Hieroglyphic Trail in the Superstition Mountains
Hieroglyphic Trail in the Superstition Mountains
About 35 miles directly east of Phoenix, Arizona, lie the famous Superstition Mountains, home of the very famous Lost Dutchman Mine. Here wild west stories abound concerning the very rich gold mine that was “lost’ back about 1860 when its discoverer, the “Dutchman” wandered half-dead out of the mountains with lots of gold and stories of the mine. He died before revealing its location.
The beautiful high desert terrain surrounding the Superstitions has hundreds of miles of very beautiful popular wide hiking, biking, horseback and ATV trails Among many wonderful hikes up into the mountains is the Hieroglyphic Trail in the Superstition Mountains, a fascinating short and easy 1.5 mile foot trail. It is easily accessed from a large parking lot in the small community of Gold Canyon.
This popular trail heads northeast from the parking lot past the right-branching Lost Goldmine Trail (5.5 miles to the Peralta Trailhead Rd). and proceeds left about 1.5 miles with only about a 600 foot total climb. The trail dead-ends at a spring and some clear water pools in the rocks. In winter there is usually flowing water. Look around the pools at the rock walls, and you will see some excellent hieroglyphs, also called petroglyphs. The ancient Hohokam Indians carved images of men, antelope and snakes into the wall.
Also in the area is a rock shelter used by the Hohokam and a fantastic large rock where mortar holes tell the story of years of grinding grain. Take a moment and imagine the women grinding grain, sharing stories and looking out over the vastness of the valley while the men scratched their artwork into the rock wall.
The hieroglyphs (petroglyphs) are considered some of the most spectacular in the Valley. These petroglyphs line the rocks around this area, some of which are in very good condition (though, as is typical, some intellectually challenged individuals have defaced a few areas). Please do not walk on or touch these objects, as it only hastens their decline.
This location was important to the ancient Hohokam Indians, who inhabited this desert region up to 1,500 years ago. Evidence of their settlement includes hundreds of petroglyphs etched into the dark, weathered surface of the basalt cliffs above the pools, some with very intricate designs. This scenic location is high enough for a long-distance panorama southwest over Gold Canyon and the Gila River plain, and also provides close-up views of the jagged upper slopes of the Superstition Mountains to the north, rising over 2,000 feet higher.
In North America, the Hohokam were the only culture to rely on irrigation canals to water their crops, and their irrigation systems supported the largest population in the Southwest by AD 1300. Archaeologists working in the 1990s in the Tucson Basin, identified a culture and people that were ancestors of the Hohokam that might have occupied southern Arizona as early as 2000 BC. This prehistoric group from the Early Agricultural Period, grew corn, lived year round in sedentary villages and developed sophisticated irrigation canals.
The Hohokam seem to have constructed an assortment of simple canals combined with small dams in their various agricultural pursuits. Between the 7th and 14th centuries, they also built and maintained extensive irrigation networks in central Arizona that rivaled the complexity of those used in the ancient Near East, Egypt, and China.
Over 70 years of archaeological research has revealed that the Hohokam cultivated varieties of cotton, tobacco, maize, beans and squash, as well as harvested a vast assortment of wild plants. Late in the Hohokam Chronological Sequence, they also used extensive dry-farming systems, primarily to grow agave for food and fiber. Their reliance on agricultural strategies based on canal irrigation, vital in their less than hospitable desert environment and arid climate, provided the basis for the aggregation of rural populations into stable urban centers.
Keeping this history in mind while hiking the Hieroglyphic Trail in the Superstitions can add significantly to your hiking experience to this fascinating site. An excellent example of a Hohokum “urban” settlement and their canal systems can be seen at the Tuzigoot Ruins site about 150 miles north in Cottonwood (about 15 miles northwest of Camp Verde on I-17). It’s a wonderful day trip from the Phoenix area if you’d like to get more of the flavor of this ancient local indian people. The building complex is quite, well, complex.
If you have any views on this, or experiences of your own you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment below.
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