it's proximity to the Phoenix area, the 160,000 acre Superstition Wilderness offers some
of the best lower Sonoran desert hiking around. Elevations within the Wilderness
range from approximately 2000 to 6000 ft with the higher elevations in the eastern
section. Daytime temperatures within the area match those in the city and are
extremely hot during the summer months, making it unhikable (in my mind) for 1/2 the year.
Water may be found in streambeds during certain times of year and after heavy
rains, but do not rely on these sources being present for survival as no perennial streams
exist. Trails are quite rocky and conditions vary from veritable highways to all but
invisible skunk trails which can be quite overgrown and difficult to follow (even in the
more traveled western section).
The Superstition Wilderness can roughly be divided into
western and eastern sections.
The western section is lower in elevation and consists of extremely rugged
and beautiful terrain with steep cliffs, sheer escarpments, deep canyons and thorny
plants. It is also considerably easier to access than the eastern side, which can
result in busloads (literally) of people at some of the more popular trailheads.
Fortunately most people do not travel far and opportunities still exist for real
solitude. Plant life consists of typical lower Sonoran desert vegetation:
chainfruit, teddybear and buckhorn chollas, saguaro, scrub oak, jojoba,
pear & hedgehog cactus, sugar sumac, paloverde (the AZ state tree) and mesquite with a
smattering of larger cottonwood along some of the more frequently flowing streambeds.
The eastern side consists of high rolling hills along the tops of which
larger pinyon pines and alligator juniper may be found. Other plant life includes
Utah service berry, sotol, scrub oak and beargrass. This portion is less often
visited due to the fact that there is no easy road access. Though it is not as
scenic as in the west, the assurance of solitude makes it worth a trip.
Cattle grazing is still permitted in
much of the Superstition Wilderness. As a result considerable degradation may be
seen especially along stream beds and washes (the Coffee Flats in the west and Tule Trail
in the east are two prime examples). One can hope that these allotments will not be
renewed as the old west continues to fade into irrelevancy.
It should also be noted that the Maricopa County Department of Environmental
Services - Air Quality Division which oversees air monitoring in the county, has recorded
the highest levels of ground level ozone in Arizona within the Superstition Wilderness.
Maricopa County is currently considered in serious nonattainment of national
ozone standards and it seems that, due to prevailing easterly wind patterns, that the
worst of the Phoenix smog is blown and concentrated in the Superstitions. That
healthy hike, may not be so good for you after all.