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.