The Hackberry Spring loop is a quiet and easy hike in the Superstition Mountains. You will need moderate trail-finding skills, as the trail is one of the unmarked wonders. One wrong turn, and the simple loop doubles in duration. Today we just wanted a short hike, as we have chores and life calling.
To access the trail-head, you take Rt. 88 to First Water Road in the Tonto National Forest. This is an unimproved road; it is graded for most of the tourist season, but it sometimes has deep ruts and is not recommended for passenger vehicles. A Chevy Cavalier will do okay, a Porsche not so much.
About four miles in you will come to a parking area for horse trailers. This is the best place to park for the beginning of the hike. From the parking area, head North from the northeast corner. The trail is clear. Before long you will be walking alongside a cliff covered with green lichen. Lizards will cross the path, and if you are lucky you might see some ground squirrels. Today we saw a red-tail hawk soaring above the cliff.
A honeybee was hovering around a thistle in full bloom. The washes were all but dry, with only the vestiges of water puddles left from the winter rains. Flowering plants with buds of blue, yellow and lavender speckled the landscape. We hiked to the First Water wash, which was mostly bone dry. At the wash, you can turn right, which will take you to the abandoned corral and back to the road. We crossed the wash and headed left. Cairns mark the way, as the trail gets fuzzy here. You will know you are on the correct path when you spot the trail heading between a crevasse of two outcroppings of mountain.
This is a wonderful area, as there is always a strong breeze and the area is in shadow most of the day. There are numerous caves and indentations in the rocks to explore. The vegetation is lush, and often the wash is full of bubbling, running water. The going is a bit tricky and you need to be sure-footed as the path is rocky.
Pretty soon you will find yourself at Hackberry Spring, a lush oasis in the middle of the harsh desert mountains. You are surrounded by a grove of trees, with a carpet of green grass. Once through the grove, you are back on the mountain trail. You need to use trail-finding skills here. If you follow the main trail, you will find yourself on a treacherous and steep pass that takes you to the Garden Valley and Black Mesa. This is a very rewarding hike, but will double your hike. At the small mesa, you will want to to take the trail that heads to the right.
The views are nothing short of spectacular. We passed one couple hiking today. This is the perfect trail if you prefer seclusion and a solitary hike without the interference of other hikers. When I hike I want peace and quiet, to hear the sounds of nature and not the chit-chat of others. Just call me anti-social. We said hello tot he couple we passed, and they told us they had just spotted a Gila Monster on the path 500 yards from where we were. Lucky folks, Gila Monsters are very shy, and you are fortunate to see one.
The hedgehog cactus were in full blossom today. The usually monochrome landscape was speckled with blue, yellow, orange and lavender flowers. The sky was vacant of clouds. The washes and creek beds had puddles of standing water – not conducive to drinking unless you have a purification system. The mountains were still green from the heavy winter rainfall – this is not a good thing. As summer comes on, the vegetation dries and dies and becomes tinder for wildfires.
We came to the long forgotten entrance to the ranch. Once upon a time cattle roamed these hills, and cattlemen and ranchers born of sturdy stock walked these same trails. The trail leads to a defunct corral, with the skeletal remains of a windmill and a water tank on the hillside.
Our hike today was short – just over two hours. The final stretch is an uphill hike over a rocky path. Soon you hit the cattle gate, a hundred feet from the road. From there it is a short walk back to the parking area.
This is the perfect hike to experience all of the varied landscapes of the wilderness without wandering too far off of the beaten track. As the trail is not marked, you do not meet many novices. It is an open secret, and relatively easy. It is one of my favorite hikes. Along the way you can cut it short, or make it longer simply by choice of an alternate path.