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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The super volcano in our backyard

Superstition Wilderness

Recent rains wet the washes: Dec. 22, 2012
So, now that we've survived the Mayan calendar end of the world scenario, let's take a step back in time to reflect on what a fire and brimstone extinction event might have looked like.  Fortunately, we can hike on the slag of just such a cataclysm---just pick any trail in the western Superstition Wilderness.
Weavers Needle
Stepping out on Dutchman's Trail
Between 25 and 15 million years ago, the craggy outback we know as the "Supes” was a churning cauldron of molten rock and white-hot volcanic cinders.  Here, the earth-borne violence was on the scale of what geologists call "super volcanoes"---incomprehensibly massive eruptive forces that spewed ash over thousands of miles.  As the firestorms wound down, the volcanoes collapsed to form a chain of deep depressions known as calderas.  Today, what remains of this maelstrom is a tumultuous landscape of bizarre hoodoos and eroded pillars of fused ejecta called "welded tuff".  Although this type of geology does not produce prime pickings for gold hunters, myths that the Lost Dutchman's Mine (and its rich cache) is hidden in this wilderness persist--adding colorful lore to the stark, rugged landscape.  First Water Trailhead is the major gateway to the western edge of Superstitions providing access to major hiking routes that crisscross the 160,200-acre badlands.  A relatively mild way to experience the guts of this terrain in a day hike is to make a loop with Dutchman's, Black Mesa, and Second Water trails.  The loop moves among some of the Supe's most awe-inspiring landmarks---deeply incised canyons of igneous rock, Yellow Peak (3061') and the area's signature feature, 4553' Weaver's Needle.  Contrary to what many people think, the needle is not a volcanic plug.  It's just eroding tuff like most everything else around it. So hike soundly fellow trekkers, Weaver's Needle will not pelt our trails in a fury of molten rock.  We'll have to settle to marvel in its deterioration as it slowly crumbles to dust over the next 100 million years.
From the trailhead, follow the access path 0.3 mile to the Dutchman's Trail #104 junction.  Veer right (south) and follow #104 3.9 miles to the Black Mesa Trail #241 junction.  Turn left (northwest) here and continue 3.0 miles on #241 to the Second Water Trail #236 junction, turn left (south) and follow #236 1.5 miles back to the Dutchman's junction, turn right and hike 0.3 mike back to the trailhead.

LENGTH:  9-mile loop
RATING:  easy-moderate
ELEVATION:  2,270' - 2,750'
FACILITIES:  restrooms, map kiosk
FEE: NONE at First Water trailhead.

From Phoenix, go east on US60 to the Idaho Road (SR88) exit.  Turn left and follow Idaho to SR88 and turn right.  Follow SR88 to First Water Road (FR78), which is located about a half mile past the entrance to Lost Dutchman State Park (between mileposts 201-202) and signed for First Water Trailhead. Turn right on FR78 and go 2.6 miles to the trailhead.

INFO: Mesa Ranger District, Tonto National Forest, 480-610-3300


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