Last Friday I hiked up the Peralta Trail with some of the Mountain Maniacs and looped back on the Cave Trail, enjoying stunning vistas of the ridges and peaks across the breadth of the wilderness area. The Peralta Trail winds 2.3 miles up through Peralta Canyon to Fremont Saddle and a fine view of Weaver’s Needle. The hike through the canyon is striking for the dramatic ridges that rear up on either side, and for the lush thickets of sugar sumac, jojoba and scrub oak that shade the lower washes.
Hiking Arizona’s Geology by Ivo Lucchitta has a chapter on Peralta. I learned that about ¼ of a mile from the trailhead hikers cross over the lip of a caldera. Calderas are collapsed chambers of volcanic magma. Once the gas-charged lava has spewed out, the empty lava chamber collapses creating a large circular depression. When the slurry of lava cools, it forms the ash-flow tuff that we hiked across on Friday. In some areas the erupting tuff is so hot that it welds together, such tough tuff that it is erosion resistant, but prone to vertical cracking and fissures that create the hoodoos so evocative of the western Superstitions. Where the tuff has more contact with the surface air it cools into rounded shoulders of rock that sounded metallic and hollow when we tapped our hiking poles across the porous surface. According to Lucchitta only the most violent volcanic action creates areas of calderas and tuff. We scaled an embankment of rounded tuff, passed a series of low caves, and slithered down the Devil’s Tongue on the Cave Trail, a sketchily demarked track east of and high above Peralta Canyon. We scouted for cairns and picked our way with care to keep to the path. Mountainous ridges stacked one on the other into the haze in the distance, and beneath our feet bloomed the occasional wildflower, hot pink hedgehog cacti and a yellow orchid-like creeper. Spiky agave reached for ankles with barbed spears. At about three hours and 45 minutes we came down off a steep ridge and crossed a gentle rise where saguaros saluted the hoodoos above. I’d say it was a golden day.