The trail connects three popular trails in the First Water trailhead area to form a nice loop. There is not significant elevation gained or lost, but the trail is quite rocky in places which makes it more difficult for running. Keep your eyes out for a rare crested saguaro cacti along the trail!
There was water running in the creeks near the junction of the Black Mesa Trail and Dutchman Trail when I completed the route in January, but plan on bringing enough water for the full run or call ahead to the ranger's station to check on the availability of water on the trail before you go. Always use a water purification method such as a filter or iodine before drinking the water.
Start out from the First Water Trailhead. The trailhead is very popular on weekends so come early or visit on a weekday if you can. There is overflow parking in the horse trailer parking area, but even this can fill on popular days.
Sign in on the trail registration form at the trailhead and start down the trail. At the first junction go left onto the Second Water Trail #236
. The trail will cross a (probably) dry creek bed and then start climbing towards Garden Valley - a large flat mesa covered in cholla cacti and mesquite trees.
After gaining the mesa top, you'll reach a junction with the Black Mesa Trail #241
. Follow the Black Mesa Trail to the right as you begin to climb through the valley. From mile 3 to 4, the trail becomes quite rocky and difficult to run as you make your way to the highest point on the loop. It is manageable for those with quick reflexes, good balance, and endurance but for the rest of us it's a nice chance to slow down and enjoy the scenery.
The climb will end on another plateau with magnificent views into the heart of the Superstition Mountains. The trail quickly begins making its way back down into the valley on another section of very rocky trail from approximately mile 4 to 5. At the bottom of the valley, the trail crosses a few streams with running water (at least during the winter season). Watch for the cairns (or stacked rock piles) that mark the trail.
After crossing the streams, you'll come to the junction with the Dutchman Trail #104
. Go right onto Dutchman Trail and begin making your way up Parker's Pass. The Dutchman Trail is far less rocky than Black Mesa and much easier to run. Be sure to stop and admire the 360-degree view from the top of the pass.
The remainder of the trail makes its way through a valley with steep hills on either side which provide some much appreciated shade. You'll also cross a few (seasonal?) creeks along the way. When you reach the junction with the Second Water Trail at the end of the loop, take a left to return to the trailhead. Don't forget to log back in at the trailhead register!