The Snake, Butterfly & I
Take the #104 Dutchman Trail 4.5 miles to Bull Pass Trail. Take the #129 Bull Pass Trail shortcut 1.5 miles back to the #104 Dutchman Trail. Continue on the #104 1.8 miles to Charlebois Spring. Return home 8.9 miles all on the #104 Dutchman Trail
What happened to the kid from Norman Oklahoma that would sneak into Sooner football games. Well, there was that creek, on the golf course, behind the house. Looking back, I guess that did pique my interest. Let me tell you, the old neighborhood gang was straight out of a storybook. We explored the creek in the summer and made oak leaf igloos in the fall. Of course, we pushed spin-the-bottle to the limit in the off-season. One thing for sure, we would have been in seventh heaven in the Superstitions. Although, I doubt any of us even gave Arizona much thought.
I wish the gang could have come along to Charlebois Spring. This trail is quite a bit longer than my normal stride. The terrain does shoot up all over. Then again, the trail is fairly flat for my interest. So what piqued my interest? The Peralta Master Map combined with a never ending supply of e-mails asking where to backpack did the trick. The Peralta Master Map is said to possibly depict the location of 18 mines, including the famed Lost Dutchman mine. As if that alone isn't enough, there's an endless supply of side excursions. Yes, there's dozens of great backpacking areas throughout the state, but this is the first I'll be recommending.
The description and trail data given above reflects a trek starting at First Water Trailhead. Heading out on the #104 Dutchman Trail, shortcutting across #129 Bull Pass and continuing on #104 to Charlebois Spring. The return is all on the #104. One could spend days if not a week exploring all the options. Be sure to stay out of the area mid April through October when it's hot. Anyhow, it's on to the trail with your ol' buddy the Dutchman. Start early while the sun is still burning off the morning layer.
From the First Water trailhead head out on the Dutchman #104 trail. In about six minutes you'll pass the Second Water Trail junction 0.27 miles. The trail hugs a mini boulder skyline of rock formations to your right while crossing the creek numerous times. According to Fritzski the trail crosses the creek seven times before reaching Parker Pass. I've crossed Parker Pass a couple times and it's just becoming noticeable. It doesn't stand out real well considering I've read about it in several books. The trail does feel like it's pulling away to the east and heading over to Parker Pass, when in reality you've been hiking southeast since the start.
Possible side excursion
Take Upper First Creek Trail before reaching Parker Pass. The trail takes off near the 2.1 - 2.2 mile point before Parker Pass and re-enters #104 at the 2.4 - 2.5 mile point just after Parker Pass. Click on Upper First Water Creek for more details. This side excursion from #104 to 0.35 miles further east #104 is 3.95 miles and 950 feet of accumulated elevation gain.
From Parker Pass the trail gently goes down towards Boulder Basin. Along the way is Scorpion Pincher Rock to your right. At 4.2 miles is the Black Mesa Trail junction.
Possible side excursion
Take Black Mesa Trail up to Second Water Trail. Hang a right and follow Second Water Trail to Boulder Canyon Trail. Hang a right on Boulder Canyon and follow back to the #104. This side excursion from #104 to just east on #104 is 7.5 miles and 1075 feet of accumulated elevation gain.
Possible side excursion
Alyor's Arch - Check out Fritzski's incredible review
Pass the Boulder Canyon junction a very short distance to the Bull Pass junction. As you can see in the maps below, the #104 takes a major dip to go around Black Top Mesa. Here I opt to take the Bull Pass Trail and will pick up the missing #104 section on the return trip. Looking at the maps, Bull Pass appears to save considerable distance and it does. It's about 1.4 miles shorter. Then you debate whether or not it's worth the extended elevation gain. You might be surprised that it's actually about 40 feet less gain. More on that later. Nevertheless, both trails are worthy.
Okay so it's up Bull Pass Trail to "Bull Pass". Black Top Mesa rises abruptly from the #104. You will get a mini workout heading up this 480 foot ascent. Personally this is my stride so I did a little jog up to the pass. In the early stages watch out for cactus as it lines the trail in sections. Looking southeast on the way up Weavers Needle. Wildflowers blanket the west side of Black Top Mesa. More about that on the return trip. Continue on up to the Bull Pass. Now, doesn't this seem a little more distinctive than Parker Pass!
Possible side excursion
A distinctive trail takes off from your right (south) atop Bull Pass. This trail waste no time heading up 600 steep feet in 0.55 miles to the Spanish Hieroglyphics. The average grade is 20 degrees, which is somewhat steep. I wanted to see the hieroglyphics for myself but it would have been an unwise choice for this extended day hike.
From Bull Pass continue down the northeast side of Black Top Mesa. There should be a trail coming in from the north midway down according to the topos. The old Needle Canyon Trail comes down from Red Hills Trail but I don't recall seeing it. I believe they scrapped the Needle Canyon Trail. Needle Canyon shoots off Boulder Canyon above Black Top Mesa and curves around and down past the east side of Weavers Needle. The Terrapin Trail is now what's used to be the lower end of Needle Canyon Trail. The Cavalry Trail further east seems a little more exciting coming down La Barge Canyon so maybe that has something to do with it also. I'm sure I just missed Needle Canyon Trail coming in from the north but I really wonder since nobody has mentioned it to me.
On down I passed an impressively large field of thick wildflowers of some sort. They were blue or purple and hadn't yet bloomed. I failed to capture a snapshot of the wonder. Further down I began to wonder if the #104 would be rejoining. It did 6.0 miles and shortly after 6.4 miles came the Cavalry Trail junction. Notice in the photo, Malapais Mountain is fairly impressive. Somewhere between here and Marsh Valley the "Hikers Guide to the Superstition Wilderness" mentions the Spanish Racetrack. I searched day and night for information on the Spanish Racetrack. I came up with absolutely nothing. I guess you'll have to check out the book for the story on that. Continue on down into La Barge Canyon. Notice the white soil and rocks surrounding the area.
Possible side excursion
Head up La Barge Canyon to Squaw Canyon. Go up Squaw Canyon and over to Peters Trail. Take Peters Trail back down to the #104. This side excursion from just past the Cavalry junction (5.2 miles into the #104) to Charlebois Canyon is 4.0 miles and 1255 feet of accumulated elevation gain. Keep in mind this is an off trail expedition for experts. Read that disclaimer at the bottom of the page! =)
In La Barge Canyon you'll have Bluff Spring Mountain on your right and Black Mountain to your left. Large cottonwoods and sycamores make this a nice little oasis. Several campsites line the trail in this 1.4 mile stretch to Charlebois Canyon. A spire with a shot up saguaro is passed along the way. I hesitate even mentioning it as some idiot will want to knock it off it's perch. The trail turns into a sandy wash and you can hear the creek cascading through the thick foliage.
Charlebois Canyon takes off northeast up the southeast side of Black Mountain. The trails get a little confusing around Charlebois Canyon. The #104 goes up and then comes back down, when it seems like it would go across. It's really nothing to think about coming from this direction. I did pass a couple on horses that missed the trail and ended up in Charlebois Canyon. It was quite a surprise in the thickly vegetated canyon. I heard somebody coming, only to be surprised by two huge horses in this tiny canyon. They were nice folks and we passed each other a couple times on the return trip. They were doing a Peralta to Firstwater shuttle trip. They had a friend shuttle their truck and trailer from trailhead to trailhead.
The Peralta Master Map is somewhere in or near this canyon. I didn't find it even though it's reportedly easy to find. I looked around for a half hour. I did come across a cement water trough as mentioned in "Hikers Guide to the Superstition Wilderness" but I'm doubting it's the same one. It looks way too new for something from the 1930's. Then again, what are the chances there's two in the area. Anyhow, I worked my way up the canyon a ways. It gets rather dense quickly. I forged on a bit further and turned around. 7.8 miles I decided I'd rather make it home alive than spend a night in wilderness. I guess I wasn't really looking in the right area anyhow. I re-read all the material I had and it didn't help much. As I passed the cement water trough on the way out I looked for the inscribed date as mentioned in the book. I didn't find one. Then again I didn't want to scrounge around too much in the thick weedy vegetation. How water gets into this thing above the creek is beyond me.
Disappointed returning without a photo of the hieroglyphics I decided to pick up the pace. I came back to the Bull Pass Junction 9.6 miles and continued on the #104 as planned. This turned out to be a really nice section of trail all the way around. What I hadn't anticipated was ascending anything. It's much more gradual than the Bull Pass Trail, so don't worry. The trail works down Needle Canyon a ways. The vegetation was more impressive than I figured. There was a couple of nice creek shots with Weavers in the background. The Terrapin Trail junction 10.4 miles is passed. Next, the trail comes around the south end of Black Top Mesa. Here it ascends easily to Upper Black Top Mesa Saddle. Maybe this was the nicely vegetated area. Guess I need to take better notes.
From Upper Black Top Mesa Saddle the trail hugs the southwestern side of Black Top Mesa. The trail heads northwest along the side of the mesa. Down below you see a trail junction. Which isn't Bull Pass as your hoping. Back the train up. I'm getting delirious writing this much... As mentioned way above, the west side of Black Top Mesa is blanketed in wildflowers. The real site to see is here on the south end of the west side. It's an explosion of wildflowers along this steep hillside. The tan cliff edge of Palomino Mountain adds a really nice setting. The trail makes one long switchback down into East Boulder Canyon. I didn't see this switchback on any map or in any book, so I'm fairly proud to mention it. Maybe the forest service added it so you can walk through all those wildflowers. Down in the canyon you'll need to cross the creek, which wasn't a problem like all the others. Next you come to the Peralta Trail junction 11.4 miles as seen from the trail moments ago. The trail heads up East Boulder Canyon on the Palomino side. To your right are endless wildflowers on the side of Black Top Mesa. On your right is Palomino Mountain jetting up outta nowhere. It's a cool canyon. Then a bit further up, notice Aylor's Arch atop Palomino. I happened to catch it when the sun lined up exactly coming through the hole.
12.2 miles Return to Firstwater trailhead 16.7 miles on the #104. That's it folks. Did I mention... I did this trail in teva sandals. This may be a bit much for sandals. I ended up getting some huge blisters and had to crawl to work the next day. Other than that, it was an outstanding hike. I'll definitely be back! Just remember to go prepared with food and lots of water. The notorious for being dry creeks were all running good on this trip.
Other side excursions to consider
Music Canyon, La Barge Spring, Holmes Spring, circle Bluff Spring Mountain, top of Bluff Spring Mountain, Bluff Spring, the ever popular Weavers Needle and possible the Red Tanks Trail or as far down as Miners Needle. Just remember to go when the daytime temps are around 65-75 ( check "Historical Weather" top of page). Have fun!
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.