Monday, November 12, 2012

Museums Along the Apache Trail

November 5, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There are several museums located along the Apache Trail (State Route 88) and some are good size and some are very small. There is the Roosevelt Interpretive Center located at Roosevelt Dam, not a true museum but an interesting interpretive center on the area. Then there is the Tonto Ruins Interpretive Center that presents the archaeological interpretation of the area. The tiny museum at Tortilla Flat is interesting and unique.

The Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum is located near the Apache Trail and Mountain View Road and is a large and very impressive museum. The Goldfield Museum is located in the Goldfield Ghost Town at the site of old Youngberg. This is an interesting museum found within a recreated ghost town atmosphere. Then there is the Bluebird Mine and Curio Shop located on the Apache Trail. This old road stop has been serving tourist since being founded in 1946 by Red Monigan. The Bluebird did not fully develop into a small museum about the history of the area until the 1970s when Lou Alice’s son Louis began to gather things and establish simple exhibits for visitors to look at.

The Bluebird Mine can be found on the western façade of Superstition Mountain near what is known today as the Apache Trail. The mining site has existed as part of Goldfield since the 1890s. My wife, Sharon, and I have been visiting the Bluebird Mine and Curio Shop since 1961. Ray and Lou Alice Ruiz purchased the business from the Hamakers in 1967. The Ruizs have operated the business every since.

Louis Ruiz, son of Ray and Lou Alice, returned home from Vietnam in May of 1967 after serving a tour of duty with the, Big Red One, the 1st Infantry Division, 2nd 33rd Artillery Battery “A” in Iron Triangle northeast of Saigon. South Vietnam. Louis was awarded the Bronze Star for gallantry on Jan. 5, 1968.

Louis was born in Detroit on Jan. 23, 1946. His mother moved to Arizona in the summer of 1947. Louis returned home permanently in May of 1968 after Vietnam. It was at this time he found home to be the Bluebird Mine and Curio Shop along the Apache Trail.

One of Louis’ first jobs at the family business was running the mine tour. The business included a curio shop, snack bar, mine tour, and eventually a marine repair shop. Louis worked in all the different parts of the Bluebird enterprise. He found gathering history of the area one of his favorite pass times.

He started his collection of old photographs in 1970. Contributors to his photo collection included Arizona pioneers such as Pop Hamaker, Becher Lewis, Ted Sliger, Doc Waterbury, and Norman Mead. Louis displays his photos in the gift shop along with maps and diagrams of the Mammoth Mine and the Goldfield operation. The gold camp of Goldfield was located between and along what is the Apache Trail just east of what was once Youngberg. Today much of the Goldfield Ghost Town is located on the site of Youngberg.

Louis spent years gathering old hand-hewn timbers used in local mining operations given to him by Ted Sliger who owned the Buckhorn Baths. He also gathered up old signs that designated the site of Goldfield. Alfred Strong Lewis made these signs. Lewis was an early mining man who had worked in the old Mammoth Mine for George U. Young. The shaft of the old Mammoth Mine is almost due east of the Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar. Some believe the old timbers on display were hand-hewn by Spaniards, but that is very unlikely. Most likely they were hand-hewn by early Mexican miners in the area before prospectors and miners from Mesa City arrived in the area in the early 1880s.

Immediately south of the gift shop is an area of outdoor displays. This area includes an old arrasta constructed by Red Monigan to crush gold ore from the old Bluebird Mine. In this display there is all kinds of mining implements including scrapers, drill steel, shovels, picks, and ore cars. The entire outdoor display includes a variety of odd and ends associate with the area. Most of the display is tagged. For example there is a whiskey still that was used in the early 1930s by bootleggers in the Superstition Mountains. Glenn Hamaker packed the still out of the mountains from its original site at Whiskey Springs near La Barge Canyon some twenty miles away.

One of the really unique displays at the Bluebird is located on the south wall of the Curio Shop. Louis spent 375 hours carving the history of Goldfield and Youngberg into old lumber he had collected from the various ranches around the Superstition Mountains.

These ranches included Weeks, Tortilla, First Water, Reavis, U Ranch, and Fraser Ranch. These old boards were donated to Louis for the project. After carving out the words for the history, Louis spent twenty-four to thirty hours painting this historical mural that stands about eleven feet high and five and a half feet wide. The old house Louis lives in was one of the early Goldfield shacks built for miners and also served as a schoolhouse.

Another interesting display is all the newspaper articles Louis has made tabletops out of for the Bluebird Curio Shop’s veranda. Most of the history of the Superstition Mountains can be found in these tabletops.

You can easily spend an hour enjoying the history that Louis Ruiz had gathered and displayed at the “Old Bluebird.” Today Louis Ruiz serves as the manager of the Bluebird Curio and Snack Shop.