Monday, June 1, 2009

Memorial Day on Superstition Mountain

June 1, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

As each Memorial Day comes and goes we remember the thousands of men and women that have given their lives so we Americans can enjoy our freedom. Each year we honor our fallen soldiers in many ways. Twenty-six years ago we wanted to honor the veterans of the Vietnam War and we were not sure just how we could accomplish this. We felt a large portion of the American public resented the sacrifice these soldiers had given for their country.

The sixties and early seventies were certainly a difficult and different time in America. I recall reading an article about Dewey Wildoner climbing to the top of Weaver’s Needle and flying the American flag on Memorial Day for the World War II veterans in the late 1960’s. He was a Navy photographer during World War II.

If Wildoner climbed Weaver’s Needle, we thought maybe we would try to take a horse to the top of Superstition Mountain and fly a large American flag on Memorial Day. We knew hikers had carried the flag to the top of Superstition Mountain before, but we were quite convinced no horse had been on top of Superstition Mountain. William A. Barkley had told me he had never known of a rider who had ridden to the top of either of the Superstition Mountain peaks.

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. was completed in 1982. The completion of the war memorial made our first trip to the top of Summit 5024 a priority. My wife and I had visited the Washington D.C. and the Vietnam Memorial that same year. Nothing in my entire life moved me so much as that “black granite wall of names” that had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. This trip to Washington D.C. changed our lives forever. It really inspired me to make this trip to the top of the mountain with the American flag.

We had found an old trail to the top of Summit 5024 in November of 1981. Lambert “Doc” Case, a local Vietnam veteran and I rode out the trail that year.
Greg Davis (Superstition Mountain Museum) and I rode to the top of the mountain on Memorial Day 1982 and raised the “Stars and Stripes.” I continued these Memorial Day trips until 1992.

The old trail we used for the trip to the top of Superstition Mountain is not a wilderness systems trail. We wouldn’t recommend anyone use it today. We are quite sure the trail has deteriorated considerably since we last used it in 1992. An old friend, Monte Edwards, believed the trail was used by the Mexican prospectors in their search for gold. We liked to believe it was anold game trail. Edwards hiked the trail on many occasions.
One of my most memorable trips to the top of the mountain was on Memorial Day 1989. I would like to quote from my journal:
“Monday, Memorial Day, May 29, 1989, Clear, 104*F I departed First Water at 4:30 a.m. with Greg Davis and Don Stevenson, an Arizona Highway’s photographer. The purpose of the trip was to fly the American flag on top of
Summit 5024 on Superstition Mountain. On Memorial Day we flew the flag for all veterans of America’s wars, but especially this year we flew the flag for the men and women who died in Vietnam. These were unforgotten veterans of a dirty little war.

We arrived on top at 9 a.m. and had ‘Old Glory’ up by 9:30 a.m. The six by eight-foot American flag we carried to the top of mountain made an awesome impact on us as it waved in the breeze from the top of Summit 5024 with the horses around its base. On this trip I left Duke, my trail dog at home, because of the high temperatures. These trips were just too hard for Duke anymore.

Dan Hopper and his boys climbed up Siphon Draw and met us on top for our Memorial Day service. Len Clements, helicopter pilot with KOOLTV Channel 10 filmed our flag ceremony on top of Superstition Mountain. The footage aired on the 6 p.m. news that evening. We departed the top of Summit 5024 at 2:45 p.m. and arrived back at First Water at 6:30 p.m.”

Don Stevenson did a short article on the trip to the “Top of the Mountain” for Memorial Day May 1991 in Arizona Highways. I am sure Stevenson will never forget this trip to the top of the mountain. I packed his Nikkon high definition telephoto lens on one of Duane Short’s mules. I put the lens in a mummy bag and wrapped it tightly and placed it in a pannier. Near the top of Superstition Mountain the pack mule took a tumble down a very steep slope. The mule rolled end over end at least three times before coming to an abrupt stop on its the middle of a large Juniper tree.

Looking at the wreck I supposed the mule must have broken something in such a fall, however that was not the case. The mule wiggle around and eventually fell out of the Juniper tree on all fours. He stood there momentarily as I made my way down the slope and grabbed the lead rope. I led the mule back up the slope and we checked the pack.

Stevenson’s expensive Nikkon lens had survived one “hell of a horse wreck, excuse me— a mule wreck.” To this day, I don’t know if it was my packing or just plain good luck that protected Stevenson’s expensive Nikkon lens from that disaster. When we returned to First Water that night Don Stevenson was pleased to be down off the mountain in one piece. He reminded us it was an awesome trip on horseback, one that he would never forget.

We made our final trip to the top of Superstition Mountain in 1992 to remember those that had paid the ultimate price for their country. After years of riding to the top of the mountain on Memorial Day I felt I had pushed my luck far too many times. I thanked the Lord for keeping us out of harms way on the trail to the top of the mountain and when I served this great nation of ours while in the military.

The flag we flew on “top of the mountain” had flown over the Capitol in Washington D.C. This special flag we carried had been draped over the coffin of World War II veteran who was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. We were asked by his wife to use the flag to remember the Viet Nam veterans.