Visiting Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park

Visiting Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park must have a guardian angel. Or not – it has been threatened with permanent closure at least twice since 2002 due to budget shortfalls. It seems like an expensive place to run. The ratio of staff/workers to visitors is at least 2:1. There are at least six campground hosts. They have a large Americorps team doing trail maintenance. The sites are impeccably maintained – each site is raked between campers, the trash is picked up by two guys on an ATV every morning at the same time, and there’s always someone fussing over some little project.

Supposedly this is a dangerous place. The story goes that back in the 1840s, a gold mine was developed here, but then the family running the operation was killed by Apaches. Thirty years later, a man nicknamed “the Dutchman” found the mine with a friend, excavated and hid the gold, then both he and the friend mysteriously died before doing anything with that gold. For the last 120 years, people have been searching for these caches of gold, or the mine itself, often with violent or tragic results.

We’re skipping the gold and going for the hiking (and keeping our heads down after dark). There’s an intense trail to the top of the Flat Iron (I’ve heard a few locals pronounce it “flattern”), that bluff-topped peak in the middle of the first pic below, and lots of other great, less challenging hikes in the area. The Flat Iron (aka Siphon Gulch) trail is well-maintained…until it’s not. As soon as it hits the rock faces and 60+ degree, gravel covered slopes, all pretense of maintenance and regular trail markings are gone (in fairness, they tell you this before you set out). We scrambled for a ways, until we knew we were reaching the limits of our skill levels (survival tip of the day: always have a healthy understanding of your weaknesses), then steeled our nerves for the slippery climb down. It’s intensely beautiful and challenging. And I didn’t post any pics from the three rainy, cold days we enjoyed here before retreating to a cheap motel in Phoenix. I want you to think it’s all sunny skies and daydreams.

Superstition Mountains
The Superstition Mountains behind Lost Dutchman State Park.
Sunset on Superstition
Sunset on the Superstitions.
Flat Iron trail
The beginning of the tough part of the Flat Iron trail.
Lisa starts in on a shortcut before heading back to the trail.
Lisa starts in on a shortcut before deciding to take the trail.
Turn around point
The view back from our turn-around point.
Turn around point - up
As close as we got to the top — it’s good to have a healthy respect for this terrain!
Lisa just shy of our turn-around point. We climbed up here to get a little sun ... then it moved.
Lisa just shy of our turn-around point. We climbed up here to get a little sun … then it moved.
Paul thinks about the descent
Paul steeling himself for the descent.
The descent
The trail – should have gotten a side view to show the slope, but the loose gravel speaks for itself. And the fact that I’m only a few steps behind Paul and 10 feet above him.
Fellow hikers
Fellow hikers showering us with a rain of loose gravel — poor trail etiquette!!!
Lisa at the bottom of the basin.
Lisa at the bottom of the basin.
Moonrise over the mountains…the moon rises FAST!
Friday night entertainment: a string band playing at the picnic area – the crowd was freezing in the 50 degree temps! We thought it was balmy and the band was great.
Moon walk
Paul walks back to our campsite in the moonlight.

Update: Here is a great article about the mysteries an myths of the lost gold. Thanks, Scott!