Phoenix Spring Escapes

Moonstruck Madness
By Judy Wade & Bill Baker

How could anyone resist the combination of an easy but interesting hike and the secret of the Lost Dutchman Mine? This hike is an all-time favorite, not to be missed if you can work it into your schedule. Once a month during the winter, on a Saturday night as close to the full moon as possible, rangers lead a 2.5-mile hike along the base of the Superstition Mountains in Lost Dutchman State Park. The two-hour hike is eerily lovely. Saguaros are silhouetted against the moon, coyotes yip in the distance, thrashers and night birds call as they flit among creosote and manzanita. A popular way to start the evening is to arrive before sunset, claim a picnic table, enjoy a repast sur l'herbe (or sur le desert in this case), then snap a few time exposures of the moon as it rises behind the Superstitions.

Even before the hike begins, as the group assembles with the ranger in one of the ramadas, the bearded Lost Dutchman himself, the reincarnation of Jacob Waltz, puts in an appearance. He tells his tale of treachery and lost gold, and explains why his rich cache will never be found— or hasn't been, so far. Seems that soon after he discovered the glittering vein and made his map sometime in the mid-1880s, an earthquake rocked the Superstitions— shifting sight lines, moving landmarks, and invalidating the points of reference that he had carefully plotted.

The group sets out in the moonlight, heeding the ranger's admonition to keep a comfortable silence. Within minutes it is apparent that the slightly uneven ground is no problem to navigate. The moon's pale blue light is plenty bright to find firm footing as soon as pupils dilate in the dimness. At one point the ranger stops to tell the tale of Indian Canyons, inhabited by the Thunder Gods, now turned to stone and visible in the silvery light as stolid rock formations. As the ranger talks, Native American chants issue from a tape player in her backpack.

Some of the trail covers rocky and uneven ground so you should be in pretty good condition and have no problems with night vision. Bring a flashlight (just in case) and meet at the Cholla Group Ramada after checking in at the ranger station. There is a small vehicle fee. These hikes have become so popular that as of this writing reservations were being considered. 1998 Spring date is April 9.

Lost Dutchman State Park is located five miles northeast of Apache Junction (east of Phoenix) on AZ 88, the famous Apache Trail. For information call the park headquarters at (602) 982- 4485.

Judy Wade and Bill Baker are freelance writers/photographers who pack and unpack in Phoenix.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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