When we get ready to leave an area, Sparky and Eldo always try to get some last visits/hikes/touristy things done in case we don't return to the area. In this case, we are fairly certain that we WILL be back next year, as Mesa was one of our favorite destinations this year.
Sparky wanted to check out three things before we left--a hike at Lost Dutchman State Park, which is on the way on the Apache Trail near Apache Junction, a challenging hike at Usery Mountain Regional Park and the Riparian Preserve, right in Mesa.
Lost Dutchman State Park was AMAZING! It was named after a famous lost gold mine and is in the Sonoran Desert right up against the Superstition Mountains. The lost Dutchman, wasn't really Dutch, by the way. In the 1870's, Jacob Waltz (who was German) supposedly located a gold mine and worked it for awhile, hiding some gold stashes in the Superstitions there. In bad health in his later years, he supposedly described the location of the mine to a neighbor before he died in 1891. People have tried to find the mine and some have met with foul play or death in their efforts. There are a lot of superstitions and legends about the Superstition Mountains and the lost goldmine, so many that books and films have been produced about them.
There are several trails that go from the park into the desert and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Sparky picked the Treasure Loop Trail today rated moderate....a 2.4 mile round trip with an elevation change of 500 feet. This trail was much easier by far than the Wind Cave Trail at Usery Mountain Regional Park, which was rated HARD that Sparky tried to do a few days before. More about that in a moment.
There are six trails that you can choose from at Lost Dutchman, the most challenging being the Siphon Draw Trail, which is 4 miles round trip and winds around into a canyon with a 1,000 ft. elevation gain to the basin area. WOW! Another time, Sparky might try that one. Not only is that trail difficult, the trail is not maintained past the basin, and there are elevation gains of over 2,000 feet. It takes 5-6 hours to do that one. Then again, Sparky thinks, well, maybe that one better be for somebody else. (Eldo is glad that she has come to her senses.)
The Treasure Loop Trail was spectacular in itself and a good heart pumper near the top of the trail. It starts in a beautiful picnic area, and ends back there. You literally hike right up to the mountain cliff walls.
The scenery is just terrific and you have to stop a lot just to admire these fantastic views--and to catch your breath if you are older, like Sparky. This view below is about 2630 feet up. The trail is fairly wide at the beginning, it's sometimes shared by horseback riders and then the trail narrows the higher you go. it was a wonderful hike and very doable for a senior. Sparky says the average age on the trail today was at least 65 and up.Next up, a hike at Usery Mountain Regional Park called the Wind Cave Trail, rated HARD, rated DIFFICULT, rated NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART OR THE WOBBLY. (Sparky's rating, the last two.) This is a 2.9 trail out and back near Mesa. It's VERY popular so there were a lot of people on the trail the day Sparky went, including a guy that only had one leg and was on crutches.(!) Sparky went last year and because of dizziness, didn't complete the entire trail. So she tried again this year, going further than she did last year, but was not able to finish due to severe sciatic troubles and worries about balance again. Here's a map of the trail:
See all those wiggly lines? those are switchbacks, NARROW switchbacks, ROCKY switchbacks. Whew! The goal was to get further than last year, and she did. It really was a tough trail. Your goal is to reach near the top of those mountains in the distance, to an indented area with a cave.Here's what the Wind Cave Trail looks like in many places....
And another beautiful view....Sparky was all hiked out and her sciatica was really flaring by the time she finished this hike.
Well, after a tough hike, it's time for a great meal! We discovered Steak and Stone, a restaurant in Mesa right beside a small airport. Great steaks cooked on LAVA stones, while you watch a steady stream of small planes take off and land at the airport. The steak comes to your table raw, but it's cooking on the lava rock as it arrives. You take it off the stone when you are ready for the degree of doneness you like. Which for Sparky, is almost immediately, haha. Luckily, Eldy is not grossed out by Sparky's love of very rare, extremely rare beef.
And the last wonderful visit was a trip to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert just outside of Mesa. It's a water wonderland-- a 110 acre wetlands/wildlife sanctuary with 4.7 miles of trails if you walked all of it all over the place in and around the ponds, one floating boardwalk, a simulated dinosaur dig, an urban fishing lake, three overnight campsites, an observatory, bird viewing blind areas and multi use trails. So many waterfowl to be seen! there were LOTS of Northern Shoveler ducks that day....They were in such a feeding frenzy that you can't see their unique shovel shaped bills.
And songbirds and hummingbirds....Sparky thinks this is a black chinned hummingbird below. Even though the throat feathers or gorget (which comes from the days of knights when they wore metallic collars to protect their throats) are purple, when he turns his head they look black unless the sun is shining directly on them.
This is a good place to see Gambel's quail all over! Sparky had been trying for DAYS to catch these fast little guys around the campground, but at the preserve, they were too busy scratching the sandy dirt for bugs to notice and were quite used to the people walking around them.
Many lovely places to sit and bird watch or people watch.....This is a wonderful place to see lots of different bird species....We highly recommend visiting Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch.
It's very cold in Cottonwood right now, but Eldo hopes temps will warm up soon. Sparky is loving the temps, but not in the twenties at night, according to the weather app! See you later! Thanks for following along with us. We love sharing our journey....
|on the Apache Trail in AZ 2023