HTCAA Trail Connections
With William Dean

Perhaps what made us realize the true value of HTCAA, was making our first trail connection...


In the fall of 2016, my wife Christine, asked me “Whatcha wanna do for your birthday this February?” Well, we live in western Colorado, and are both town employees near a major ski resort in the southwestern part of the state, and come February, we’ve usually had our fill of cold and snow.


I told Christine, “I’ve been reading about Apache Junction, Arizona and the wintertime equestrian rides posted on HTCAA. I’d like to take the horses down to your parents ranch near Prescott for a few days then spend a day or two in the Superstition Mountains on horseback”.


Anytime it involves a horseback adventure I know Christine will say “Count me in!”

Christine and I both share a love of our western history, and I’m frequently reading stories of the old west with its rich history and endless legends and lore.


In Christine’s home state of Arizona, there are many stories of legends and lore from the past, but one legend stands head and shoulders above all others, the legend of “The Lost Dutchman Mine”...


I’m familiar with the legend and that many people over the years have either lost their lives or searched in vain trying to find the lost gold of Jacob Waltz, aka “The Dutchman”.


With that knowledge, I knew I’d need to research a bit to safely ride into the Superstitions, and I began to look at online resources.

In our search for trail information, HTCAA became the most valuable tool of all because it was in this group that we found Jeff and Sharna Watson of Apache Junction.


When I first contacted Sharna, she was very concerned that Christine and I were just two more crazy “Dutch Hunters” looking for lost treasure.


She wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to be on the Phoenix TV news stations as crazy treasure hunters missing for 7 days, and the subject of a large to do for the Superstition Search and Rescue Team.

After exchanging many messages with Sharna, she began to realize that we only wanted to experience the beauty of the Superstition Wilderness on horseback and stay off the nightly news.


It was then that Christine and I truly did strike “Superstition Gold” in the advice given us by Jeff and Sharna!


Turns out that the Watson’s are true Superstition “Desert Rats” with years of packing and riding experience in the “Supes”, as the locals call them.

We were given advice on many things including which trails to ride with our horses and which to avoid, which maps were accurate and which might mislead you.


They also provided practical information on subjects such as how to handle a snake bite to your horse and how to safely remove Cholla cactus spines. I could go on, but the true thing to say about Jeff and Sharna is... They’re good people!


For our first adventure into the Superstitions, we decided to keep it a strait forward and simple day ride into the heart of “Lost Dutchman” territory.


We set our goal to ride to the base of Weaver’s Needle from First Water Trailhead...


Weaver’s Needle is a very prominent mountain peak which is mentioned in most accounts and treasure maps concerning the Lost Dutchman Mine legend. This route would take us up over Parker Pass, across O’Grady and East Boulder Canyons, reaching Weaver’s Needle by riding between Black Top Mesa and Palomino Mountain along Boulder Creek.

Our turn-around spot was planned to be the intersection of the Dutchman’s Trail and Peralta Trail, then a short back track to the Black Mesa Trail... 


This gave us a nice loop over to Hackberry Springs and water for the horses.


Our day ride into the Superstition Wilderness came off exactly as planned, and will always be a cherished memory for Christine and me... 


And it all began on the pages of HTCAA and the wonderful posts by its members.


This memorable ride was possible because of the blessings we were given by contacting Jeff and Sharna Watson, and them freely sharing their knowledge and advice.

We returned to Apache Junction this year once again for my birthday in February...


This time we stayed at Superstition Stables for a week along with our daughter Cheyenne and her husband Andrew Sayer.


The Watson’s live close to Superstition Stables and helped us with making reservations there, and once more gave sage trail advice. We rode with them near their home our first evening in Apache Junction, and experienced firsthand Jeff’s keen eye and Sonoran Desert expertise when he spotted an early season rattlesnake only a few feet off the trail!


The next day with Sharna as our guide, we rode from the Water Users Trailhead on the Salt River.


Sharna took us on a loop ride to Blue Point, then up a sandy wash passing an old coke oven, northwards to the base of Stewart Mountain.

This sandy wash is part of the old historic stock trail which was used for many years to move sheep between winter and summer ranges near Florence and above Payson, Arizona.


From that point, we rode eastward through a low saddle, where we enjoyed sweeping vistas of both the Four Peaks Wilderness and Superstition Wilderness with Saguaro Lake set in the foreground.


We were treated to a warm gentle rain which carried a fresh scent as we completed the day’s ride. It was a wonderful time both days shared with the Watson’s that left us wanting for more trails to share. 

The next trail of our Arizona trail riding vacation was my personal favorite, in which we rode along the southern border of the Superstition Wilderness out to Reed’s Water.


The Watson’s couldn’t be with us on this ride but I remember Sharna telling me it was one of her favorites when we originally contacted them a year earlier. We began this ride at the Peralta trailhead and the southern terminus of the Dutchman’s Trail, which we rode to its intersection with the Coffee Flats Trail...


The Peralta Trailhead area is quite spectacular with the Dacite Cliffs towering overhead and the oh so beautiful Saguaro’s!


Coffee Flats Trail is very rocky and I’m glad that Christine’s horse and mine were both recently shod. Our daughter Cheyenne, and son in-law Andrew, live near Flagstaff which has plenty of rocky trails of its own, which they regularly ride their horses on barefoot or booted and they had no issues with this rocky trail.

The vistas of Miners Needle and across Coffee Flats to Buzzards Roost, were very beautiful...


It’s classic Sonoran Desert scenery with saguaro, cholla, ocotillo and many other types of desert fauna.


The majority of people think deserts are barren, dry, desolate and inhospitable. But, if you ever have the opportunity to ride your horse into the Sonoran Desert, I know your mind will be forever changed from that view as it’s truly full of life.


Once near Buzzards Roost, the trail leaves the Superstition Wilderness and drops into Reed’s Water, which still has two old non-working windmills.


We were able to rig up a small dip bucket with a line attached and retrieved plenty of water for the horses. If you venture out that way you might consider taking along items with which to dip water out of the well.

After Reed’s Water, we made a small loop to the south, swinging to the right at Whitlow Canyon back towards the wilderness boundary at Whitlow Corral.


From that point, we rode back along the same route to the Peralta Trailhead. It’s a gorgeous ride that I highly recommend  for those that properly prepare themselves and their horses for the desert.


Christine and I both feel that these experiences are the best of what HTCAA has to offer for riders that are willing to reach out to other members.


Learning new and exciting places to ride while building friendships among other people in the equestrian world can only be for the betterment of us all.


Giddy up and ride on!     

William (Bill) Dean, is a current HTCAA Foundation member, married to his best friend and riding partner Christine. They live and work in the heart of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, employed by Telluride’s Town of Mountain Village, working on the Telluride Gondola. They ride most every week, where they enjoy nearby red rock desert trails in the winter, and Colorado’s magnificent high country during the summer. In the past 4 years, they’ve ridden into 18 wilderness area’s to date, covering ground from South Dakota to Arizona. Bill and Christine are blessed with a passion to share the glory of God’s creation with others through their horseback adventures. 

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