Sitting quietly in the distant backdrop of everyday Phoenix, the Superstition Mountains are practically begging to be explored. Some light research revealed that there are miles and miles of trails in what the locals refer to as “the Superstition Wildnerness.” Some are maintained, some are not, some are just old animal tracks. I had remembered reading a few months ago, when we were still in Oregon, about petroglyphs in the Superstition Wilderness, and, being the complete history nerd that I am, I wanted to find them.
Luckily, there is a trail named “The Hieroglyphics Trail,” which led me to believe that we may have success trying that one. Google confirmed, and we had a plan for the day!
According to Google, the difference between a hieroglyph and a petroglyph is that hieroglyphs are drawn onto a surface, and petroglyphs are carved into a surface.
Why the trail to the petroglyphs is named “The Hieroglyphic Trail” is beyond me.
The forecast for the day said it was supposed to be about a hundred degrees, so we dressed lightly, grabbed the entire bottle of sunscreen, several quarts of water, the baby backpack, etc, and set out for the 50-mile drive to the trailhead in the Sonoran Desert.
The trailhead for the Hieroglyphic Trail and the Lost Goldmine Trail are actually on the opposite side of the Superstition Wilderness than the rest of the trailheads in Apache Junction, and we got there by winding through some random residential area. There were a few times when we thought our GPS had gone rogue, but we had faith and made it.
Can I just say that the desert is gorgeous? Oregonians always use the excuse “I tolerate 10 months of rain and darkness because the state is so green and pretty!” News Flash: Arizona has green, too, and every other color imaginable! It may be the painter in me, but I love colors, and colorful landscape always catches my attention.
The internet said that the trail is about 2.9 miles round trip, and it was ranked as an “easy” trail. Arizona Hiker’s Guide even recommended it as a good introductory trail. Kevin and I have been working out, so we felt pretty comfortable with this distance/difficulty, despite the heat and having a 35-lb toddler to pack in.
I seriously think the trail was about 14 miles in, and like, 1 mile back out. I may be exaggerating, but that’s what it felt like. Going in was a slight uphill, with a total elevation gain of 600 ft in about 1.5 miles.
Anyone making this hike needs to be aware of a few things:
- There is pretty much zero shade anywhere along this trail. Cacti don’t produce much shade. You will be in direct sun pretty much this entire hike. Thankfully we packed hats and sunscreen and plenty of water. The heat does get to you.
- The trail itself is truly “easy” until you get close to the petroglyphs. Consider this: the petroglyphs are carved in the side of a mountain. There are rocks and boulders, some of which require climbing up/on/over. The Hiker’s Guide, linked above, says “the trail will become more rocky and you may have to climb just a little bit (nothing grandma and grandpa can’t handle).” Really? My grandma and grandpa certainly couldn’t handle some of the tricky footwork required. I struggled in a few spots simply because my legs are short and I had to do a bit more climbing than Kevin did. Wear good hiking shoes with grippy soles.
- The internet also indicated that there are some lovely natural water pools up near the petroglyphs. It didn’t occur to me immediately, but I felt like a bigger and bigger idiot as we got closer and closer to the pools and the bugs got thicker and thicker, and I didn’t pack bug spray. Really, Jess? Stagnant water + warm climate = cesspools of happy mosquitoes that are probably laden with a new strain of West Nile Virus. Normally those are details that I catch, but I was just too excited to hit the trail to use my critical thinking skills. So my biggest word of advice to you is: bug spray. DEET the heck out of yourself. Don’t be bug food. Don’t contract malaria in a first world country. At the very least spare yourself the agony of 37 itchy mosquito bites.
Despite these little details, spotting the petroglyphs across a small ravine from our trail was almost magical. It was exhilarating. These intricate drawings were left here around 1500 years ago, by the Hohokum people. They have survived 1500 years of wind erosion and flash floods and the unrelenting desert heat. Seeing the petroglyphs made every stumble over a loose rock, every bug bite, and every drop of sweat absolutely worth it.