Solitude in the Goldfields

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Exploring new terrain is always exciting, but sometimes you only have a few hours to kill. The Superstitions seemed like a good bet, but I still shy away from the crowds and on Veterans Day, there was sure to be a crowd.

The Goldfield range, near Usery Pass and Saguaro Lake, is something I have always wanted to explore. Not as glamorous as the Supes, the Goldfields offer many of the same wonders of the volcanic complex to its east, but with less of an allure. It’s unusual for people to know the range, unless they’re outdoor enthusiasts from Apache Junction, or those who prefer solitude, even in the city.

Since the terrain is easy to explore with a topo, I decided to jump out around Willow Springs Wash and cross country my way southwest to the middle of the range, just north of Dome Mountain.

Here is what I experienced…

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I arrived just as the sun was starting to crest over the ridge, and – of course – it was insanely cold. I’ve never felt so cold in my life as I have in the desert in the fall and winter months. There is a quality to the cold unlike any of the humid places I’ve been during the winter. It’s like touching frozen metal.

Thankfully, I was quick to warm up by hiking up a steep ridge to gaze into the eye of the sun. Its warmth was immediate.

I looked around at the awaiting cacti, jojoba, and creosote. Everyone seemed to be waiting for this precise moment of sunlight splendor.

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It was a windy day and it seemed to drown out the few ATVs I could hear, probably over in the Bulldog Canyon OHV area. There are many jeep roads that transect much of the range. Relics of old mining roads, mines, pits, and former camps and equipment are what you can expect here. The sort of place you’d see burros and a rusted out Model T. I sadly saw neither.

As a matter of fact, I wondered why I hadn’t seen a soul, even a coyote, in over 3-4 miles. All I had for company was the wind.

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And more wind… and the eerie sense of knowing there were plenty of critters all around, but I couldn’t see them. I was able to spot a Cooper’s Hawk flying high above the tuff pinnacles. Seeing him added to the absolute hush of the morning. Even my footsteps were silent.

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Nearing the end of the jeep road, I decided to scramble down a side canyon. I had to bushwhack a bit to get down into the wash where former rains pooled in the deep sand and the grasses gave the path a rare delicacy that no desert ever really offers.

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Farther into the canyon, the walls began to narrow. I came across some old wildlife caches that have long since dried up. Moisture from the shade and rains produced unknown ferns, mosses, and lichens along the ground and canyon walls. Bobcat, coyote, and javelina tracks were visible, as well as skunk.

Dropping onto the canyon floor and over a large pool of murky water, I realized I probably wouldn’t be going any farther without technical gear to assist. The vertical drops were more than I could manage and more water to deal with. A good problem.

I already had a long trek of boulder hopping and butt sliding, so I was ready to climb back up to the ridge. (It’s interesting, if you are a rock nerd, to note that the canyon walls were smooth with chalcedony. Very pretty in the morning light.)

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Before making my way back to the car, I had a chance to take it all in. From Gonzales Needle to Golden Dome to Razorback Ridge. What a view. What beauty.

And NO PEOPLE.

My kind of hiking.

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So long, Goldfield range! I will be back in February for the wildflowers, and maybe an overnight somewhere down the canyons.

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