Canyon Lake

I love the Arizona deserts: the rocks, the cacti, the mountains. There is a LOT of desert. That’s why it’s even more stunning to find blue blue water nestled among the mountains. After we hiked up to Praying Hands and back, the afternoon was still young, and I’d not had my fill of gorgeous scenery, fresh air and sunshine. We’d seen signs for Canyon Lake on our way to Lost Dutchman State Park and so we thought we’d head that direction. According to the maps, Rt 88 would lead us directly to Canyon Lake. Canyon Lake is one of 4 reservoirs created off the Salt River.

This shot is actually from the hike down from Praying Hands but that rock face is seen on Rt88

I was slightly better this trip than I’ve been in the past. I only pulled the car over once so that I could inhale scenery and take pictures. It is so beautiful. My photos never quite capture the magnitude of the views, but I keep trying. Rt 88 is an incredibly twisting curving winding 2-lane road. When we headed out of Lost Dutchman the posted sign said ’25 mph”. I mentioned to my son that I thought perhaps that was unduly cautious and wondered why. He said, being prescient, that maybe it was because the road was going to be twisting ahead. (I was driving, he was looking at maps.)

view from Rt 88

Rt 88 is definitely twisty. With beautiful views. There was a lot of traffic on the road. It was a Saturday, gorgeous weather, out in the country. A LOT of motorcycles. We came around a curve to a stupendous view but there was no place to stop. As soon as I saw a spot ahead I pulled over – as had several other cars. Unfortunately where I was did not have as great a view as the middle of the road just prior to my pulling over. I decided that it was probably NOT a good idea to walk back and stand in the middle of the road by a blind curve. 🙂 Just take my word for it.

view on the OTHER side of rt 88

I got back in the car and we continued on and reached the overlook for Canyon Lake. Breathtaking. As we made our way down Rt 88 to the lake I pulled over yet again to take photos from another angle. Between the rock faces and the water I wanted to stand there and stare forever.

Our first glimpse of Canyon Lake

We got down to the actual parking and boat launch area and got out of the car to walk around a bit. We shared the water’s edge with some ducks. I took a video of the gentle lapping of the water at the edge – poetry for my soul.

There is a little town, Tortilla Flat, right along the lake. It was jammed packed with people. It looked to be the most amazing “tourist trap” I might have ever seen. My son kept describing it as the epitome of kitsch. 🙂 Yes, we were probably being unduly harsh. There IS a US post office there – it’s a real town. And if you click through on the link you will see that there is an official population of 6. I really should have taken some photos but I had no idea I was going to want them. 🙂

According to the website: “Tortilla Flat is an authentic remnant of an old west town, nestled in the midst of the Tonto National Forest, in the Superstition Mountain Range. Tortilla Flat started out as a stagecoach stop in 1904 and neither fire nor flood has been able to take away this historic stop along the Historic Apache Trail.” We did see lots of folks enjoying ice cream and further down the road a motorcyclist told me that the “best fudge ever” can be had in Tortilla Flat.

We decided we were not in the mood to deal with all those folks so we continued east on Rt 88. According to the map we could reach Roosevelt Lake, another reservoir created off Salt Lake. More twists and curves and bends, but now there were very few cars.

Can you tell yet that the text is merely an excuse for the photos?

The road climbed up and there was an overlook and a sign. The sign said that the road was closed ahead and that there was no pavement past the sign (that was true – we could see that). I pulled over and got out to take some photos. There were 2 motorcyclists there as well and I asked one of them if it was true about the road.

He said that it was, that the Woodbury Fire of 2019 that raged through Tonto National Forest had destroyed the road and the bridge. He said that the only way we could reach Roosevelt Lake was to go back to the highway (a good 30 minutes away) and head NORTH, and then approach Roosevelt Lake from the north. I did a little research once I was home and it was not actually the fire that destroyed the bridge. It was the horrendous rain storms in 2020 over the fire-scarred terrain which caused massive landslides and wiped out the bridge.

View from where we had to turn back on Rt 88

It was already late in the afternoon by that time, and it would have been getting dark by the time we reached the lake. We’ll have to do that another time and hope that the roads are open and we can get there. There is, of course, a lot of controversy over re-opening Rt 88. Arizona DOT has said they will NOT reopen the road until it is reforested (which will take years). We will have to get there from the north when we go.

Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest

We turned around and headed back the way we’d come, all the way back to Chandler. By that point I was exhausted. I’d gotten something in my eye at the last stop and my eye was hurting and tearing – I made my son do the drive back home. I got into the hotel pool & hot spa to recuperate before we headed out to dinner. I leave you with this video of gentle waves upon the shore. 🙂

Hiking the Superstition Wilderness

Last time I attempted to hike Superstition I discovered that it makes a huge difference if the hike is going up and up, or more around and up. I was back in AZ and although it was a very short trip, I still had a day that could be spent hiking. I’m in much better shape than I was when I attempted Fremont Saddle via the Peralta Trail. All those mornings back home walking 2.75 miles, not to mention the TWO hills and the gradual incline, have definitely given me more stamina. Yes, I’m well aware that gasping my way up a suburban street is NOT akin to hiking up a mountainside, but it is some exercise. I did some internet surfing and discovered Treasure Loop to Praying Hands. I read the description MUCH more carefully based on my hard-won knowledge. It looked do-able.

Treasure Loop is the big loop – Praying Hands is the skinny line.

We decided to give it a try on Saturday, a day when we had absolutely nothing else planned. We could spend all day hiking if that’s what it took me – zillions of rests. The elevation gain did not look that difficult – only 834 feet compared to 1430 feet. The distance was also much less round-trip: 3 miles compared to 4.7 miles. And we were hiking in February, NOT early September. We checked with my son’s friend and although he made some faces, he thought I was probably able to do it. 🙂

We parked in the P by Maintenance. 🙂

It is only about 40 minutes from Chandler to the trailhead in Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction. We got there a little after 11 am. *laughing* I probably should NOT put this here but oh, well, you know that for a supposedly smart woman I can do some pretty dumb things. 🙂 First, we ended up parking in the overflow parking because of a sign in the road talking about the parking being closed. Upon later closer inspection the sign was only intended to convey the information that you could NOT park overnight. But it WAS in the road and there was another car leaving that area coming at us, so we took it to mean the lot was full. 🙂 As it happens, I think that ended up being a good thing for us.

Keep your eye on that middle group of rocks.

We parked in the overflow and then tried to find the trailhead. Go ahead, laugh. I was getting a little worried about us that we could not even find the trailhead for Treasure Loop and what – I wanted to hike up to Praying Hands? 🙂 We wandered around the Cholla day-use area and decided it was NOT what we wanted. We made our way up the not-closed road to the Saguaro day-use area. Again, we saw lots of parked cars but no obvious trail-head. I was beginning to feel cranky. Just as I spied a sign that looked to be a trailhead sign, a gentleman called to us to say the trailhead began behind the restrooms. We went that direction but it was NOT the trailhead for Treasure Loop. Those of you who know me can imagine just how cranky I was at this point. I snarled my way over to where *I* thought the trailhead sign was and YES! I was correct!!! So we started out on Treasure Loop #56. If you click any of my links, or read anything online, you’ll see that all of the guides say start at the Cholla day-use area.

Very close.

I’m going to tell you that my son and I disagree with all of those trail guides. We started from Saguaro and ended at Cholla. Starting at Saguaro means you do the steepest, rockiest part FIRST, when you are still fresh and eager. The mountains are ahead of you, in all their beauty, and you start climbing immediately. The Cholla side of the loop is nearly flat, in comparison. Which makes it boring and a bit ho-hum. There were a handful of other groups of hikers – I’d guess fewer than 15 – both going our way and coming back towards us. All of these hikers were friendly and calling hello and smiling. My recollection of hiking Devil’s Bridge was that although the vast majority of the hikers WERE friendly and warm, there were definitely the groups who belonged walking in the city, where avoiding eye contact and smiles is considered the norm.

To know him is to love him.

For the most part the hike up was easy enough, but hard enough that we did need to pause a few times to catch our breath. We had a good cadence. You reach what seems to be the top of Treasure Loop where there is an aluminum bench. 🙂 We paused there to take some photos. We didn’t realize we were at the top until we met some other folk coming the other way (from Cholla) and they told us that we were. We could still see the Praying Hands a bit away, so we knew there had to be more to the trail. I remembered from when I found this trail originally that it was a loop with a line leading away from it – like a hanging pendant.

Wow Getting smaller.

We kept walking the way we’d been going and did indeed come to a sign pointing to Praying Hands. This path was definitely narrower and we could see it was much steeper than what we’d been doing. All of that fit my recollection of the first description I’d found. I keep talking about my “first” description because we downloaded an app: Route Scout which is an app from Hike Arizona . It wasn’t working for us. *grin* Oh be quiet. We were doing just fine without it.

And now you can barely see the details at all.

We headed up this trail towards Praying Hands. Definitely steeper. Definitely more loose gravel. Only 2 other groups doing this path -a group of 4 young women, and a young couple. We took some photos of the women all on one of the rocks, with the world spread out below them. 🙂 In return they taught me how to use Airdrop on my iPhone so that they could have the photos. 🙂 My son and I ALSO got up on the rocks for them to take pictures of US, but I chickened out and we stood on the CLOSER part of the rock ledge, not on the place where they stood. Honestly it is simply so gorgeous up there. I wish I could post every single photo. I took far fewer photos than I usually do. I wanted to experience the climb while it was happening, and many of the photos would look the same. What IS interesting was how the perspective changes. Rocks that looked so far away as we started got very close and LARGE. Then as we kept hiking up to Praying Hands they got smaller and smaller. We thought we’d come a long way at one point, but when we got up to Praying Hands and looked back at the huge rock at the top of Treasure Loop – wow. That huge rock was not a long trip at all.

See that rock in the foreground? That’s where the young women were standing.

We made it all the way to the top. The 4 young women had gotten there before us and we could see them off to our right, on a rocky ledge along the mountain face. The young couple reached us at the top flat ledge, where there was a pyramid of rocks. We could see Praying Hands across the way. I thought we were done. The young couple hiked down off the ledge and onto a very gravelly, OPEN SIDED path heading towards Praying Hands. Again, those of you who know me will recognize my reaction: heck, if THEY can do it so can I. Sigh. My son looked at me because he could see this next bit of path was not going to be fun. I said yes, we’re going. And we did.

I probably should have cropped this more but I liked the rock and the grass.

Reader, I hated it. 🙂 But we baby-stepped our way along that gravelly, long-way down on the left, irregular path all the way to the base of Praying Hands. We took a photo and pasted it to Facebook so you know that it really happened. 🙂 I also posted that I had no idea how I was going to get back down. Because that last little piece was really scary. Not for that young couple obviously but it was for me. Up is SO MUCH EASIER than down. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life up there, and I’m told calling for helicopter rescue is very expensive and frowned upon, so I knew I’d have to get down that steep loose gravel.

Pyramid of rocks at what I thought was the top.

Of course within my first 5 steps I slid and landed on my tush. My son’s friend asked me later “were you wearing proper hiking boots?” Of course not, don’t be silly. I don’t OWN proper hiking boots – I was wearing my sneakers. Hey – at least I wasn’t wearing sandals. 🙂 One of these days I really will invest in hiking boots and a walking stick. Once I was down there on my butt, and my heart rate returned to normal, I decided that was indeed the best way to continue. That’s what I did for that scary part. I reached a part where I could stand without too much fear, and for that part I proceeded on all 4s – 4s being my hands and feet, not knees. I’m probably mistaken about that being more balanced and secure but it felt better to me to have more contact with the ground and to be closer to the ground. It really is a VERY steep drop from that point. Trust me – I looked.

Praying Hands seen from the pyramid of rocks ledge

We made it back to the flat area with the rock pyramid. There were some steep parts from there back down to Treasure Loop, but they were fine after what had come before. There may have been one other place I trusted to my tush over my feet. We reached Treasure Loop and walked to the Cholla Day Use area. As I said to start, by then that part of the trail felt like walking on level ground. 🙂 All in all we were hiking for 3 hours. It was lovely – not too hot, sunny, not too crowded with other hikers. There was just enough challenge and risk (for me) to make it exciting. It was still early in the day so we decided to head toward Canyon Lake. But that’s a story for another day. 🙂