We left the Grand Canyon and headed back to Phoenix. We caught up on work and then, on the recommendation of a friend, we drove to Apache Junction to hike in the Superstition Wilderness within Tonto National Forest. We were instantly enchanted by the name, and the allure of this aptly named wilderness continued as we drove past an abandoned gold mining town and turned into Lost Dutchman State Park. By 10:00am the temperatures were hovering in the high 90s. We spoke with a park ranger, selected a route and hiked towards the rock formations. After a mile or so we found ourselves scurrying up the rock between two of the formations. I stopped to rest feeling dizzy and overheated. I sat and sipped water, watching a lizard sun himself on a nearby rock. Phoenix was just barely visible on the horizon — a hazy little collection of sky scrapers jutting out of the desert landscape.
Within Lost Dutchman State Park, two mountains rise out of the desert landscape which is otherwise punctuated by nothing taller than saguaro cacti. But, the word “mountain” doesn’t quite fit here. The rock formations seem more like desert spires or craggy outcroppings than mountains. It’s as if someone set up a huge crystal growing kit in the middle of the desert, but didn’t get the recipe quite right. While the shape looks like a giant chunk of amethyst, the composition is that of rock and not a translucent, jewel-toned stone.
In reality (read: forgive the geology lesson), the rock formations were created in the aftermath of volcanic activity: first the eruption, then the crumbling and crashing of the volcano walls into newly emptied lava chambers. The impact of the crashing within the largest calderas caused an up-thrust of lava which resulted in the rock formations seen in the park. They are quite literally splashes of lava frozen in time. Hikers sometimes report hearing a thunder-like sound while on the trails in this area– apparently the reverberations of ongoing seismic activities within the rock walls.
Ghost towns, frozen lava spires, phantom thunder — an aptly named wilderness, indeed.