Next stop... MALAPAIS!
by joe bartels
Access is now via the Tortilla Flat Trailhead
constructed in early 2008. Directions have been updated the summary has not as it's still all off-trail. I do recommend looping a tad east to stay away from the town to be courteous.
Here is an out and back hike from Tortilla Flat to Geronimo Head, topo
elevation mark 3479. This is a great hike. However, the rewards
verse effort is something to think about. This is serious off trail hiking through
rugged country. Boots and jeans are a must. First you'll want to grab a copy of
the book "Hiker's Guide to the Superstition Wilderness" which I'll refer to as
"The Guide". The map on page 204 is worth the price of the book alone.
I've tried to find a better route and didn't come close in six attempts.
With that in mind, stick to their route. Basically follow "Trip 37" in
"The Guide" backwards for a little over
two miles. Personally I prefer to park closer to Tortilla Flat. This
is really more of a "you must figure it out" type of hike but I'll do my best...
115 you'll get a rough glimpse of the your first task. Most notably is
the absence of any trail. With that in mind this hike starts anywhere from
Tortilla Flat up to a half mile east. I prefer to start
closer to Tortilla Flat, just after the first left curve. Tortilla Creek
runs south of SR88. From your car head down into Tortilla Creek.
Don't follow the creek, instead head straight up the south bank. Your
first thoughts will be "that's way too steep!", but... just do it. Once
over the initial lip you'll have a
chimney rock formation in your view. You need to pick a path very wide
to the east of the rock formation. You're shooting for a huge ravine to
follow up the escarpment. Don't actually follow the bottom of the ravine.
This would be extremely brushy and slow going.
Luckily the first destination is easy to spot. I call it "Fragile
Arch Saddle". The arch isn't much but it's a good reference point.
The hike from the ravine up to the saddle is steep but short lived. From
here we play saddle hopscotch. The terrain is steep so be careful not to
slide on down to Tortilla Flat! I've hiked this trip a few times now and
it doesn't seem that steep anymore. Johnny Cash is usually echoing below
from the tourist trap.
My best advice going from saddle to saddle is to dip down a tad then come
back up. It's much faster then trying to battle straight across. I
feel obligated to mention... beware of the agaves, more so the possibility of
sliding into one on a back step. I did this on a ruin search in Boynton
Canyon many years ago. The blood shot out like a water sprinkler. Do
your best to make out these "subtle" saddles on a topo map. Rock formations,
shear walls and such typical of this area don't show up on map. Once
again, "The Guide" shows the best route in these tricky areas.
The second saddle is nondescript and calling it a saddle is an overstatement.
Just go with it! Okay... We'll refer to the third saddle as "Saddle
2750". This is your ticket to Geronimo Head, Malapais and whatever floats
your boat. When you take your first peek over the other side you'll be
saying NO WAY! This is the point where Geronimo's Ravine makes a nose-dive
turn to the west. Trust me, this is the easy section. A use trail
actually exist! First you'll pass some high
dryfalls. The trail is overgrown but just be happy it's there period.
You're only in the actually water-path of the ravine for a short time.
During which you'll need to do a little hand-rock-contact and squeeze under a
tree. The minute the terrain eases up the trail disappears. Soon
after I passed a nice
Get out of the ravine and follow just above to the east. Follow until a
side ravine/canyon shoots in from the east (your left). Here we'll make a
loop on this end to get in some better views. Geronimo Head sits at 3479,
but the high point is NE at Peak 3509. So...take a left and follow this
side ravine for a short while. Soon the terrain eases up. The going
quickens as there isn't heavy brush. Your biggest concern in this region
is dodging cactus. Peak 3509 is clearly the point you'll want to head for.
Forge ahead and on up. It is kind of steep but you'll probably be so happy
the pace has quickened you won't care much. You'll just be happy to
finally be moving at normal speed again!
Once atop Peak 3509 the views are endless. If you bring some binoculars
you might catch a glimpse of
Saguaro Lake. To the east and a tad south is the
heart of Peters Canyon. Squint really hard and you might even make out
Castle Dome in the far distance. Swing to the west and a tad south
with those binoculars and you'll see
top of Black Top Mesa. Palomino Mountain never looked so small!
Now follow the "S" shaped ridge down to Geronimo Head, Peak 3479. Along
the way watch out for a
century plant stump that's been sucking on miracle grow. Continue on
down to Peak 3479.
the south edge of Geronimo Head you will experience the shear drop off
excitement looking down at
La Barge Creek.
La Barge Box is down there if you know where to look. Far out to the
SE is is
Bluff Spring Mountain.
On the east edge of Geronimo Head is the
spectacular finned ridge of
Battleship Mountain. Including an
obscured view of the summit. Far out to the SW you can even make out
Massacre Ramp! Far out the the east is
Black Cross Butte snuggled tightly between Fish Creek Peak and Fish Creek
Mountain. Directly SE,
Malapais sits proud.
After you've absorbed enough of the countless views start heading back.
Geronimo's Ravine down to
Saddle 2750. From here you know the saddle hopscotch route back home. - Mar 13 2002 joe bartels