Barnhardt Canyon — Hiking with Chris

Last Wednesday, Feb 11th, was a special hike in more ways than one.

(Photo courtesy Deb Kirke)

(Photo courtesy Deb Kirke)

Our youngest boy, Chris, came down to Arizona for a few days visit last week.  In the time available we did all the usual stops to show off our adopted winter home.  A drive down to Tortilla Flats, a visit to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Anthony, tour of Casa Grande ruins, a couple authentic Mexican restaurants, and a drive up to the ruins at Tonto.

But high on my agenda was a desire to show off the back country and share my love of Arizona hiking with him.   One of my favorite hikes is the route to the waterfall grotto at the head of Barnhardt Canyon.


This is a beautiful hike in the high country of the Mazatzal Wilderness.  Usually this trail can be impassable this early in the year due to snow and ice, but we’ve had a stretch of mild (low-mid 80’s) weather, so the trail was clear and dry, the the temps up there Wednesday were ideal for the hike (50’s/60’s).

Depending on whose GPS you believed (we had three) the total (in and out) hike was either 6.0, 7.35, or 7.98 miles.  Since I’m writing this report, I declare that we hiked 7.98 miles.




The trek up the canyon can only be described as gorgeous!  Due to the elevation, the usual saguaro cactus seen on most of our hikes is replaced with alpine vegetation like holly, juniper, mountain pinion, and some (fallen due to fire) ponderosa.  Even so, one “desert” plant, the agave, seems to thrive in this canyon.  We saw some really great examples along the way.  This example, next to an alligator juniper, gets bigger everytime that I’ve been up here.

62-1Here Chris poses on an overlook next to another nice one.


I’m a sucker for weathered old trees.  Chris caught this shot which I like a lot.

(Photo courtesy Chris Brakob)

(Photo courtesy Chris Brakob)

Below are some others along the way.





OK, a geology lesson.  One of the unusual features of this hike is a geologic feature called synclines and anticlines.  It is seen on the cliff walls in many places along this hike, and is the result of two opposing (crushing) movements of the crust of the earth during the mountain-building process, resulting in accordion-like folds in the rock structure.  Here’s a drawing I googled up, followed by some photos from the hike.


In this shot the feature is seen near photo-center, just above the sunlit slope.


Here’s a shot across the canyon on another slope.  Note the repeating pattern all the way up the canyon wall.


Below is a zoomed in shot of a segment of the scene above.


Some more shots along the way up the trail.






The “destination” and turn-around point for this hike is a series of two waterfalls hidden in a grotto off the established trail.  The tip-off is a pool of water along the trail, fed by a little babbling stream.  A short trek off the trail, some clambering over rocks, (thanks, Dana, for the steadying hand) and you’re inside a vertical red-rock grotto about 100+ feet tall, with a waterfall merrily splashing from the rocks far above.

Here Chris prepares to take a photo of the falls.


A view of the lower segment of the falls, feeding a pool at the base.


Here I tried a wider view to capture then entire falls, top to bottom.  Didn’t work!  A portion of the top and of the bottom are missing.



Here we see Frank admonishing us “Don’t you guys tell ANYONE about this place!” (Photo by Debbie Kirke)



Frank and I contemplate a route up, while Dana comes down telling us “No WAY!”.

(Photo courtesy Debbie Kirke)

(Photo courtesy Debbie Kirke)

After a long break admiring this find, we hiked back down canyon the same way we came up.  Here is a Class Picture of our merry crew (less Debbie, the photographer) assembled back down at the trailhead.  Chris says this hike was the highlight of his trip to Arizona. Thanks to all who made him feel so welcome, and for not telling too many “Hans stories” in his presence!

(Photo courtesy Debbie Kirke)

(Photo courtesy Debbie Kirke)

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Black Mesa Loop



On Friday we hiked the Black Mesa Loop out of First Water trailhead.  This is stitched-together route consisting of segments of the Second Water trail and the Lost Dutchman trail, connected by the Black Mesa  trail to form the loop.  My GPS pegged it at 9.74 miles with about 1077 of total elevation gain.


The first segment of the hike is a modest ascent on Second water trail to Garden Valley and the junction with Black Mesa trail.  Then another modest ascent to the top of Black Mesa.

The environment to this point in the hike is fairly open, with great views of the “backside” of the western Superstition to the south, and the Four Peaks wilderness to the north.

In the photo below the mountains on the horizon are the Flatiron and environs.  The light colored “ramp” in mid-scene is the Massacre Ground overlook.


This scene looking northward is towards Four Peaks.


And another view towards the Flatiron.


The south end of Black Mesa trail drops rather abruptly into a basin at the confluence of West Boulder Canyon and O’Grady Canyon.  This descent is a favorite spot of mine, yielding an awesome vantage to the interior of the wilderness, guarded by Weavers needle in the distance south.


The remainder of the hike is westward through O’Grady Canyon, up over Parker Pass, and back to First Water.

The scenery this canyon is reminiscent of John Wayne movies with stark sandstone cliffs, large boulders (watch for Apache ambushes), and big skies.





This hike, like many others, traverses the heart of “Lost Dutchman Mine” country.  For you back-home folks who would like an introduction to the legends we walk among, tune in the History Channel on Frbruary 8th.  See this link —>


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Wave Cave

Today Jim Hardy led a group of us on a hike new to almost everyone in the club, a 4-mile (2-in, 2-out) trek to a cave on the flanks of the Three Sisters formation in the Superstitions.  You won’t find this hike in any of the “official” places, it is basically a detour off the Carney Springs trail.

I first heard Dana and Deb Kirke talking about the “Wave Cave” a couple years ago, and being an old Sailor, of course my ears perked up.  Back in the day, “Wave Cave” was the nickname of building B30, the barracks where the lady Sailors lived on the Norfolk Naval Station.  Turns out this is an actual cave, not at all what first came to my mind.  Oh well.

The photo below taken at the trailhead shows the formation known as Three Sisters.  Our destination (the cave) is about midway up the right side of the formation.  Just below the right peak, about half-way down the photo is a light colored horizontal strip — this looks like an “eyebrow” over the cave.



Here is a zoomed in view of that area.  From this vantage the sandstone formation just inside the cave looks like a VERY large white bear.



As mentioned earlier, this is not an established hiking route.  Once you leave the Carney Spring Trail, the route is not always well defined (you’ve all heard of the Lost Dutchman — ask me sometime about the Lost Dutchwoman) and the last third mile is something of a “scramble”.  Total elevation gain from the trailhead to the cave is around 900 feet.  About 500+ feet of that is in the last half mile.  It is not overly difficult, but it calls for good boots, hiking staff(s), and careful attention to your footing and balance, especially when descending on the return trip.  Don’t let me scare you off, but this is a “steady as you go” piece of footwork.


As you reach the cave, the “bear” seen from afar now resembles an ocean wave, thus the name “Wave Cave” the Dana and Deb attached to this place.  The interior of the cave is quite large, I’d estimate 2 or 3 times the size of the Canyon Vista ballroom.  It would seem that it would have been a good dwelling place for the Indians who build many structures in caves all around the Superstitions, but I didn’t seen any evidence of that sort of occupation.

Wave Cave 080


From a vantage inside the cave, the “wave” is even more convincing.



Some of us couldn’t help striking a “surfer” pose!


The wave also served as a good spot to eat our lunch and enjoy the long-horizon views below.



Put this one on your bucket list, but pick a cool day.  That last leg of the climb will drain your water reserves quickly on a warm day.


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Red Rocks and Mud – Whitford Canyon

Last Wednesday (after the Tuesday rainstorm) Botany Bob led a group of us on a pretty hike at Whitford Canyon.  Half the adventure was the trip to the trailhead which is on Forest Road 650 (the back-door road to Montana Mountain).  Did I mention that we had a rainstorm last Tuesday?  The 5-mile-or-so muddy road into the trailhead was pretty much solid red slick mud from end to end, but we all made it in without getting stuck (all except Dennis who has 2-wheel drive, so he did a quick U-turn and found another hike for his passengers south out of Picketpost trailhead).  Put me in mind of the old western ballad which goes “Detour, there’s a muddy road ahead. Detour, paid no mind to what it said.”

The Whitford Canyon hike is a short “in and out” segment of Passage 18 of the Arizona Trail (  Our round trip was about 5 miles.

Whitford Map

As you can see in the map above the hike is basically flat, following a well marked trail in the bottom of the canyon.

Canyon photography is always challenging because of the mix of deep shadow and bright sunlit areas, so my photos in this posting will not do justice to the scenery that we walked through.

For a short distance from the trailhead (a wide spot in the road!) the route takes you over rolling landscape towards the canyon.

Here the hillsides were thick with some of the healthiest saguaro you’d ever see.


It was along this first part of the trail that we saw the remains of a half-consumed serpent on our path.  It wasn’t a rattler, but I don’t know the species.  This remaining tail segment was 8 or 10 inches long.



After a short while you approach the canyon and start seeing the red rock walls.  Here the saguaro thin out and you see more mesquite, prickly pear, and cottonwood.



Last month the cottonwoods still held a lot of gold leaves which are very striking in the stark canyon environment.  But the now bare branches have a different kind of beauty, especially when silhouetted against the rock and sky.

One old specimen, now dead and weather-worn, captured my imagination and I took several shots from different angles.  Somehow it speaks to my soul about things like perseverance and always reaching upward.  If you look close, notice the sliver of silver moon at the top edge of the first photo.









After about a mile in the canyon, the trail breaks out into open country again, surrounded by rolling hills to the south.

126-1It is always remarkable how the vegetation changes so abruptly.  Inside the canyon, near the watercourse (even though it is dry) there is lush green vegetation but in the scene above, just a half mile out of the canyon where water and soil are scarce a completely different set of plants flourishes.

We explored a bit in this open “brush” country, and ate our lunch near this old structure.  The prevailing story is that it was once a jail, but I’m not so sure about that.  The windows are large enough for easy exit, and the wood frame show no evidence that they might once have been barred or otherwise obstructed.




After our lunch we retraced our route back up-canyon to the cars.




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Happy New Year

Yesterday I promised that I’d pass along some photos if our storm gave us snow overnight.

Here are a couple of shots that I got this morning.

Enjoy snow on the Superstitions.




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Siphon Draw on New Years Eve

(…or, “Dammit, I left my rain gear in the boat!”)

This morning a small group of us (six) headed out to the Siphon Draw trail.  Weather reports predicted rain around noon, and the early morning skies didn’t look that bad!  We were even treated to a rainbow on our way to the trailhead.


Siphon Draw trail is basically the “on ramp” to the trek (“climb”?) up to the Flatiron.  It’s about a 3 mile hike over the talus slope and then up through a crack in the face of mountain.

Below is our view from a spot soon after we started up the trail this morning.  Our path will take us up and around that large mountain in the center of the scene.  The yellow flowers are brittlebush, which are quite unusual for this time of year.  Normally you’d not expect such a widespread bloom until maybe mid-March.


As our small group moved up the mountain, the cloud cover changed from broken overcast to “ya know, it just might rain!”  With temperatures in the upper 40’s, a good soaking rain didn’t sound like my idea of fun.  Everyone else in the group had rain gear, but mine was safely stored in my walleye boat in son Carls’ barn back in Minnesota.

From the location in the photo below I hiked about another half mile up the mountain.  By that time a rather steady drizzle had started, so I wimped out and turned back to the trailhead rather than get soaked and cold.  My companions continued their hike, snug in their comfy rain gear.


Meandering back down the mountain, I took a second photo of the brittlebush scene (see below) —I wondered how snug my friends were up inside that wet looking cloud which now covered the mountain.


Just as I reached the comfort of my truck the rain started in earnest.  I was happy that I’d turned sissy!

It’s rained pretty steady all day since and with cool temps overnight, we might get lucky and find that mountain covered with snow to start the new year, in which case I’ll head back out to get some shots of that tomorrow.

Happy New Year to all!

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for my hiking blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,200 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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