing development; but it didn't feel like one. The nearest houses we could see—and there weren't many of them—were at least a quarter mile away. The trail zig-zagged upwards, shortly coming to a fork. Signs indicated that the right-hand path would take us on the Lost Goldmine Trail; the left-hand path would take us to Hieroglyphic Canyon. We turned left (which is always a more natural direction for me, anyway).

Any hike in Central Arizona is going to pass by many species of cactus. On our right and left we passed a vast field of teddy-bear cholla, a type of cactus that looks fuzzy and soft but, of course, is completely not. If you brush against one, a stem will stick painfully, which in the case of most larger animals will send them running and, eventually, trying to rub it off against a rock or juniper tree. This is the way the cholla propagates over large distances.

Field of cholla along Hieroglyph Trail.

Here at the wide mouth of the canyon, thanks to the gentle climb in altitude we were treated to vistas on every side.

Vista from Hieroglyphic Trail

By the time we reached the entrance to the Superstition Wilderness—complete with gate— we'd forgotten we weren't yet in a "wilderness".

On the other hand, there were plenty of other hikers, mostly families and even the occasional accompanying dog. So we never felt truly isolated. Also, my cell phone worked along most of the way; I even chatted with my sister, Louise, in Florida as we hiked!

Soon, the wall of the Superstitions began to loom against the sky and the mouth of the canyon narrowed.

The wall of the Superstitions loomed as we approached. Zach and Josh take a hiking break. Zach and Josh take a climbing break.

There were plenty of conveniently-placed rocks for taking breaks, and also the occasional pinnacle perfect for 10-year-old climbing expeditions.

Fortunately, we weren't in a hurry!

The trail grew somewhat steeper along with the slope of the mountain.

Michael walks the Hieroglyphic Trail.

Then the canyon closed us in, providing more climbing opportunities for the boys.

Josh and Zach climb into Hieroglyphic Canyon.A side climb for the boys.

Finally, we came to a spot hidden in shadow, with a permanent spring. It was far too cool for us to be interested in swimming—though Zach asked, anyway!—but in warmer days of spring or fall that might make a fun diversion at the midpoint of the trip.

Hieroglyphic Spring

Just behind the spring is one of the most striking examples of the Hohokam hieroglyphics, for which the canyon and trail are named.

Hohokam hieroglyphics

Although it's possible to keep hiking this trail up to the ridge atop the Superstitions, this was our destination and it was time to turn around. I, for one, was looking forward to descending for a change. As we exited the canyon confines, we saw that the sun was sinking in the West, providing a beautiful view of the San Tan Mountains far south of us.

View of the San Tan Mountains.

The contrail of a jet, probably heading for Sky Harbor Airport some 40 miles West of us, made a beautiful contrast in the late afternoon sky.

Jet contrail over the wall of the Superstition Mountains.

Saguaro at sunset.

I always say that the late afternoon sun makes for the best pictures. The long, low shadows make almost any scene pop out at you. The same is true of early morning sun, of course; but I am rarely out of bed at that time on weekends, much less ready to take pictures! And on weekdays, I'm at work.

So as we left the confines of the canyon, the world looked almost like a completely different place. Where before the scene was dominated by glistening cholla, now it was presided over by stately, somber saguaros.Saguaros at sunset.

By the way, I should mention that one year ago today, Michael was unable to complete our hike at Piestewa Peak. In fact, he only got a few hundred feet before he had to return to the car. That was largely due to his system's being weakened by a kidney stone. On today's hike, however, Michael had no problems at all, other than a bit of knee stiffness. It was great to have him able to enjoy himself!

Michael returning from Hieroglyphic Canyon.

The boys got permission to run on ahead of us so they could re-climb the hill they'd climbed on the way up. One has to admire the strength and endurance of ten-year-olds.

Josh and Zach in the twilight.

And then, the magic happened. The sun kissed the Western horizon and the sky turned to flame.

Sunset in the Superstitions.

Enthralled, I continued to take photos as the sun set and the sky reddened as if in embarrassment, while Michael and the boys continued to the car.

SunsetSunset and saguaro.

By the time I rejoined them, it was full-on dark and the boys were waiting on the top of the SUV. So we drove home by the light of the headlights and with the help of the GPS, to shower and join Jenny and some friends at Outback Steakhouse for the conclusion of an excellent introduction to 2010.

I hope your New Year's Day was as excellent as ours!