How to backpack Arizona’s eerie Superstition Wilderness

Arizona is home to some serious scenery: the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon. While those are far from any major city, just an hour from Phoenix sits an untouched swath of pristine Sonoran Desert. The Superstition Wilderness, with its eerie red spires and lanky saguaro cacti, offers equally stunning vistas, is full of wildlife, and has miles of trails to explore.

Pristine Sonoran Desert habitat is getting harder to find in Phoenix. But within easy reach of the country’s sixth-largest city lie the Superstition Mountains. They’re populated by ring-tailed cats; coyotes; javelinas, which look like little wild boars; and even mountain lions.

Originally designated as a federally protected wilderness in 1939, the area covers more than 160,000 acres. At its heart, the Superstition Wilderness holds the gutted core of an extinct volcano, which thrust dramatic rust-colored pinnacles into the sky. Canyons and mountain slopes are dotted with iconic saguaro cacti, some hundreds of years old.

The human history here is storied, too. There’s a legend about a lost gold mine that still intrigues treasure seekers today, and there are “superstitions” about hikers regularly disappearing here. Apache lore even holds that the mountains cradle the entrance to hell. As long as you don’t really get lost, just appreciate the mystique these stories lend to the place. Enjoy the dark skies as you stargaze from your campsite, and appreciate a quiet that’s hard to find in a sprawling urban area.

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