Monday, June 27, 2016

John Chuning

June 20, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A view of La Barge Canyon, where John Chuning once lived in a cave just below the Lower Box.
Old-timers who are familiar with the search for the Lost Dutchman Mine will recognize the names of Richard “Dick” Holmes, Julia Thomas, the Petrasch brothers, Guidon Roberts, James A. Bark and Sims Ely as important figures associated with the never ending drama about lost gold in the Superstition Wilderness of Arizona.

Additional names such as Joseph Deering, John Chuning and Aaron Mason will also be recalled. These are the names of individuals who were involved with the search for Jacob Waltz’s mine after his death on October 25, 1891.

John Chuning played an interesting role in the search for the mine. The stories about Chuning vary according to the source.

John Chuning was linked closely to Joe Deering and the Two Lost Soldiers Mine supposedly located in the Superstition Mountains. Chuning believed the Lost Soldiers Mine and the Lost Dutchman Mine were all one in the same.

Chuning was born in Missouri about 1845, and traveled to the California gold fields about 1865. He was almost twenty years too late to profit from any of the rich gold finds in California and found pickings quite slim there.

He then packed up, like many other prospectors, and headed east toward Arizona Territory in 1875. One of Chuning’s first jobs in Arizona Territory was working at the Silver King Mine in the Pinal Mountains.

Chuning worked at the Silver King Mine long enough to established a grubstake, then he struck out alone to discover his own glory hole. During his tenure at the Silver King Mine he met Joe Deering and Aaron Mason. Mason partially grubstaked Chuning with burros and other mining supplies. Mason often grubstaked prospectors he thought reliable throughout the late 1870s and 1880s.

Chuning spent much of his time prospecting the area south of the Salt River, north of Queen Creek, east of Superstition Mountain and west of Fish Creek Canyon. Chuning worked periodically at the U Ranch for Jim Bark prior to moving his search to the north near Malapai Mountain. Chuning believed the Two Soldiers Mine actually existed and he was convinced it was the same mine where Jacob Waltz found his gold.

 John Chuning was fifty-four years old in 1898 and he had finally settled down to one area in the Superstition Mountain region.  He found a cave in La Barge Canyon just below the Lower Box. He lived in this cave off and on for the next six years, prospecting the area.

He worked occasionally for Carl A. Silverlocke at the Indian Paint Mine at Red Pass between La Barge and Boulder Canyons north of Battleship Mountain. As the years progressed Chuning’s health began to fail and he eventually moved in closer to Tortilla Flat around 1906. Dr. Ralph Palmer, the post surgeon at Roosevelt Dam attended him several times while he lived close to Tortilla Flat Change Station.

Chuning often entertained travelers who stopped at Tortilla Flat between 1906-1910 with stories about Superstition Mountain and lost gold, while saying he had never given up hope of locating the a rich mine.

Chuning often entertained travelers who stopped at Tortilla Flat
between 1906-1910 with stories about Superstition
Mountain and lost gold. He died there in 1910.
It was in the early fall of 1910 when Chuning fell ill.  He died at the age of 65, on November 13, 1910, at Tortilla Flat. Dr. Ralph F. Palmer attended to him in his final hours. John Chuning was laid to rest in the Mesa Cemetery.

John Chuning spent the final years of his life searching the region south of Tortilla Flat between Peter’s and Boulder Canyons. His search proved futile, but his name was inscribed forever in the history of the Superstition Mountains. A cave in La Barge Canyon bears his name. Also a faint trail that leads up the eastern side of Geronimo Head was named after John Chuning. Even the names of these modest memorials dedicated to John Chuning have almost been lost in the pages of history. Maps no longer carry the names of Chuning Trail or Chuning Cave.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Arizona's Summer Storms

June 13, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.


According to legend and myth the great “Thunder God” roars during the summer months. We do not find this hard to believe if we have experienced a violent thunderstorm in the Apache Junction area during the summer months.

There are basically two types of storms that occur in our area. The first storm-type we experience brings the central mountain area of Arizona its winter rains. These winter storms result from the general cyclonic patterns that move across the United States every ten days or so during the winter months. These storms originate in the Aluetian Low in the Gulf of Alaska and can dump enormous amounts of precipitation on Arizona below the Mogollon Rim if their course is altered by the jet stream.

The storms will generally last four or five days with intermittent rainfall. This type of weather can be identified with the solid unbroken overcast resulting from Stratus clouds. These are what we call our winter storms and they are usually not violent in nature.

The second storm type is known as the Monsoons. These storms bring massive thunderstorms with heavy showers, lightning and sometime devastating winds called “microbursts.” During the summer months most of the storms over central Arizona and the eastern portion of the Superstition Mountain Wilderness result from warm moist air flowing in from the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. This air moves across Texas, New Mexico and Mexico.  Mountains force the moist warm air upward forming clouds. These clouds release their moisture as they rise and this is known as orographic lift.

The massive anvil-shaped thunderhead clouds that form over Superstition Mountain from July to September normally combine both from orographic lift and convectional activity.  The convectional storm clouds result from the rapidly rising and expanding of warm moist air and rapidly falling cold moist air. Uneven heating of the earth’s surface causes convectional activity in the atmosphere. This uneven heating of the earth’s surface is caused by the open cloud pattern in the atmosphere.

Lightning can be caused by the attraction of unlike electrical charges within a thunderhead. The rapid movement of ice and water molecules, going up then down in a thunderhead cell, creates friction that results in an enormous amount of static electricity being produced. A single lightning discharge can produce about 30 million volts at 125,000 amperes. A discharge can occur in less than 1/10 of a second. The results of a lightning strike can be horrific.

The rapid rising and falling of warm and cold moist air also creates violent bursts of energy. This type of activity results in microbursts. These microbursts can develop winds, momentarily, up to 200 mph. As the clouds build and combine they form massive anvil-shaped thunderheads called cumulonimbus clouds. These clouds are massive static electric generators dispersing lightning and creating turbulent winds. These summer thunderstorms are extremely violent and can be very dangerous.

It is these giant thunderheads that dominate the sky above Superstition Mountain during the monsoon season. The lightning produced by these storms can be spectacular. According to most sources the safest place during a lightning storm is in an automobile. Don’t make yourself part of a lightning rod during an electrical storm by standing near a lone tree or on a high point. The use of your telephone during a violent lightning storm could be your last conversation. The same is true connecting to the Internet during a lightning storm. Standing near or in a swimming pool is asking to meet your maker. Boating on a lake during a lightning storm is certainly risking your chances of living to a ripe old age. Common sense needs to prevail during our violent thunder and lightning storms.

Most Arizona monsoon storms are associated with two other dangerous factors. These factors are flash floods and dust. A Thunderstorm can dump three to five inches of rain over a small area in an hour and create a massive flashflood. A flashflood near Payson in the 1970’s claimed twenty-two campers along Christopher Creek. Many years ago I witnessed a four-foot wall of water that roared down Hewitt Canyon claiming a couple trucks, horse trailers and a couple animals. These flashfloods result from heavy isolated downpours of rain in the mountains. There is often very little rain at the site of a flashflood.

Huge dust clouds are often associated with Monsoon storms in the desert. Local weather reporters are often referring to Monsoon generated dust storms as Haboob. Egyptian dust storms that blow in from the Sahara or Sinai Deserts in North Africa are called Haboobs.

Dust storms are extremely dangerous to automotive traffic along our state’s highways and freeways. Extreme caution should be used during these storms. It is recommended during these storms to pull as far off the highway as possible and turn your lights off.  While waiting for the dust storm to blow over don’t rest your foot on the brake pedal.  Your taillights or brake lights might attract other drivers in the storm.

It is not difficult to see why the early Native Americans held Superstition Mountain in such awe. If you have ever witnessed a violent electrical storm over the mountain you can see why.  We can partially explain the phenomena today with modern science, but the early Native Americans could only look to their Gods for an explanation.  The storms were certainly caused by their “Thunder God” with all his might and fury. We, as late arrivals, should respect the awesome power of the “Thunder God.”

Monday, June 13, 2016

Surviving the Sonoran Desert

June 6, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.


Summer is here and the temperatures are climbing. A review of some summer survival techniques is most appropriate. Each summer we read or hear about a tragic death resulting from dehydration, exhaustion or sunstroke occurring during the hot summer months in the Sonoran Desert. These summer deaths could be easily prevented with the proper preparation and training.

Living in the Sonoran Desert for more than sixty years doesn’t make me an expert on the topic of desert survival. However, I would like to pass on a few things I have learned. Veterans of many summer sojourns have died tragically because they took the desert for granted. The older we get, sometimes the more careless we become. The most basic rule of desert survival is to tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to return. This simple rule can save your life.

Now, if you insist on going into the desert during the summer months when temperatures exceed 120°F on the ground, you need to consider some other basic rules for survival. For each adult in your group you will need a minimum of one gallon of water per day to prevent dehydration. Yes, you can survive on a quart of water per day under ideal conditions. This means you are in the shade, off of the hot ground and not exerting yourself. Even under these ideal conditions a quart of water per twenty-four hour period will not prevent the onset of dehydration. A rule of thumb is always one gallon of water per day per person on any desert outing in the summertime.

When a family or group go trekking into the desert with their four-wheeler, sand buggy, ATV’s or family car they need to carry sufficient water for any emergency. Remember, if you are planning a three day trip into the desert and there are three adults in the group you need a minimum of nine gallons of drinking water. If you have a sufficient quantity of water your survival has been increased three-fold. Large quantities of water can be carried in a vehicle, but what about horsemen and hikers?

A hiker or horseman must know the sources of permanent water along the route chosen. I would like to believe a reasonable hiker or horsemen wouldn’t find themselves in a remote desert setting during the summer months, however, that is not the case. Each summer Search and Rescue pulls dehydrated hikers out of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some succumb to the elements of the summer heat.

The next thing one should consider is the method of travel under extreme desert conditions, whether it be by vehicle, horse back or foot. Surface temperatures can reach 180°F on a hot summer day. Temperatures three or four foot above the ground may be only 110°F depending on the color and texture of the surface.  Dark colored material will increase your body temperature by thirty to forty per cent on a hot day. White material makes the best clothing because it reflects the suns rays and heat.

If you are hiking you also must protect your feet from extreme temperatures. Few people will attempt hiking in the desert during the heat of the day (1 p.m. until 4 p.m.). If one must hike in the desert during the summer months it is best to hike in the early morning, late evening or at night. Hiking or walking at night does have its disadvantages. The desert is a host to a variety of poisonous reptiles and insects.

Vehicle operators often go into the desert during the hot summer months not giving a second thought to the operating conditions for their vehicles. Something as simple as a flat tire, broken fuel line, dead battery,  or a punctured oil pan could lead to tragedy. A simple flat board might serve as a platform to jack up a stuck vehicle in the sand or to change a flat. Brush placed under a wheel to gain traction when stuck can save your life. A vehicle will do better in sand if you lower the air pressure in the tires.

Before the many deaths of illegal immigrants trying to cross the border between the United States and Mexico, more than 60% of the desert deaths resulted from vehicle becoming stuck in the sand or high centered on a rock. The remaining 40% of victims perished from the over extension of their physical capabilities.

Remember, survival begins immediately, not ten hours after you have become stranded and realize the consequences of your decisions. People have worked all day in the hot sun trying to free their vehicles then suddenly realize they are in a hopeless situation. Once panic controls a person’s actions, survival is dramatically reduced.

No situation is hopeless if proper preplanning has been undertaken. As soon as you know that you are in a dangerous situation there are three basic rules for survival. One, don’t let yourself panic, Two, stay where you are, and Three, try to signal for help.

You can build a signal fire from desert brush for immediate signaling with smoke. Automotive tires make the best smoke signal. The tires will give off a dense black cloud of smoke that can be seen for miles. You can use your car mirrors to signal aircraft. One important rule is always keep a signal fire ready to ignite if you see an aircraft in your vicinity. The international signal for distress is three shots, three fires, or three of anything that can be recognized as distress signals.

Many times an individual will not panic until the second or third day. The only control for panic is self-confidence in the fact that you know how to survive this situation. Staying with your vehicle is very important. From the air, it is much easier to spot a car in the desert then a human being, and most searches are conducted from the air.

If you decide to leave your vehicle it is important that you leave some kind of signal letting rescuers know which direction you are traveling away from your vehicle. Sticks and rocks can serve as excellent markers if properly arranged to indicate direction.

The above suggestions are not guaranteed to save your life, but they will increase your chances of survival. If you choose to walk out, try to walk during the cooler hours of the morning or late evening. Walking after dark would be the best, but there are many hazards on the desert if you don’t have proper lighting. Cactus spines, venomous animals, mine shafts, and pits are just a few of the hazards you could come in contact with in the dark.

The Superstition Wilderness Area, and other desert regions of Arizona, have claimed hundreds of lives over the decades from dehydration, exhaustion, and sunstroke. Many illegal aliens die each summer trying to cross the border between the United States and Mexico. Often summer deaths on the desert exceed one hundred human beings. Yes, the desert can be extremely dangerous in the summer months. Please use care and preplanning before going off into the desert for a summer adventure.

Finally, I would like to leave you with a comment about leaving children or pets in a car in the summer. If the windows are rolled up they will suffer from heat stroke or die. Most people will break out your window to rescue a child or pet left in a hot car. Think about that when you are shopping in the summer, even in late evening. Don’t leave children or pets in a car.

Also don’t walk you pets across a hot parking lot. The temperature of asphalt in the summer can fry an egg— what do you suppose it will do to your pet?