Hiking the Flatiron
Located in Apache Junction just 40 miles outside of Phoenix, Lost Dutchman State Park
When I asked the cashier at REI what his favorite day-hike in the Phoenix area was, he thought for a minute before answering, “Oh! The Flatiron’s pretty good.” That should have been a clue. Because when a weathered-looking young man with a Yosemite Sam beard and arms like gnarled bologna logs calls a hike “pretty good,” it’s more like something out of a Jack London novel.
The staff at Lost Dutchman State Park are always eager to share information about the hike. From the park, there’s easy access to the Siphon Draw Trail that leads to the Flatiron through the nearby Superstition Mountains, making it a popular starting point for visitors. The day I went, there were several people ahead of and behind me, including a few young men in tuxedo t-shirts (we’ll get to that in a minute).
The Superstitions are a sculptural mountain range formed by intense volcanic activity that pushed the rock straight up from the earth. As a result, there are a lot of steep trails, some requiring short vertical climbs to make it up the high slopes. I went up with an 80 oz Hydropak, two additional bottles of water, a bottle of an electrolyte drink, and snacks, and came down with empty containers and wrappers. It’s a hard way up, and a long way down, and you’ll need hydration both ways.
On the trail, you reach what’s commonly called the Basin, a natural depression where millennia of wind and erosion has worn the red volcanic tuff into a Martian landscape. As I took in the otherworldly beauty, it started to dawn on me… this is the halfwaypoint. A lot of hikers choose to head back rather than try to scramble up the worn-smooth surface of the Basin to the next part of the trail.
I was surprised to see the young men in tuxedo t-shirts again, and finally, I asked them why they were dressed for an ironic high school prom photo. They said their friends were getting married at the top of the Flatiron and they were joining the wedding party. And in short order, two women came to join them wearing t-shirts with bridesmaids’ dresses on them. So they answered that question before I even asked it.
We minded each other as we went, and I quickly realized how serious the danger of falling rocks was. This was unkempt wilderness and it did not suffer fools gladly. I was glad I invested in a pair of lightweight nylon pants to protect my legs from thorns and brush. On occasion, I stopped to I check my laces and picked off all kinds of sharp desert vegetation.
The top of the Flatiron is an uneven plateau with a sprawling view of Arizona’s lower desert. It’s spectacular. From the right angle, you can see an uninterrupted span of desert that seems to resemble the earth as it was centuries ago. And it’s a great place to sit down, rest, get some selfies, and rehydrate without other climbers pressuring you for space. Also, cell reception isn’t that bad so you can post or go live on social!
I made it to the top of the Flatiron just in time for “I do,” and watching everyone cheer and kiss and congratulate while overlooking the broad Sonoran Desert, I was glad that I did. You never know what you’ll see until you make the trip.