Ominous Splendor

Why are the hills red?

This view from Dutchman Trail was taken on the red line trail (below) between Black Top Mesa (out of view, on left) and Bluff Springs Mountain (right), on the approach to White Rock Spring and LaBarge canyon (the large canyon at the north end (left) of the red line.

Looking Northwest, in the distance is Malapais Mountain behind Red Hills. Volcanic rock and Cholla cactus in foreground followed by Prickly Pear and Saguaro cactus. “Malapais” means “bad country,” an apt description for this terrain where the skull of Adolf Ruth was discovered near the Red Hills. Three fourth of a mile away, the rest of him was discovered on the slope of Black Top Mesa by a search party, January 8, 1932. Ruth walked this same trail, passing this very spot.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Bluff Spring Mountain

A Storied Place

As we descended Upper Black Top Mesa Pass into Bluff Spring Mountain canyon we found, foreground, Palo Verde and brittle bush, and, midground, Saguaro. The presence of Palo Verde reveals water flows through this area intermittently though not enough to sustain a large tree. Palo Verde is in the pea family (Fabaceae), as evidenced by production of seeds in pods.

Calling it “Buff Mountain” some say the mountain is named for these buff-colored cliffs. Others, calling it “Bluff Spring Mountain” name it for the cliffs and the spring within a canyon on top.

Closer to the junction with Terrapin Trail this Bluff Spring Mountain ridge rose above us. A fine specimen of mature Saguaro cactus is in midground.

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A climb up this ridge rewards a person with fine camping within a canyon on top of this mountain. This joy was reserved for a later trip I have yet to enjoy. Bluff Spring Mountain features prominently in the literature and stories of the Dutchman Mine and lost treasure.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Zig-Zagging Up The Pass

Climbing out of East Boulder Canyon

Our second day began in East Boulder Canyon, in the following map it is at the foot of the “Z” of the orange line, the Dutchman Trail, lower left center. The shape is the signature of a switchback needed to negotiate a steep slope up to Upper Black Top Mesa pass. This day will see us traverse Dutchman Trail to the intersection with Peter’s Trail (yellow), another steep climb up Peter’s Mesa.

Today’s post features photographs of flourishing Sonoran Desert plants and landscape on the slopes of Black Top Mesa. Dipterostemon capitatus known by the common names blue dicks, purplehead and brodiaea is native to the Western United States (particularly Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah, New Mexico and northwest Mexico.

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Stag Horn Cholla (Opuntia versicolor) or, maybe, Pencil Cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima) growing along the Upper Black Top Mesa Pass trail. Also, in foreground Blue Disk. In the distance Prickly Pear (Optuna) and, far distance, Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantean). Palamino Mountain and the Peralta Trail on left, Black Top Mesa on right. East Boulder Canyon runs between. The other side of distant Yellow Peak was where, July 2010, four foolhardy Utah treasure hunters lost their lives to summer temperatures exceeding 180 F.

Here I used the “zoom” for a better view of distant Yellow Peak. In foreground is Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) and Blue Dick. In the distance Saguaro Cactus. Below the cliff of Black Top Mesa, above East Boulder Canyon, is a patch of yellow, Mexican Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica).

Here is camera, set to zoom, is swung toward the mesa cliffs. Prickly Pear and Brittlebush growing along the Upper Black Top Mesa Pass trail. I have not identified the shaggy shrub above the Brittlebush. In the distance Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantean) flourishes. Below the cliff are patches of “gold dust”, the Mexican Poppy.

Heading southeast climbing out of East Boulder Canyon with a very young Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantean) just off trail on left, a large specimen silhouetted on ridge ahead. Windmill Pink (AKA Common Catchfly) (Silene gallica) foreground, lower left. Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) on both sides.

This post ends as it began, with wildflowers growing next to the trailon a March morning. Blue Dicks (AKA Purplehead) (Dipterostemon capitatus), Tidy Tips (Layia) — daisy like flower, Brittlebush flowers are yellow when not dried. The larger small white flowers are Desert Phlox (Phlox austromontana) — I have not identified the tiny white flowers sprinkled around.

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Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Evening and Morning

Boulder Canyon Camp

Our camp for the first night was East Boulder Canyon, between Black Top Mesa and Palamino mountain. On the topographic map, below. the bright orange line is Dutchman Trail. We are at the lower center, at the foot of the “Z” in trail, a switchback over Black Top Mesa pass we’ll traverse the next day.

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The map locates Yellow Peak, where the four Utah treasure hunters lost their lives Summer 2010, at the upper center next to Black Mesa Trail. The peak is framed by Black Top Mesa and Palamino Mountain in views to the northwest from Boulder Canyon, as you will see in a later posting.

Our evening was a quiet one of camp chores, an enjoyable meal with homemade beef jerky, coffee and plenty of water to rehydrate. The horses chomped on grain from feed bags. They packed in the grain as grazing is not allowed in the wilderness. I gave each a treat of carrot and apple.

I was up well before dawn to capture the morning constellations over Weavers Needle: from the left, I believe I recognize Lyra with Vega accompanied by Epsilon Lyra, next the keystone of Hercules. The brightest object is Venus.

Taking a break from morning water gathering in East Boulder Canyon: saguaro cactuses reflected in a still pool, looking up to the northwest you can just about see the Peralta trail where it crosses a Palamino Mountain ridge. West/Northwest the Peralta trail crosses behind the same ridge.


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Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Getting It Right

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Thank You

I cannot pick a favorite version from this series taken at sunset with a Canon 200 mm lens. Can you? If you have a choice, please name it in comments.

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Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved


The Lost Mine

It is ironical the word “legend,” from the Latin verb “to read,” is the word used to describe the ahistorical stories, rumors really, of the Superstition Wilderness anchored, concurrently undermined, with the hard facts of geology. “Named for Paulino Weaver, a famed mountain man, scout, trapper and miner, Weavers Needle is a volcanic monolith that rises almost 1,300 feet from its base to an elevation of 4,553 feet. It’s the most recognizable landmark in the wilderness, and it’s also considered a marker for the legendary Peralta Mine.” — Arizona Highways

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As the story goes, Don Miguel de Peralta and his family, who had come to the Superstition Mountains from Mexico, discovered gold, lots of gold, in the shadow of Weavers Needle. However, before cashing in, according to the story, they were killed by Apaches, who allegedly sealed off the mine. A few decades later, Jacob Waltz, better known as the “Lost Dutchman,” claimed to have found the old Peralta Mine, but he died before proving his claim. Since then, thousands of treasure hunters have gone looking, including Arthur Weber and the Dons of Phoenix, but no one has ever found the gold. And it’s unlikely anyone ever will — the volcanic rock out there isn’t conducive to producing precious metals. They’ll keep looking, though. Meantime, the real treasure is the trail. Especially in the springtime, when the ground is covered with gold. ” –Arizona Highways

Here is a view of part of the day’s trail. We started at 1911 feet elevation, Apache Junction, topping 2693, Parker Pass, with 2512 our resting spot with many ups and downs in between: a combined descent of 1760. Our rest was well earned. Palamino Mountain is on the left, Black Top Mesa the right. Look carefully to see the Peralta Trail surmounting Palamino Mountain ridge, descending in a zigzag to Boulder Canyon where it terminates on Dutchman Trail.

Click me for more information about the Peralta Trail from Arizona Highways.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

A Time for Rest

Enter the family name “Peralta”

Our eleven-mile trek from Apache Junction ended here between Black Top Mesa and Palamino Mountain. Peralta trail winds up the ridge to right with Weaver’s Needle beyond in the setting sun.

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Deep shade combined with the distant sunlit needle made for a difficult photographic capture. In fact, this picture needed significant work in Photoshop. I wore the 8 megapixel Sony F828 to capture the handheld shots of this series. A few days later I dropped the camera while riding Colorado, rendering it inoperable. This was when I acquired my Sony Alpha 700 during downtime in Phoenix. Later, the F828 was repaired at Sony and is still operable.

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Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Gold Dust Found

Desert Riches

A few minutes after photographing the Stressed Mesquite I looked across the creek to the slope of volcanic rock fallen from the cliff of Black Top Mesa where clumps of dark yellow mark clusters of flowering Mexican Poppies.

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Plentiful winter rains trigged a profusion of Mexican Poppies throughout the Superstition Wilderness. Here is a photograph captured after our expedition.

Look carefully for a scattering of color, like gold dust, at the foot of the volcanic cliffs. That is spring blooms of Mexican Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica). This gold wonder is plentiful from the month of late February through April, varying with the rains.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Stressed Mesquite

Superstition Wilderness

Mesquite, of the genus Prosopis, is a widespread, successful desert shrub that sometimes grows into tree form, as you see here. A mesquite tap root can extend 190 feet down to draw on the water table.

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East Boulder Creek was flowing, in this season, a few feet away. Still, this mesquite is stressed, with a loss of over half of its bark. The ever-present Prickly Pear is in the middle distance. I prefer the image with the distant Weavers Needle, a neck of eroded volcanic rock, is brightened by the setting sun. To the left, the light-colored rock of Black Top Mesa is also of volcanic origin.

I am here on the Dutchman Trail between Black Top Mesa and Palamino Mountain, Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest, Arizona.

Here is a gallery of post images, making comparison easier. All were taken with a handheld Sony F828. Walking without a pack make it possible for me to wear the camera.


Read more about the uses of mesquite.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Black Top Mesa

Superstition Wilderness

The black basalt of the mesa, for which it is named, is just visible above the lighter colored alternating layers of ash and tuff all remnants of volcanic eruptions 15 to 29 million years ago. We are on the Dutchman trail with the slopes of Palamino Mountain on the right. Ahead, other members of the expedition are just visible.

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In this view the late afternoon shadow of Palamino Mountain reveals the defile to which we are headed. Poles of young Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantean), poke from the black basalt capping Black Top Mesa. Foreground left is Stag Horn Cholla (Cylindropuntia), on the right is Prickly Pear (Optuna).


Look carefully for a scattering of color, like gold dust, at the foot of the volcanic cliffs. That is spring blooms of Mexican Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica).


Read more about Black Top Mesa

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved