Monday, December 21, 2015

The Curious & the Old

December 14, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Old cowboys on several occasions have mentioned some odd things that occurred on Superstition Mountain’s eastern slope.

Aerial view of the Dacite Cliffs, SSE of portion of Superstition Mountain. The crevice, according to the stories, is located NNE of the cliffs near Don’s Camp.
An old Barkley cowboy, named Joe Bailey, who had basically retired from the cattle business after some fifty to sixty years in the saddle, lived near the Apache Trail. He and his wife had an old Airstream trailer parked near what is the Mining Camp Road in the late 1950s. This was long before the Mining Camp Restaurant or any other houses were in the area—except for Barney Barnard’s place and a couple other old stone houses.

I was visiting Joe and his wife one afternoon after working on the well motor at the old Palmer Mine and checking the concrete tank below.

I told Joe in our conversation that Superstition Mountain was nothing but a large old extinct volcano. Just that comment started Joe talking about how active of a volcano Superstition Mountain is.

I told him the mountain was at least seventeen million years old and no longer active. He then said, “listen here Slim, I have witnessed this old mountain blowing smoke over on the east slope.”

I didn’t really consider Joe Bailey a man of untruths. He went on to say, “I was working some of Barkley’s cattle up and out of West Boulder Canyon on the eastern slope of the mountain early one morning when I notice vapor or smoke coming out of a crack in the rock just above me. I decided to go take a look. I step off of my horse and put on the hobbles. I walked toward the site about two hundred yards away. From the spot I was standing I could almost see Fremont Saddle. I could see the tip of Weaver’s Needle through the saddle in Burbridge Ridge. Arriving at the site of the crack (crevice) I could see vapor rising. The smoke or vapor smelled a bit like rotten eggs and I could feel heat rising. I found a clear spot and looked down into the crevice and some two hundred or so feet below I could see molten rock flowing.

“Now Slim, I know what I saw whether you believe me or not. After this incident I had an entirely different respect for the huge mountain east of Apache Junction, Arizona,” said Joe Bailey.

Joe told me he felt he was living on a slope of an active volcano, like the one that covered the Roman city of Pompeii in ancient time. I ask him if he was afraid of it erupting. He always replied “No” because he was eighty-three at the time and really didn’t matter whether the mountain exploded or not.

This was really an interesting story about Superstition Mountain. Over the years I have had others tell me about this mysterious crack in the Earth. I have ridden and hiked the area, but I have never witness anything described by Joe Bailey or anyone else. I can assure you Superstition Mountain is not an active volcano or caldera.

Yes, there was a lot of eruptive activity in this area 17-25 million years ago during the Tertiary Period of Geologic Time. Yes, Superstition Mountain was born of fire and has played a role in many legends, myths and tall tales.

Ironically, Joe is not the only person that has suggested volcanic activity of this nature associated with Superstition Mountain and the area on the eastern slope of the mountain. Over the years a variety of prospectors have mentioned this crevice, the rotten-egg gas smell, smoke and even liquid magma flowing hundreds of feet below the surface. I suppose it is remotely possible the magma from the core has found a conduit to the surface in the Earth. If so, I am certain satellite imaging would have detected it by now.

Again I have been told many stories. Many years ago a lady told me she was hiking in the area and also witnessed the activity around this crevice. She vividly remembered the flowing magma a couple hundred feet below the surface and the amount of heat it reflected upward.

She was one of the many students in my Central Arizona College class titled “Prospecting the Superstitions.” She offered to guide me to the site and I refused the opportunity because of other commitments.

She still lives in the community and I really regretted not accepting her offer. My doubt overwhelmed my curiosity for this mountain wilderness.

The possibility of an exposed magmatic flow on Superstition Mountain is highly unlikely. However, when it comes to geological phenomenon anything can happen. Superstition Mountain suffers numerous tremors each day, but they are so minute only a sensitive seismograph can register them.

Tremors of this nature signal magma flow, but not too likely in our area. The volcanic action in this area has been silent for more than seventeen million years. The only action we witness today is erosion and mass wasting.

Mt. Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy, known for its eruption in AD 79. 
When I think back to Joe Bailey, the various prospectors and the lady in my college class, I have to be curious and just wonder about the possibility this phenomenon in our area, even though we know Superstition Mountain is not an active volcanic area.

Caption: Aerial view of the Dacite Cliffs, SSE of portion of Superstition Mountain. The crevice, according to the stories, is located NNE of the cliffs near Don’s Camp. Below, Mt. Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy, known for its eruption in AD 79.