Phoenix Spring Escapes
Much of Arizona is cowboys and Indians territory, and the Massacre Ground Trail runs right through the midst of this tradition in the Superstition Wilderness.
East of Phoenix, in the same area as the Lost Dutchman moonlight hike, this hike offers a great view of one of the Superstition Mountains' best-known and interesting landmarks, Weavers Needle. The volcanically-formed 4,535-foot peak is one of the reference points for finding the fabled Lost Dutchman mine, so keep your eyes peeled for glittering nuggets along the trail.
The basic three-mile loop is fairly easy trail hiking, which you can raise to the moderate level if you take an optional return route rather than completing the loop. Overall elevation gain is less than 1,000 feet. From the Massacre Grounds parking lot the trail heads south past a large earthen cow tank on the right. Vegetation is typically desert, and in the spring it blooms with yellow desert broom and creosote, which you'll recognize by its tiny yellow flowers and characteristic"plastic" smell. Watch for prickly pear cactus in bloom as well.
Within minutes on the trail, you'll have a sense of remoteness and isolation. Follow the track up over a pass and into a wash where you're likely to see coyote and javelina tracks. Within a half hour, a number of trails will branch off from the wash, but the one to watch for is the most obvious one, that veers left into a flat area. This is where you'll get the best view of Weavers Needle.
From there the trail continues to gain elevation. To the left are low cliffs, then a wash. After you scramble up a rock outcropping, you'll find yourself looking over a cliff with picturesque views to the east. This is the traditional lunch and rest spot.
From here you can return the way you came or continue on the more challenging trail along First Water Creek. To do this, you'll need a map and compass, or someone already familiar with the area. Although trails are marked, some are faint and can be confusing.
To reach the Massacre Grounds trail head, take State Route 88 (the Apache Trail) about five miles north of the town of Apache Junction. Between mileposts 201 and 202, turn east on First Water Road and proceed one mile. Turn south and drive .7 mile to the end of the road. The Massacre Grounds Trail begins at the south side of the parking lot. At the Wilderness Area boundary fence you'll see a fairly well-kept dirt road. This is the beginning of the trail. For information call the Tonto National Forest Ranger District, (602) 379-6446.
Judy Wade and Bill Baker are freelance writers/photographers who pack and unpack in Phoenix.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication