Rained out at Lost Dutchman SP, AZ

First off, a big thank you to all who made suggestions regarding “must do” places to visit and things to do in our final four states this year.  Some of you even indicated we’ve saved the best for last, and from your tips it looks like we’re in for a treat.   Woo hoo!

Let’s see now, where did I leave off?  Well, we started the new year with a bang, and I mean with boots on the ground.  Not combat boots, but hiking boots!  We were so glad that Jim and Gayle picked us up from our site at McDowell Mountains State Park and drove us to nearby Tom’s Thumb Trail to start our new year with a healthy 4.2-mile hike.

They had hiked this trail before and were happy to do it again with us, but we had lots of company on the trail.  Well, it was a Saturday and lots of folks wanted to burn off those holiday calories.  The trail was moderately difficult with an elevation gain of 1,100 ft. on lots of loose gravel.  The reward was great views of Scottsdale and Fountain Hills.  Rather than repeat the history of Tom’s Thumb Trail and the details of our hike, check out Jim and Gayle’s story at Life’s Little Adventure.

Tom's Thumb Trail

Thank you Jim and Gayle, we really enjoyed this hike with you guys!

Tom's Thumb Trail

I called this formation a ham sandwich

Tom's Thumb

Finally, we made it to “the thumb!”

Lost Dutchman State Park

As we set up camp at Lost Dutchman SP (Steve’s review here), we knew the weatherman had forecast a series of winter storms coming from the west.  On our arrival at the park, we immediately spent time outside enjoying what was left of a a sunny and gorgeous afternoon, the last one for several days.

Lost Dutchman State Park, Site 44- Superstition Mountains

Our front yard at site #44 provided a stunning view of the Superstition Mountains – an example of an eroded resurgent dome

Unfortunately the weatherman was right-on this time, as he predicted a series of El Nino storms charging in and bringing lots of rain and snow.  But we shouldn’t complain, California and the southwest certainly needed it and we obliged by hunkering down and staying mostly indoors.

Out came our list of indoor projects and some recipes to keep us busy.  I backed up my hard drives to my “offsite” drive (offsite being in the back of the car), purged unwanted pictures, began early preparations for tax day and did some organizing/cleaning up in the coach.  Our little kitchen was kept busy as Steve experimented with new soup recipes and made yet another batch of beef jerky.  When he got out of the way I baked bread and some almond cookies – yum!  The rest of the time I would just look out the window and watch the rain, or catch up on my reading.  Life is good!

During a break in the storm I ventured out to enjoy the newly-showered desert, awash with fresh colors and happy cacti.  The light green Cholla, the vibrant Palo Verde, the refreshing smell of the creosote bush and the dark varnished rocks filled the landscape as the fog covered the mountains.

Superstition Mountains in fog

Even a coyote set out for a walk in search of his friends.  I think there were at least a dozen of them within the park, and we frequently heard them at night howling all around us.


This coyote is searching for an easy meal during a break in the storm

I got too close to a Jumping Cholla (pronounced choy-a) cactus when I took this picture, and one of its spine clusters found a new home on my boot.  The plant’s name comes from the ease with which the stems detach when touched, and sometimes they even jump short distances.  Despite its beauty, it’s one of the most hated cacti because its spines can be very difficult – and painful – to extract.

Jumping Cholla

Jumping Cholla – A beauty – and a beast – of a cactus plant

Why are those spines so difficult to remove?  Unlike other varieties of cacti with solid spines, the Cholla’s are hollow.  Because of this they can easily attach to whatever they touch with their needle-like sharpness.  If moisture is present, such as with skin, the tips actually curve once they have made contact, locking the spine in place just beneath the skin’s top layer.  OUCH!  Fortunately in my case they attached to my boot, but Steve still had to use pliers to get them out.

My feathered friends were also enjoying a respite from the rain and resumed their normal activities.

Curved- bill Thrasher

When a Curved-bill Thrasher sings, you stop and listen!

House Finch

This guy and his buddies emptied our feeder every day – even when it rained

A second wave of storms came, so we snuggled up and read our books while listening to the pitter-patter on the roof until we dozed off.  The following day we decided to drive the historic Apache Trail.  It’s a 40-mile scenic drive through the Superstition Mountain wilderness, and one of the most scenic drives in Arizona – usually.  Rain and clouds gave our twisted drive a subdued moody scenery and a muddy Canyon Lake.

Canyon Lake, Apache Trail

Nestled between mountains and volcanic rock lies Canyon Lake.  It was formed in 1925 when the Mormon Flat Dam was completed

We stopped at Tortilla Flat for a quick lunch, thinking once the rain passed we would continue on.  I remembered that the first time we were here the restrooms had a funky decor, so I asked Steve to get some pictures in the men’s room.  Take a look!

After lunch we quickly discovered we would not be continuing on this drive, as the road was closed just past the restaurant due to heavy flooding.  So we turned around and repeated the same scenery from the opposite direction.  The cliffs and mountains displayed several different hues on this gray day.  Due to all of the rain, bright blue lichens and green moss covered the rocks to add a pop to the hillsides.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Bright green algae coated the hillsides

Another night of rain and dipping temperatures came and went, and we awoke to the sight of fresh snow covering the Four Peaks Mountains northeast of us.  I was silently hoping that the Superstition Mountains in our front yard would also have a white dusting, but it was not to be.  The storms moved on and the promise of a gorgeous day began with the sun shining through the peaks.

Superstition Mountains

With only one day left to explore and hike, we were joined by Curt and Glenda, whom we first met at our social gathering at Cave Creek.  We followed the Treasure Loop, Jacob’s Crosscut and Prospector’s View trails, creating a moderate lollipop loop through a diversely vegetated bajada at the base of the Superstition Mountains.  Since this was the day after the storms passed through, the scenery along the trail offered an amazing display of sonoran vegetation and awesome views of mountain ranges.  It was difficult to focus on hiking with striking views like that!

Base of Superstition Mountains

Some areas of Brittle Brush almost appeared to be manually planted in rows

Goldfield Mountains

Looking west – Goldfield Mountains and the state park over Steve’s shoulder

Lost Dutchman State Park

There’s Betsy way down there!

Superstition Mountains

The hoodoo’s as our backdrop

Four Peaks Mountain

Four Peaks Mountain range to the north, covered in snow

Praying Hands

The Praying Hands formation consists of spires carved from the main rock mass of Superstition Mountain

Goldfield Mountains

Hiking with friends always makes it more fun! Thanks Curt and Glenda for joining us.

The storms limited the amount of hiking we could do here, but we’ll be back someday to take on several more of the many trails in this area.

And lastly, a sunset after a storm is always stunning.

Sonoran Sunset


Next up:  Back to the big city, Tucson, AZ