Tuesday, November 25, 1997


November 25, 1997 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The Superstition Wilderness Area has many interesting prehistoric Native American ruins within its boundaries. These primitive structures are a mute testimony to those who occupied these rugged mountains several centuries ago.

None of these sites are more interesting than Circlestone.

Circlestone lies some fourteen miles east of Superstition Mountain and just northeast of Mound Mountain, the highest point in the Superstition Wilderness Area. Circlestone was undoubtedly first discovered by Elisha M. Reavis in the 1870s or by some military campaigner. Cowboy pot hunters of the early 1920s explored Circlestone and found few artifacts worth any attention much less removal from the site. The ruin has remained obscure for more than a hundred years. Rumors circulated in the early 1960s about a large circular ruin high on the slopes of Mound Mountain somewhere southeast of Reavis Ranch.

The stories fired the imaginations of a couple East Valley residents, Allan Blackman and Gary Hunnington. It was Blackman who really initiated serious exploration of the area. He was intent on locating a horse trail to Circlestone. Hunnington came into the picture because he owned an airplane. It was with this airplane Blackman found his trail to Circlestone.

During the 1970s it was near impossible to get a horse to Circlestone because of the thick brush. Blackman finally blazed a trail through brush up the east side of the ridge and found access to Circlestone. By 1980, an excellent trail had been located by the Reavis Mountain Survival School east of Mound Mountain.

Early historical work on Circlestone was totally missing from records and newspaper files. The only mention of Circlestone in early records was an archaeological paper submitted by Neil Smith II, an archaeology student at the University of Arizona in 1941. Smith’s report was titled “Cliff Dwellings of the Roger’s Canyon Area.” In this report Smith mentioned a circular stock corral near Mound Mountain which evidently had no apparent archaeological value. Smith came to this unscientific conclusion without even examining the site. His statement was based on hearsay from a local cowboy who worked for the Clemans Cattle Company. The cowboy told Smith the corral was used by the Mexicans to hold goats. From this statement Smith concluded the site had no archaeological value.

I first visited Circlestone as a boy scout in 1944, with my old scoutmaster, Red Cowen. However, it was Blackman’s interest in the site that eventually fired my imagination. Both Blackman and I became convinced Circlestone had archaeological value and its preservation was important. After several trips to the site between 1961-1981 we were able to convince KPNX Action News to do a documentary on the isolated circular structure. The station producer believed the site had unique and interesting archaeological merit. The documentary aired in March of 1981. 

The stonework at Circlestone was very crude and without benefit of mortar. The quality of the stonework did not compare nor was it similar to that of the Anasazi. Some archaeologist[s] believe Circlestone to be less than a thousand years old. Other professionals suggest the structure could be much older. Mr. Sam Henderson, Superintendent of Casa Grande National Monument in 1981, suggest[ed] the site was used as a marketplace or ceremonial site. Henderson had no doubt the site was of prehistoric origin.

Circlestone is 136 feet in diameter. The circumference of Circlestone’s wall is 427.6 feet. The average width of the wall Is two feet where it is still standing intact. The height of the wall averages about 5.5 feet. The three foot entrance is oriented S 37 º W. The center of the circle has a square pit house or ceremonial area seventeen feet square. About 80% of the original wall is down which can probably be attributed to the many earthquakes this region has suffered. The first recorded earthquake in this area was the Bavaspi earthquake recorded on May 7, 1883.

Neil Smith’s report on the archaeological sites in the Roger’s Canyon area of the Superstition Wilderness only added to the mystery surrounding Circlestone. His reference to Circlestone as a cattle corral and his lack of interest reflected on his incomplete training as an archaeologist. Mr. Smith’s report and a couple other vague mentions of this site [have] only created more questions about Circlestone. Who [built] it? What was it used for? These questions will continue to be asked until the enigma of Circlestone is someday explained. Circlestone will be thoroughly explored someday, but until that day arrives we will have to live with speculation and supposition.

Tuesday, November 4, 1997

Canyon Lake: A Jewel in the Desert

November 4, 1997 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

One of the most beautiful lakes in Arizona is Canyon Lake located 12 miles northeast of Apache Junction. This man-made lake is located in spectacular canyon country and attracts thousands of people annually to the area. The history of Canyon Lake is a fascinating one.

The impoundment of Canyon Lake occurred when Mormon Flat Dam was constructed. Construction on the dam began July 1, 1923. It required about nine months to build the diversion flume to redirect the flow of the river and to excavate down to bedrock. The first concrete pour at the dam was on March 4, 1924. Mormon Flat Dam was completed on January 12, 1925. When the dam was completed it stood 225 feet above the bedrock and was 25 feet thick at the base and 12 feet thick at the crest. The dam was 320 feet long and 160 feet about the stream bed. There were 44,000 cubic yards of concrete used in the construction of Mormon Flat Dam. The dam was capable of impounding 98,000 acre feet of water.

In the Fall of 1924, there was a considerable effort to name Mormon Flat Dam after William J. Murphy, a Salt River Valley pioneer. The various farm bureaus in the valley failed in their attempt to name the dam after Murphy. Actually the dam and lake were named after a large valley flat that Mormon pioneers used to graze their cattle on near the Salt River. The water of the lake covers the valley flat today.

George Moody, with the help of Ben and Jess Cramer built a thirty-seven foot launch. This launch was christened the S.S. Geronimo. The Geronimo was equipped for fifty passengers and had a crew of five. The S.S. Geronimo was launched on October 3, 1925. This was the introduction of tour boats to Mormon Flat Lake, later to be known as Canyon Lake.

The Geronimo was 35 feet long, [and] had a 10 foot beam. It was powered with a 35 HP engine and could cruise at about 15 mph. The Geronimo was very popular with valley residents throughout the 1930s.

Charles Donofrio introduced hydro-boat racing to Canyon Lake in September of 1927. On July 9, 1928, a world-class speed race was held at Canyon Lake. Seth Smith of Mesa tried to break the world’s speed record in an outboard motorboat using an Evinrude motor. The world’s record at the time was 38.62 mph. Seth Smith was able to obtain a clocked speed of 37.77 mph on the mirror finish of Canyon Lake.

George Moody, the owner and operator of the S.S. Geronimo, was the man most responsible for the change of Mormon Flat Lake to Canyon Lake. The tradition of tour boats on Canyon Lake continue[s] today with the Dolly Steamboat.

Drive up the Apache Trail and enjoy the beauty of Canyon Lake, have lunch or dinner at the cantina, ride the Dolly or rent your own boat. Whatever you do, enjoy the beauty of this desert lake created by man.