We had been here before. Three years ago and a couple of months later . . . when the desert wildflowers were in full bloom. Our first trip through Arizona . . . the trip that encountered record-breaking heat. Unrelenting heat. Full, in-your-face, blast-furnace heat. Heat to drain away any desire I had for outdoor recreation. Our new Airstream had its AC put to good use. It didn’t let us down.
I knew this state park had potential, even then when seen through the intense waves of radiating heat. If nothing else was considered, its setting at the base of the Superstition Mountains sold me. I relished every minute we were here, through all its looks in changing light, and my heart was captured. I knew from that visit we would be returning. I’d make it back someday.
Sitting on a gentle slope of the Superstition Mountains just to the east of the densely populated, urban area that includes Phoenix and Mesa, is the small, 320-acre sanctuary known as Lost Dutchman State Park. Sitting at an elevation of 2,000 feet, it is a scenic slice of the Sonoran Desert. First developed as a BLM day-use recreational area, it became a state park in 1977. There are a handful of scenic hiking trails within the park boundaries, and many more trails lead out from this area into the wilderness area of the Superstitions. Having 134 campsites, 68 with water and electricity, our reserved site was without hookups. What it lacked in services it more than made up for in location. Our site was the prime position for viewing an unobstructed view of the very picturesque mountains. We settled in for a 4-day, exceedingly pleasant stay.
Timing can be everything. Maybe some luck on your side can’t hurt either. This time around the weather conditions didn’t let us down. We might have been a month too early for the flowers, but the temperatures couldn’t have been better. Sunny and mild was the rule of our stay. No cloudy skies either. Every daylight minute was a delight. This time around I would own the trails—no path would be left untried. With camp barely set up, I wasted no time getting out on the first one!
The park’s Discovery Trail is a great path to take in late afternoon. Not too long, it leads out from the campground. Along the way, several informational placards give information about the landscape and the indigenous plants and creatures. Several benches are located at particularly scenic views. And it’s the views that really sell this trail—on one side you’ll see the rugged facade of the Superstitions glowing in the warm light of the setting sun . . .
While on the opposing side, you’ll soon have a terrific sunset view. What more do you require?
And so ended our first day.
More Arizona friends were meeting up with us the following day. Doug and Jackie live in nearby Phoenix and we invited them to join us for an early morning hike our first full day. Bright and early, in the cool temps of a clear day, we hit the trail, joining with a guided ranger hike.
It proved to be an excellent choice. The Treasure Loop Trail is one of the park’s moderate, well-maintained loops that explore some of the mountain’s more interesting geologic terrain. With the expertise of a ranger to accompany us, she provided many interesting facts. It was as informative an outing as it was exhilarating to do. Ranger-led or not, I highly recommend taking this particular trail. You won’t be disappointed.
It wasn’t all geologic and botanical knowledge that we gained from her talks. During the course of the hike she filled us in on the background story of the park’s namesake, the Lost Dutchman.
Immigrant Jacob Waltz was actually German, but for
the Pennsylvania Dutch pioneers who referred to him, their word for German was “Deutsch.” Consequently, he was considered to be Dutch as the years went by. In the 1870s, Waltz supposedly rediscovered a gold mine that was developed years before by the Peralta family from Mexico. Legend has it that the Peraltas died at the hands of Apache Indians, with only one survivor left to tell the tale. With the information he learned from that survivor, Waltz brought in gold from this mine, but later took sick and died without ever disclosing its location. After his death, gold found hidden under his bed would add even more interest to the story.
Over the years, thousands of people have come to these mountains, searching for the Dutchman’s lost mine. Many have died or disappeared during their searches, adding more stories and mystery to these Superstition Mountains.
Many tales of the Lost Dutchman mention an Apache curse which protects the sacred burial ground of Apache Indians. This curse also protects the treasure of the Superstitions, whose secret location the Apache are said to know.
Our ranger added her own theory to the end of this story. In recent times a severe earthquake in Mexico was felt even this far north. She supposes that it would be conceivable that boulders from this mountain could have been dislodged, sliding over and blocking his mine from sight. If so, the riches he found may lie undiscovered for many more years to come. But I’m sure the story will live on, and more people will keep looking.
In the meantime, I believe the only gold you’ll be finding here is the “golden beauty” of this landscape. From the moment we stepped on the trail, as the sun was breaking over the Superstition’s peaks, I knew I had found my reward.
And it only got better from there.
The trail leads out through a picturesque desert landscape, the mountain called Four Peaks looming on the distant horizon.
The trail gently rises and soon you realize that it’s taking you up along the mountain’s flanks. Not to fear—this isn’t a summit hike. The few switchbacks involved take you up to where the views open up and take in the bigger picture. True, you might find yourself somewhat breathless . . . but is it from the climb or the scenery there before you?
The Treasure Loop trail might have been named for Jacob’s missing gold mine, but from my perspective perhaps the treasure is already found, just follow to see where this path leads.
There’s more trails yet to be taken . . . more adventures in store. We aren’t finished with the Superstition Mountains yet. One full day down, but two remain, and I still have a pot load of plans. More photos to share and trails to describe—the next post will be following soon!
Taking the road into the Superstition Mountains,
Melinda and Chris