Monday, March 16, 2009

Back Trails of West Boulder Canyon

March 16, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Over the years I have mention some of the remote and seldom used trails in the Superstition Wilderness Area. There are several wilderness purists who enjoy these trails while they remain anonymous. Most of them would prefer these rarely used trails were not made public. For this reason I refrain from telling the world about some of the more interesting areas within the confines of the region to protect these sensitive areas from over impact.

I have not publicized the trail to the top of Summit 5024 in detail because of the hazards of riding that trail. Hiking that particular trail would be no real problem. An old friend of my  amed Monte Edwards called the trail to the top of the Summit 5024, the “Old Spanish Trail.”

Personally I doubt any Spaniard ever walked this particular trail or even came close to it. Edward’s always believed the Spanish Jesuits climbed to the top of Superstition Mountain to draw their maps of the area. These stories resulted in the “Legend of El Gato.” It is believed by some “El Gato” was a Spaniard or Mexican who climbed to high points in the Superstition Mountains and sketched maps.

There is another trail that is a real challenge for man and beast. The old Quarter Circle U Trail from First Water to Carney Springs. To follow this trail today would be a challenge for any experienced hiker. The last time I rode up to Willow Springs the old trail had almost been obliterated by brush and flash flooding; especially that portion of the trail just below Willow Springs and the old stone corral. I am sure the trail has not improved much since then. Monte Edwards and Don Shade prospected the area for several years and kept the trail brushed out. The area above Willow Springs is densely overgrown today. I am not sure you can even ride a horse through the upper portion of the trail to the saddle above Carney Springs.

Willow Springs was the site of Adolph Ruth’s camp in the late spring of 1931. Ruth left his camp around June 15, 1931, never to return again. His skull was found north of Bluff Springs Mountain, east of Needle Canyon and near the Three Red Hills along the old First Water-Charlebois Trail on December 10, 1931. The remainder of his body was discovered by William A. Barkley and Jeff Adams in January of 1932. Ruth’s search for the Lost Dutchman mine became national news for about six months between June 1931 and January 1932 because of his disappearance. How he died remains a controversy to this day. Many individuals still believe Ruth was a victim of homicide. The authorities reported Ruth’s death as an accident resulting from exhaustion and dehydration.

A short distance above Willow Springs is located a large stone corral. Most of these old corrals have vanished from the wilderness area. The stone corrals that survive today are a fitting monument to the hard work of the cattlemen who worked these mountains for almost a century. Twenty- five years ago we packed out an old scraper (Fresno) from the Willow Springs Corral. I am sure it was used to level the floor of the corral when it was being used. I once asked Barkley if he ever used the stone corral. He told me he always moved his cattle out to First Water or to the old Brush Corral in Boulder Basin. I am not sure anyone used that corral in West Boulder Canyon after the turn of the century. There was the old brush corral in Boulder Basin that Barkley used to work and gather cattle in that area. The West Boulder Canyon country is extremely rough and a difficult place to work cattle. A cowboy’s best helper in this country was a good cow dog.

The area around Willow Springs has always played a role in the story of the Lost Dutchman mine. The site was always a good source of water in the summer months. Over the years I have made several trips into West Boulder and I seldom came across anyone. A new interest has developed for West Boulder Canyon and particularly the area around Willow Spring because of Adolph Ruth’s death in summer of 1931. Actually the canyon is a beautiful area filled with many interesting things. There are several prospect holes in the canyon, a stone corral, a couple of very old camps with reminders of the past, and even an “ORO” carved in stone near the confluence of Old West Boulder and West Boulder Canyons. There are several short and obliterated trails that lead to old diggings along the course of West Boulder Canyon.

I was first introduced to West Boulder Canyon by Bill Barkley when I worked for him in the 1950s. I remember riding into the canyon with him and his two cow dogs. When Barkley would see a calf and cow he wanted to check out he would have the two dogs corral the stock rather than us chase them through the rocks. Horses don’t do well hopping over big boulders. We had our share of wrecks in those rock strewn canyons. In the mid 1950’s we were still fighting Screw Worm infestations. It was common for Screw Worms to develop in a calf’s eyes or their navels. By 1959 the Screw Worms were practically eradicated by the U.S. Government sterile fly campaign and program.

Sometime during the early 1980’s a prospector or Dutch hunter named Braun worked a prospect above the old Stone Corral in West Boulder. He was very secretive and not too friendly. He rode a horse and had two pack mules. I ran into him several times during the 1980s. I often heard dynamite charges he set off prior to December of 1983. He had dug an incline shaft about thirty feet deep in a side canyon. He had shored the inclined up with native timbering. He used short pieces of Mesquite timbers. I found his diggings about two years after he abandoned it some time in the late 1980s. The interesting thing about Braun is he worked the incline like old time prospectors from the 1870s. His technique of excavation was kind of interesting.

He was very meticulous in the way he timbered his incline. He also hid the waste from the incline. He used a sled-box to move his waste and what ever he was getting out of the incline. Braun’s work is just another mystery among the many mysteries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Monte Edwards often talked about his prospect, but didn’t really know anything about him or what he might be recovering from the site.

There were several prospectors who worked West Boulder Canyon over the past decades. Don Shade, Monte Edwards, Mr. Braun, and the Whistler are just a few. Their stories contain tales of lost gold and buried treasure. It is these stories that continue to attract people to the area in search of their dreams.

There are hundreds of prospects within the Superstition Wilderness Area and each of them probably has an interesting story associated with them. All of these prospects required money and energy to develop. They are always a reminder of who was here before we were.

Sometimes I look at them as a futile attempt, but a positive one at trying to prove out a dream.