When planning my first trip to Arizona, I wanted to find a place where I could experience the best of its exotic desert landscape.
After a little research, I decided to visit the Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Mountains. It featured an impressive trail network and seemed to be settled in the ideal location for an outdoor excursion.
However, while reviewing the park’s map online, I noticed an unusual feature: one trail that branched out much further than the others.
Labeled Siphon Draw, it was the only one that rose above the mountain’s base and seemingly right to the summit. At its peak, the Siphon Draw trail reaches an elevation of 4861 feet, over 2300 feet higher than the second highest trail’s highest point. Needless to say, I was intrigued.
Unfortunately, I knew that I wouldn’t be ready for the Siphon Draw during my initial visit to Lost Dutchman State Park. The brochure’s description clearly depicted it as a trail well beyond my fitness level. However, over the next few years, I would significantly improve my health and lose a decent amount of weight. I would also become quite the avid hiker, trekking terrain spanning from deserts to rain forests, culminating at one point to the entire 80 mile Georgia segment of the Appalachian Trail. So during my next return to the Superstition Mountains, I was ready for the challenge.
To be clear, there are numerous warnings in the park and on its website regarding the trail’s challenges and dangers. Though only six miles round trip, even seasoned hikers are expected to take 5-6 hours to complete the hike, not including any time spent stopping and enjoying the sights. Along the way, hikers can expect extraneously rugged terrain, sharp rock edges, and possibly even dangerous wildlife. Naturally, I couldn’t wait.
The Start of Siphon Draw
The Siphon Draw trail starts out easily enough, much like the others in Lost Dutchman State Park. It begins in said park but soon travels into the Tonto National Forest. It winds over some flat terrain, passing through the campgrounds while bringing hikers close to some of the desert’s unique flora like Joshua Trees and the legendary Saguaro Cactus. Pretty small at first, giving me plenty of time to warm up for the greater challenge ahead. Temperatures are in the 80s and humidity is low (obviously). The Siphon Draw trail continues around what appears to be the front of the mountain from Lost Dutchman’s perspective, revealing a canyon splitting 2 mountain segments (and a much higher than expected peak).
As I hike well past the campsites into a more remote area, I see a sign marking the Superstition Wilderness. It is here that the canyon and climb begin. In fact, it is the canyon’s center that the Siphon Draw will traverse. It becomes pretty clear as to why it would take so long to hike. The sign revealing the transition from start park to national wilderness also happens to correlate with the geological shift to rockier terrain. It is here that I begin to step in between the rock formations that have captivated visitors for centuries. And soon, I will be climbing them.Very soon, in fact. The trail becomes much steeper very quickly as it gives way to a stone platform of sorts, with cascading steps of rock leading higher. Some very interesting formations await just ahead, enhancing both the Siphon Draw’s intrigue and rigor. This area is actually a wash during the occasional desert rainstorm, and evidence of this can be seen along the path ahead. Just to my left, I spot the desert’s version of a “waterfall”. And up ahead, the wash’s foliage is surprisingly thick for an arid region. There are times when it feels more like hiking through a jungle than a desert.
As I hike/climb higher, the Siphon Draw begins leading over, through, and around the large rock formations, providing a challenging yet fulfilling excursion. At this point, it’s sometimes difficult to tell where exactly the trail is supposed to go. Granted, it all leads to the same place (the top of the canyon), but some areas are, well, better for hiking and climbing than others. There are blazes, but most of them have faded and are barely visible.
Climbing further, I begin to see some new and interesting plant life. The Saguaro Cacti and Joshua Trees continue to adorn the mountainside, but they are now joined by some interesting plants that I’m just seeing for the first time. This gives me a reason to eventually explore the nature trail at the park’s entrance, as I have no idea what the majority of them are called. Despite its name, the desert is full of life and unique surprises.
I also run into a few other hikers along the way. One, a man from North Carolina, is traveling on a cross-country road trip. He had already made it to California and was (in no hurry) traveling back home. He reiterates my sentiment that the majestic Arizona mountainscape and desert terrain are pretty unbelievably awesome. He also mentions a particularly intimidating rock wall ahead that lead many to abandon their hike early. Of course, I’ve come too far to not at least attempt it.
A little higher, I come across another hiker who’s pretty clearly in decent shape. We also talk about how incredible the Superstition Mountains, and this particular trail, are. Like the last hiker, he confirms that the rock wall is, indeed, pretty intimidating. So much, in fact, that it led him to change his mind and turn around.
Siphon Draw’s Rock WallFurther up, I finally reach the infamous 12(ish) foot rock wall. I tried to take some pictures of it, but they make it look far less formidable than in person. I actually had to take a few moments to plan my ascent. The front bulges from the mountain awkwardly. I couldn’t get a great grip on the rocks here and knew that an attempt to climb would likely send me sliding onto some pretty rigid terrain below. Thick foliage combined with a steep slope make it impossible to climb up the left side. The right was actually a crevice. Granted, I’m not an experienced climber and this would require a little skill, but I decide to go for it anyways. The crevice is narrow enough for me to push my arms and legs against the side, suspending my weight while carefully pushing myself up. Honestly, I have not climbed in this manner before (and was probably taking a pretty big risk), but by taking my time, I successfully hoist myself up the rock walls and to the top. This was a small achievement in itself: I had just scaled a trail segment that most others found too intimidating.
Looking ahead, I realize that the biggest challenge is, well, still not over. Even though I had traversed so much of the trail, there’s still quite a bit left before reaching the top. Thankfully, the scenery ahead is more than worth the continued hike. The trail continues to offer some amazing formations, plant life, and a few unique combinations of both. This combination continues for some time and motivates me to keep going as the trail continues to challenge me relentlessly.
When I finally reach the top of Siphon Draw, a path continues to the right towards Flat Iron. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it is actually not officially part of the trail, nor is it maintained. However, foot traffic is so heavy here that a path remains in the terrain. It continues along the side of Flat Iron and is only a slight incline from this point on; which was great, since my building anticipation leads me to become much more eager to reach the top.
Exploring the top of Flat Iron
As the makeshift path converges with Flat Iron’s surface, the desert flora begins thinning out. Small bushes, yucca and prickly pear cacti replace the Joshua Trees and Saguaro. Majestic rock formations adorn the area, with views stretching for many miles. Birds dart all around me at full-flight speeds. It should probably cause some level of concern, but I’m just too captivated by my surroundings to let anything bring me down. As I walk to and stand on the western edge of Flat Iron (the very edge, in fact), I see the deep, rugged, and just awesome canyon stretch back down to the Valley of the Sun below. Phoenix’s skyscrapers are visible far in the distance, but it’s hardly an afterthought compared to the scene right in front of me. It’s surreal to think that I just finished hiking the entire distance. Past the valley, the mountains continue as far as the eye can see. It is moments like these that define the passion for a life of travel and exploration.From the edge of Flat Iron, I locate the actual peak of Superstition Mountain just to the northeast. It appears to be at least similar in elevation from my current standpoint. However, the sun would begin setting soon. I didn’t want to be caught out here in the dark, so I had to forego that experience this time, leaving me with something to look forward to during my next visit.
The climb down was nearly as challenging as the hike up. I had to take each step carefully and ensure that I was not descending on the rocky terrain too rapidly. I make it back to Lost Dutchman just in time to see the setting sun cast a red glow across Superstition Mountain. This was by far one of the best hikes I have ever completed.