Monday, September 11, 2006

Tall Tales of the Superstitions

September 11, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Several readers of this column have asked me to write about some tall tales about the Superstition Mountains. Believe me, I have heard an abundance of these mythological stories. These stories include topics from ghosts to lost gold. I hope you find these vignettes about preposterous situations within the Superstition Wilderness Area interesting. 

The first story that comes to mind is the Pope Springs Monster. Many years ago two prospectors were searching for gold near Pope Springs in the eastern portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Their camp was located south of Iron Mountain and they had a small burro for packing their supplies. They tethered the burro in camp, and one night during a severe thunderstorm a large hairy beast attacked their camp and literally dragged off the burro. The next morning the two prospectors found tracks of what appeared to be a hominoid (an animal that stands erect and walks on two legs). One of the prospectors claimed the creature attacked him. He said he shot it three times at close range and it still hauled off the burro.

Experienced guides and hunters who checked the camp site a few days later claimed the burro had been attacked by a large bear. Many old timers made reference to this incident as [the] Pope Springs Massacre. It is interesting it was called a massacre because the only life lost was that of the burro. Tales about the Pope Springs Monster continue to be told around campfires in the Superstition Mountains. Well, after all there is a Mogollon Monster up along the Tonto Rim.

Several years [ago] I heard Ron Feldman, the OK Corral Stables owner, tell a story on national television about a man who saw a dinosaur in Needle Canyon near Weaver’s Needle. According to the story the dinosaur was extremely large, maybe thirty feet in length.

The men who witnessed this large reptile expressed fear, which made the story appear very genuine. The commentator for Good Morning America questioned Ron as to how or why these prospectors had witnessed such a spectacle some 130 million years after such creatures had disappeared. Ron had no real answer, but the commentator suggested “wacky tabacky.” This giant reptile was millions of years beyond its time, and friends of Ron’s believe maybe these guys had experienced a time machine of some kind.

Another interesting story comes from a very dependable source, an old cowboy named Bud Lane. Bud had worked the Superstition Wilderness Area for both Floyd Stone and the Barkley Cattle Company and was a seasoned cowboy and rodeo performer. He spent much [of] his final years working at the Quarter Circle U Ranch helping Everett “Arkie” Johnson. Bud tells a story about flying saucers and it is very believable.

During the mid-1980s Bud talked about a site in the Superstition Wilderness Area [where] he was convinced a UFO had landed. There was a spot in a large arroyo near La Barge Canyon [where] the sand was [fused] in a large irregular circle. Bud believed something landed there and the heat from its exhaust melted the sand particles in the wash forming a circle. Such a place actually existed. Many people who witnessed the site believed it was caused by a lightning strike. This was another interesting story about the Superstition Wilderness Area.

The year was 1935, when a prospector arrived in Phoenix claiming he had found a diamond mine in the Superstition Wilderness Area. He said his mine was located in a rugged southeast region of the Superstition Mountain range and reported that the diamond mine was a large cavern with a wall of diamonds. After the prospector’s diamonds were inspected by a jeweler, the stones were declared to be nothing more than Calcite crystals. Old man Modoc’s diamond mine carried the headlines for a while because people wanted to believe the mysterious Superstition Mountains had more treasure than just hidden gold. Modoc’s Cave still remains hidden today. The only information we find about Modoc’s Diamond Mine today are some periodicals from the mid-1930s.

Of course there is always the story of the Blue Light in Trap Canyon. Two prospectors who spent many years prospecting in the Trap Canyon area prior to 1970 talked often about a blue light shining upward out of the canyon. They described it like the flash of an arc welder. The light, they said, was extremely bright and very hard to look at.

An ASU professor reported the light as being a small carbon arc light used in small, but powerful, search lights. Now here is the real mystery. What would a person be doing with a carbon arc light deep in the Superstition Wilderness Area? Such a light would require a power plant or a large 12 volt battery to operate.

I must admit I have heard people talk about taking things into the Superstition Mountains just to create a hoax of some kind. Many locals have always believed the blue light being emitted from Trap Canyon was such a hoax.

[Part II – September 18, 2006]

Several “tall tales” were discussed in last week’s column. Here are a few more for this week.

The rumble of the mountain’s Thunder God has been heard by many residents of Apache Junction over the years. I have personally heard the rumbling deep within the Earth at Lost Dutchman State Park and also over at the Peralta Trailhead. This rumbling from deep within the Earth has been attributed to many different natural and man-made things. First let’s examine the natural phenomena that might be responsible for this rumbling.

Several years ago a science teacher at Apache Junction High School inquired at the ASU seismology laboratory about these rumblings in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction. A geology professor advised the teacher that there were several hundred small tremors every day along a fault in the Superstition Mountains. He said these tremors were so small that the average person could not detect them. When the professor was asked if these tremors could cause the rumblings heard in the mountains he said he seriously doubted it. However, he added that anything is possible when it comes to tectonic activity in the Earth’s crust.

The ASU professor suggested the mountain’s rumbling came from detonations at the Pinto Valley open pit mining operation near Miami.

Another source of the mountain rumble may come from another bizarre story. Many years ago it was suggested that there was a place in the mountains where  a person could look down into a deep crack and actually see liquid magma flowing. The person that told this story was not the kind to fabricate such stories, so what really happened on that fateful day they became lost and found this site? What did they actually see in this deep crack in the Earth’s surface? Such magmatic activity near the surface of the Earth could cause rumbling.

Another geologist suggested there was movement along a fault line in the eastern portion of the wilderness that caused the rumbling occasionally heard in Apache Junction. The final analysis of the situation would lend one to believe the detonations at the Pinto Valley operations are responsible for these rumblings of the mountain’s Thunder God. When there is a thunder and lightning storm over Superstition Mountain it isn’t difficult to envision the wrath of the Apache Thunder God.

The Superstition Wilderness Area even has a tale about Big Foot. Some time during the mid-1980s a man named Biscardi arrived in Apache Junction from Northern California convinced that Big Foot still roamed the Superstition Mountains. When he was told there was a Ponderosa pine forest in and around the Reavis Ranch he believed that would be the habitat of Big Foot.

Biscardi and his associates searched the area around Reavis, spending considerable time in Log Trough Canyon looking for Big Foot sign. Biscardi claimed he found scratch marks on trees and scat that was associated with Big Foot and not Black Bears. Biscardi’s escapades in searching for Big Foot were documented by local periodicals. Believe it or not, we have a Big Foot in the Superstition Wilderness Area, according to Mr. Biscardi.

I will admit there are some very large Black Bears in the Reavis area that love to visit the apple orchards. My neighbor, Keith Ferlund, and I were riding out of Reavis in October of 2000 and saw a very large Black Bear north of the Reavis ranch house and orchard. That could have left some very large scratch marks on the Ponderosa pines.

I hope you have enjoyed these tall tales about the Superstition Wilderness Area. I will never forget what my wife’s uncle, Dr. Thomas B. Jarvis, said in his commentary about the book Doctor on Horseback by Dr. Ralph Fleetwood Palmer. He stated, “The tall tales seem true and the true tales seem tall.”