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Superstition Wilderness - Tonto National Forest

Despite it's proximity to the Phoenix area, the 160,000 acre Superstition Wilderness offers some of the best lower Sonoran desert hiking around.  Elevations within the Wilderness range from approximately 2000 to 6000 ft with the higher elevations in the eastern section.  Daytime temperatures within the area match those in the city and are extremely hot during the summer months, making it unhikable (in my mind) for 1/2 the year.   Water may be found in streambeds during certain times of year and after heavy rains, but do not rely on these sources being present for survival as no perennial streams exist.  Trails are quite rocky and conditions vary from veritable highways to all but invisible skunk trails which can be quite overgrown and difficult to follow (even in the more traveled western section). 

The Superstition Wilderness can roughly be divided into western and eastern sections. 
The western section is lower in elevation and consists of extremely rugged and beautiful terrain with steep cliffs, sheer escarpments, deep canyons and thorny plants.  It is also considerably easier to access than the eastern side, which can result in busloads (literally) of people at some of the more popular trailheads.   Fortunately most people do not travel far and opportunities still exist for real solitude.  Plant life consists of typical lower Sonoran desert vegetation: chainfruit, teddybear and buckhorn chollas, saguaro, scrub oak, jojoba, hopbush, prickly pear & hedgehog cactus, sugar sumac, paloverde (the AZ state tree) and mesquite with a smattering of larger cottonwood along some of the more frequently flowing streambeds.   
The eastern side consists of high rolling hills along the tops of which larger pinyon pines and alligator juniper may be found.  Other plant life includes Utah service berry, sotol, scrub oak and beargrass.  This portion is less often visited due to the fact that there is no easy road access.  Though it is not as scenic as in the west, the assurance of solitude makes it worth a trip.

Cattle grazing is still permitted in much of the Superstition Wilderness.  As a result considerable degradation may be seen especially along stream beds and washes (the Coffee Flats in the west and Tule Trail in the east are two prime examples).  One can hope that these allotments will not be renewed as the old west continues to fade into irrelevancy.
It should also be noted that the Maricopa County Department of Environmental Services - Air Quality Division which oversees air monitoring in the county, has recorded the highest levels of ground level ozone in Arizona within the Superstition Wilderness.    Maricopa County is currently considered in serious nonattainment of national ozone standards and it seems that, due to prevailing easterly wind patterns, that the worst of the Phoenix smog is blown and concentrated in the Superstitions.  That healthy hike, may not be so good for you after all.