07 December 2016

Superstition Mountains: Peters Mesa, Charliebois Spring, and Boulder Canyon

Tonto National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

(Day 3 of 5) Phoenix was an eternal sunset in the southeast even from down in this valley. I was so hungry in the night, I ate half the chia seed pudding that was supposed to be breakfast. I did this while pondering the frozen drops of water on my food bag and the layer of wet all over my quilt. People keep saying Arizona is a dry heat, but it sure looks like a wet cold from here. It is still just barely freezing as I eat the other half of my breakfast. I am still a little bit hungry. I plot away in the first light, changing the trip a bit. It looks like we might be stuck doing a short day or going out early. I could still climb Black Mountain off off Peters Mesa like I had originally planned. A wave of dread passes over me at the thought of actually going up the mountain. That is odd. Like I have been traumatized by the cross country escapade yesterday when the unmaintained trail was nothing more than a thought. There is a way that looks like two 8 miles days finishing with 3 miles on the drive out day. It shortcuts the original route by 2.5 miles and the planned spur to Music Canyon as well as the mountain climbing. There will be no mountain climbing on this backpack.

We get a late start on our day while hoping for some sunlight to help dry out our gear and then I sabotage our start time even more after realizing we are just a little way past the second section corner I had wanted to find. It, too, is no longer next to the trail. It is more like 480 feet on the far side of the creek bed. There is a spot to cross a little east that avoids cats claw. Finding this one is a little harder, but then I spot it in a bush. A cairn was helpfully stacked next to it. Well, helpful had I noticed. I make my claim and get back as quickly as is safe.

section corner and cairn
Another section corner post set in 1919 sits beside a witness cairn.

We get going in the correct direction and it is not long before the trail drops to cross the creek by another good sized puddle, then starts climbing up Peters Mesa at a section that has collapsed for a more gentle ascent. There are grand views at the top. Also plenty of camp sites with fire rings although there is still nothing to burn in the area.

gentle climb up the mesa
A gentle gully provides an easy place to put a trail up Peters Mesa.

Tortilla Mountain
Tortilla Mountain in all its glory and a little bit of the changing clouds overhead.

Black and Malapais Mountains
New mountains on the other side of the mesa. Black Mountain is near on the left and Malapais Mountain is more distant on the right.

The top of Peters Mesa is an ocotillo garden. Nearly all look resplendent in their foliage as they reach high into the sky. We wind slowly over the top of the mesa and suffer losing the trail a couple times. As we pass the take off for Black Mountain, it looks like route finding would be trivial. The high point is nearby, but may not offer the best views again so I had picked out a better viewpoint to visit on it just like with Music Mountain. When actually faced with going, I have no time, just like with Music Mountain. Something for another visit.

Weavers Needle
A first look at Weavers Needle in the distance.

Miners Needle
Miners Needle is back and even showing off a little light through the hole for the sharp eyed.

pools in the rocks
There is even a little water up here on the mesa, although it probably will not last so long.

As we make our way downward, the landscape gets a bit dramatic. We are dropping into a huge canyon with steep sided tributaries on either side. Down in one is a ruined wall that was likely once part of a mining operation. We pass another remnant of a fence that is even more vanished than the last one.

La Barge and Music and Charliebois Canyons
Coming down off Peters Mesa into La Barge Canyon with Music Canyon on the left and Charliebois Canyon on the right.

Charliebois Canyon
Checking in on Charliebois Canyon.

rock wall
The remains of a rock wall across the bottom of an offshoot from Music Canyon. Presumably, this was a dam for a mine nearby.

Music Canyon
Looking over Music Canyon. We will not visit it and hear the music in it after all.

It is almost warm as we come down the mesa into La Barge Canyon. This could certainly be a long, hot climb going the other direction. We can see the yellow of cottonwoods in a few places in the canyon below. One cairn near the bottom seems like it is trying to get my attention and when I look around, there is the unofficial trail down to Charliebois Spring below. It is clearly less used than the regular trail but distinct. I want to go down it to get to the spring rather than using a spur. Neither trail has footprints today. Martha is less than enthusiastic about the shortcut. It does drop 200 feet of steep and rocky terrain and there is no certainty that it actually goes through still. We drop down the regular trail instead.

La Barge Canyon
Looking down the huge wash that is La Barge Canyon. The yellows of cottonwoods (and even a sycamore or two, we will discover) are seen in the bottom. Black Mountain is to the right, an interesting fin on Bluff Springs Mountain to the left.

Down in La Barge Canyon we are back on the Dutchmans Trail. There are footsteps everywhere. The prints are so numerous, it is difficult to pick out any single one. We still need to find that Charliebois Spring. It is the next highly reliable water source on my list. The trail wanders over to the canyon, then turns to drop into the main wash. There is a massive campsite next to the trail, so I step into it and look for trail going up the canyon behind it. There is trail. There are accessible pools, some quite large, in the canyon too. We do not need to go all the way to the spring, but I want to see it. We have trees turning color overhead and when I actually look at them, I see they are sycamores. There is a dry trough next to the trail. The spring was once developed. The trail ends at a big pool rather than the spring itself. It is clear, but full of life. A small turtle sprints for the bottom as I walk up.

Charliebois Canyon
There is a spring up there somewhere.

big pool by the spring
At the end of the trail, there is a big pool next to sycamores covered in grape vines. Very reliable water.

campsite by the creek
Camping between the sycamores and cactuses. This site would be illegal at times when this is the only water in the area because it can prevent wildlife from getting to the spring.

Filled up with water, we are ready to hike the canyons. First we follow the Dutchman further down the long wash. The cairns have almost vanished from the trails, but all the footsteps make following the trail easy. Curiously, it seems like the cats claw grabs us just as much as we pass on these lower, commonly used trails, as it did when we were up high in places with much fewer users.

wash in La Barge Canyon
Crossing the wash in La Barge Canyon. No water here, but it sure looks capable of carrying a lot when it does flow.

fall colors on a sycamore
Another sycamore hinting at reliable water all year although it may be inaccessible here along the wash.

well beaten trail
Following well beaten trail along the side of the wash.

bird nests in a cholla
One of a few bird nests in this chain fruit cholla.

There is another junction and we leave the Dutchman to his own devices and head north on the Cavalry Trail. We wander sandy trail to the flanks of Malapais Mountain.

Malipais Mountain
Malapais Mountain to the north.

panorama from in the wide canyon
We are still below the bulk of Black Mountain in this wide canyon.

Music Mountain
Leaving Music Mountain behind us.

sandy below
Sandy trails through more cats claw.

I was worried that the sections of trail down in canyons would be a bit more boring as far as scenery go. The canyons are so wide that there is still plenty to look at.

Bluff Spring Mountain
Looking back to Bluff Spring Mountain.

canyon on Malapais Mountain
A tight canyon comes down off Malapais Mountain.

We turn away from La Barge Canyon and start a gentle climb through the Red Hills. It is hard to notice at first that we are leaving one canyon for another. The climb is easy all the way to the top. We disturb another family of musk hogs as we drop down into Boulder Canyon and even find a small tarantula on the trail near the junction.

Boulder Canyon
Dropping into Boulder Canyon.

We turn northwest to follow Boulder Canyon downward, although it is so gentle that it is hard to notice this is the direction. It is easier to notice the frequent crossings to one side of the canyon or the other. It is not as easy to wander this flat area as the sandy areas we were in before. The smooth and unsettled rocks of the wash bottom make footing a little uncertain.

Boulder Canyon
Starting down Boulder Canyon and promptly crossing the wash within it.

Boulder Canyon
Looking around Boulder Canyon.

Boulder Canyon
Always looking around at more of the rocks.

We hit a spot of wide camp spots and lose the trail. The numerous footprints we have been following wander everywhere, so they are no help. Martha points out she wants to stop. My wild hope for the day would be to get up to Garden Valley, which looks like a nice place to sleep. Since the light is failing, it is probably a dream. And my 8 mile day has already stretched into 10 miles. I caught myself planning what to have for dinner a mile back, so probably am wanting to stop, too. A few places we walked through in the canyon already felt damp, but this one seems dry. For now. We have not quite reached the last reliable spring which was my ostensible destination for the day, but on checking, there is just barely enough to camp. Finally spotting the sign for the junction I know must be around here somewhere clears up how far we are from water in the morning, and it is not far at all. We can use every last drop we have and still be fine.

wide camping areas
The trail loses itself in a wide camping area with many camping spots and fire rings.

So we happily settle in for the night, except that I am still just a little bit hungry after supper just like I was after breakfast. It is so annoying that sometime, with Orion high in the sky and the eternal sunset of Phoenix still glowing, I decide to embark on another bread making experiment. The bread only takes about a half a cup of water and I still have that much left. This time the conditions are just on the edge of freezing and damp. The water has dropped out of the air again, although some places are soggy and others are dry. I move my quilt out of my poorly picked soggy spot and to a dry spot before starting. The stove flares a bit on the first scoop of fuel, but then burns low and slow for a second lighting. That is the way it is supposed to go. When I finally get to try it, it seems the bread could have used a little more heat after all. It is good, but it could be better cooked. Still not quite ready for prime time. But it fills that last little hole in my stomach so I can sleep away the rest of the night happily.

Continue reading: day 4

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 15 December 2016

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