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A Real Hole in the Wall
Beginning from Peralta Trailhead, this out & back hike starts out east on the Dutchman Trail. Continuing on the Dutchman, it then turns north to connect with the Whiskey Spring Trail which proceeds to the Red Tanks Trail which is then followed east for a short distance through Upper La Barge Canyon to the world-renowned "Herman's Cave" (See Notes: #1)...
"Who the heck is Herman?" you may ask. Well let me tell you a little about Herman - The man, the myth, the legend. When Jacob Waltz lay on his deathbed, two people were at his side. A local Phoenix friend named Julia Thomas and a young German immigrant boy named Reinhart Petrasch. Legend has it that in his last hours Jacob tried desperately to explain the location of his secret gold mine in the Superstition Mountains to Julia and Reiney (#2). After his death these two completely inexperienced city slickers headed into the wilderness where their fate would then be sealed, but not before ensnaring a few others in the legendary trap known as the "search for the Lost Dutchman Mine".
After their initial search came up empty handed, Reiney mailed his father Gottfried and his brother Herman to come to Arizona to assist them, which they did. In the end, after many fruitless years, Julia spent every penny, lost her business, gave up, and returned to the city as a pauper (#3). Gottfried also gave up, returned to Montana and died shortly thereafter in 1914 (#4). It was Reiney and Herman who were unable to escape the lure of lost treasure and spent the rest of their destitute days living in the desert wilderness looking for something they would never find. Evidently Reiney couldn't take it any more and ended up blowing his head off with a shotgun in 1943. Herman then died of natural causes ten years later, an old and broken man. But Hey! He did end up getting both a cave and a mountain named after him!
All right, to get started on the hike, you take the Dutchman Tr. east out of Peralta for about 2.6mi through the beautiful Barkley Basin. As you approach the Coffee Flat Tr. intersection you will be rewarded with some great views of Miners Needle and Cathedral Rock as they begin to dominate the skyline. Miner's Needle with its distinct "eye" has been a focus point for the Lost Dutch search in years past. It was at the base of Cathedral Rock that human bones thought to be those of Mexican miners possibly killed by Apaches were found in the 1930s.
At the Coffee Flat intersection bear left and remain on the Dutchman Tr. as it begins its climb to Miner's Summit and the Whiskey Spring Tr. The climb is not too arduous and take time to check out the views behind you along the way (#5).
At about the 4.5mi point you will cross the summit and bear right onto the Whiskey Spring Tr. as it begins its descent into Whiskey Spring Canyon. As you reach the bottom of the canyon the trail flattens out, enters some shady areas of Hackberry trees along the wash and encounters some areas of fairly annoying Cat Claw Acacia. At just over 5.5 miles you will come to Whiskey Spring which had filterable water flowing and some nice camping areas nearby (#6).
At about 6 miles in you'll come to the Red Tanks Tr. intersection. You want to go right on Red Tanks and proceed up Upper La Barge Box Canyon. The canyon is fairly narrow and as the trail crisscrosses the wash it winds through some areas of thick vegetation and boulders. There is a tricky point at about 6.5mi where a low bent tree crosses the trail. Do not go straight (in hindsightJ), but double back across the wash to your left and look for cairns showing the way to the trail which climbs out of the bottom and up on the north side. The canyon floor appears quite lush as you look east along the continuation of the Red Tanks Tr.
As you are negotiating this little area you will come around a bit of a corner and Herman's Cave will suddenly loom large above you to the left - and I mean ABOVE. The cave is high at the base of the Herman Mountain cliffs and you must scramble up a steep slope of scree and boulders to get there. Although there are some faint trails, they are much easier to spot on the way down so just use your perseverance and creativity to get up there.
The cave is very large, but its inaccessibility and the fact that the floor slopes out at a steep angle prevent it from ever having served as a useful shelter. Evidently Herman spent many years searching in this area and located his camp close by (#7).
When you've had enough poking around, its time to turn around and go back the way you came. As you begin to make your way back out of the canyon look up to the top of the ridge on your left and you may notice an unnamed (as far as I know) arch rock. As it sits near the top of Picacho Butte, I'll go ahead and name it "Picacho Arch". I know, what an imagination!
The climb back up the hill out of Whiskey Spring Canyon, which didn't seem like much going down, may get your full attention this time. Once at the top its pretty much a downhill to flat cruise all the way back to the trailhead. I didn't think this would be all that strenuous of a hike, but I ran out of water and the three of us were all pretty well spent when we finally shuffled into the parking lot.