Monday, January 26, 2015

A Visit to Needle Canyon

January 19, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I was sitting around the other day picking my guitar when I got to thinking about the many wonderful trips I’ve made back into the Superstition Wilderness during the past sixty years. For a moment I wondered if the time had been wasted. I assured myself it certainly had not been. I thought of men like Al Morrow, Ed Buckwitz, Chuck Aylor and many others. Their stories and life histories had established a foundation for the legacy I would eventually write. I visited Al’s camp on many occasions and was comfortable in a conversation with Al and he wasn’t a bit dominating or demanding.

One Friday in April, about 3 p.m., I started my journey to Al Morrow Camp in Needle Canyon. It usually took me about three hours and fifteen minutes to walk from First Water. It was almost dark when I called into his camp from Needle Canyon. He answered and invited me in. At fir

I greeted Al and asked him about spending the night around his fire. He welcomed me. At that point I started unpacking my tarp, bedroll, blanket and food. As I busied myself preparing for the night’s stay, Al sat quietly and watched. As soon as I had my site for the night prepared our conversation began.
Al Morrow at his mine in Needle Canyon.

 His oil lantern lit the campsite area and his fire felt good against the cool air moving down Needle Canyon that night. He asked me what I was doing back in the mountains. I told him I had to get away from the city. I further told him I had to slow my pace a little and smell the flowers. 

“Yeah,” he said, “I know what you mean Slim. People come into these mountains to rinse the city out of their souls, if you know what I mean. Besides digging, I spend time counting ants going from one place to another for an hour each evening. You would be surprised how many busy ants are in my camp these days.”

Al related the ants to people in the city walking the sidewalks from one place to another.

“There are not many people out here to talk to. Sometimes I don’t see anyone for a week, and then some hiker comes walking through my camp, lost, looking for the trail. I usually send them on their way with some friendly caution and directions. Yes, Slim, I have been counting ants for years just to occupy my time. I use to count people in San Francisco. Now in my spare time I have been recopying the Bible and keeping my journal up to date. I suppose I am doing all the talking,” Al finally remarked.

I heated a can of chili beans on Al’s fire and commenced to have dinner. Finally Al asked about my father and how he was doing.  I told him not very well and that he was on oxygen twenty-four hours a day at home. He still drives, but carries a small bottle of oxygen with him.

All of a sudden the wind came up and it looked like we were in for a storm. I didn’t check the weather before I left home so I had no idea what the conditions were going to be for the night. Usually it doesn’t rain or storm much in April or May. As the wind continued to blow a little we huddle around the fire and I listened to Al.

“As you already know I am still digging in my mine across the canyon. I haven’t found any thing that looks like pay dirt. I am not sure anymore if I am in the correct location, but I am not moving. This is the best campsite I have ever had.  All my information puts me in this location. You know, Slim, I have been working this site for more than ten years. I am convinced the Spanish gold is buried here someplace.”

What was Al Morrow’s work day really like? He would go over to his mine across Needle Canyon a short distance from his camp. He would dig in his (tunnel) straight back into the side of a hill through unconsolidated regolith. I looked into that tunnel and it appeared extremely dangerous. Al used no timbering at all to support the roof of the tunnel. I warned Al that mine would someday cave in on him. He only spent a couple of hours digging each day. He then returned to camp for lunch. At that time he would eat and then sit and count the ants marching from one location to another and record the number in his notes.

After lunch he then became very quiet and worked on copying the Bible. Al did take some time to write a pamphlet about the Spanish Mines of the Superstition Mountains he believed existed. Copies of his booklet still exist in the Apache Junction area. I believe you can find a copy of it in the Apache Junction Library. If not, try the Superstition Mountain Museum up on the Apache Trail.

Actually my night at Al Morrow Camp was quite uneventful. Al told me a couple of good stories about the area and life in the Superstitions. It did sprinkle a little and I enjoyed the pungent smell of Creosote down canyon from his camp. The gentle movement of air flowing down the canyon carried a variety of desert odors. The deafening silence was occasionally interrupted by a Great Horned Owl or the call of a Coyote. When the clouds finally passed over, the moon was shining bright in Needle Canyon lighting up rocks and Saguaros.

Alfred Erland Morrow was a very slender but stout man. He stood about 5’ 8” tall, he couldn’t have weighed more than 160 lbs., his skin was tanned and tough as leather from years of exposure to the desert sun. He always wore a ball cap, Khaki shirts and trousers. His hair was turning gray, but you could still tell he was a dignified individual and maintained his appearance accordingly.  To many, Al was known as the “Good Samaritan of Superstition Mountain” because he always welcomed strangers into his camp. Without a doubt Alfred Erland Morrow was content with his life in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

He lived in these mountains for almost two decades, July 8, 1950 until September 9, 1970, when he was crushed to death by a boulder he was sitting under to get out of a sudden rainstorm.

He lived a life of peace and had many friends who made the rigorous trip to Needle Canyon to visit with him. Like so many other mountain prospectors, Al Morrow stepped to different drummer.
st he didn’t remember, then he recalled my “cowboy” hat. “Oh” he said, “your Slim, one of Barkley’s cowboys. I didn’t recognize you without a horse.”