Monday, December 31, 2007

The Apache Trail

December 31, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Apache Trail can certainly be classified as one of the most adventurous and scenic routes in the American Southwest. Since 1906 tourists have traveled this unique mountain road and marveled at some of the most spectacular scenery in our state. The Apache Trail, as we know it today, originates in Apache Junction and terminates at its junction with Highway 60-70 some four miles east of Miami, Arizona. The original roadway began at the Mesa railhead and terminated at the Roosevelt Dam site on Salt River some sixty-two miles away.

This approximate route of the Apache Trail has served humanity for more than a millennium. The Salado used the trail to penetrate the Salt River Valley around 900 A.D. Other Native Americans groups continued to use the trail as a migratory route between their winter homes on the desert lowlands and their summer homes in the mountains along the Mogollon Rim and the various sky islands of the central mountain region of Arizona.

The Apaches and Yavapais used the trail for their predatory raids against the Pimas along the Salt and Gila Rivers south and west of Superstition Mountain. The Apaches and Yavapais continued their raids after the arrival of the Anglo-Americans in the early 1850s. Finally in 1864, Camp McDowell was established along the Verde River some four miles north of the Salt River. The Pimas became willing allies of the blue-shirted soldiers who manned Fort McDowell. This footpath (trail) along the Salt River through the mountains to Tonto Basin was called both the Tonto Trail and the Yavapai Trail. The Army quelled the predatory Apaches-Yavapais in this region by 1868. There were other military campaigns fought against renegade Apaches from 1871 until Geronimo’s surrender in 1886 at Skeleton Canyon in Southern Arizona.

An expedition navigated the Salt River near the present site of Roosevelt Dam to Phoenix in a cataract boat during the early part of the 1880s. They reported numerous ideal dam sites along the river’s course. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors ordered a feasibility study done on the Salt River for possible water storage and flood control dam sites shortly thereafter. William “Billy” Breakenridge, James H. McClintock, and John H. Norton conducted this feasibility study. Breakenridge also explored the route for a possible wagon road at the time of this study. Billy Breakenridge was a well known Tombstone lawman during the 1880s. James McClintock became Arizona’s first official historian.

Breakenridge’s report was highly favored for the construction of a dam just downstream from confluence of Tonto Creek and the Salt River. The Congress of the United States authorized the construction dam and the project was funded in March of 1903. The task of supervising the building of this dam was given to the newly formed U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Service under the United States Department of Interior.

Immediately after funds were approved by Congress the communities of the Salt River Valley realized no money was appropriated for the construction of a haul road from Phoenix to the dam site. The valley communities wanted to participate in this economic boom. They wanted a greater involvement in the market developed by the construction of Roosevelt Dam. The communities immediately worked on a bonding plan to raise enough money to fund the construction of the Mesa-Roosevelt Road.

Actual construction of the Tonto Wagon Road began on August 29, 1903, with two hundred Apache laborers working just below the dam site on the Salt River. Another work camp was established on November 11, 1903, at Government Well, some twenty-five miles from Mesa, employing some 200 Pima laborers. The Tonto Wagon Road was completed on September 3, 1905, at a cost of $551,000. The road was sixty-two miles in distance, running from the Tonto Dam site to the Mesa railhead. It was reported more than a million and half pounds of freight moved over the road in its first month of operation.

The first Concord stage made a run over the Mesa-Roosevelt Road on June 10, 1905. The first automobile that traveled over the road from Mesa to Government Wells was on August 23, 1905. This Knox Automobile was known as the “Red Terror.” The first so-called tourist group to travel over the Mesa-Roosevelt Road was on October 10, 1905. The first major accident to occur on the Mesa-Roosevelt Road was a stagecoach accident that happened between Mormon Flat and Fish Creek Hill on November 23, 1905. The curves, steep grades, and narrowness of the Mesa-Roosevelt road challenged the skills of early teamsters and drivers. Even today as we drive the Apache Trail the road certainly can challenge our skill as a driver.

The Mesa-Roosevelt Road was highly regulated during the construction of Roosevelt Dam (1906-1911), however when the construction was over the road became a favorite tourist attraction. The road was known as the Mesa-Roosevelt Road and Tonto Wagon Road during the period 1903-1915. Sometimes the media called the road the Roosevelt Road. Shortly after 1915 the road became known as the Apache Trail. Historians appear to agree in general as to the origin of the name “Apache Trail.” They believe the term was coined by an enterprising young entrepreneur who worked as a railroad agent for the Southern Pacific. The man’s name was E.E. Watson. Watson was trying to promote the Southern Pacific’s “Sunset Limited” as it made its way through Arizona. The Southern Pacific offered a side trip for its transcontinental passengers over the Apache Trail if they were interested. Southern Pacific had the franchise on the Apache Trail as a special side trip for their passengers. Some of the photos from one of the Southern Pacific photo books of 1915 appear in this article.

The Apache Trail was officially dedicated as Arizona’s first historic highway on February 25, 1987, at Lost Dutchman State Park along the Apache Trail. The Apache Trail is a roadway to adventure, beauty and history.

President Theodore Roosevelt may have said it best when he talked about the Apache Trail. He said, “The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have.

To me, it is most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful."

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Legend of the White Stallion

December 24, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Several years ago an old friend of mine, Dan Hopper, told me a story about a white stallion he and his father often observed in the Superstition Mountains during the 1960’s. Dan talked about one particular trip he and his father had made down into Second Water Canyon. As they hiked through Black Gap at the northeast end of Garden Valley they saw a beautiful white stallion on the skyline to the south. Dan’s father took a picture of the stallion as it stood cautiously and watched them pass by.

Dan quizzed me as to the origin of this beautiful stallion. I found his story extremely difficult to believe for several reasons, however I knew Dan did not just make up stories. I respected his opinion and story about the white stallion in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

I decided to investigate the story by talking to several people I knew who had spent a lot of time in the Superstition Mountains between 1965-1995, a period of thirty years. On a cool December morning I rode into Needle Canyon to visit with Edwin Buckwitz. I asked Edwin if he had ever observed a white horse in the Superstition Mountains. He looked at me in an inquisitive manner and said, “Of course I have seen that great white stallion.”

Edwin had searched for the Peralta gold off and on since 1965. He was a very honest individual and never really lied to me about anything over the years. If he said he saw the white stallion, I could believe him. I continued to pursue the story of the white stallion.

I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company in the late 1950’s and I knew Barkley would have never allowed wild horses on his range. Any livestock other than the units allotted on his grazing permit cost him money. Barkley may have allowed a few of his own horses on his range, but never a stallion. Most of the horses owned by Barkley were geldings and I don’t recall him owning a mare. Gelding’s are less problems on a cattle ranch.

Another possible source of the white stallion was the Indian Reservation across the Salt River. Indian horses were known to cross the Salt River near the confluence of the Verde and then make their way up the Salt then into the Goldfield Mountains and across the Apache Trail into the Superstition Wilderness Area. The Indians had a lot of broomtail stallions on the reservation, and this could explain a white stallion in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

As I continued to search for possible answers, Dan finally produced a picture of his father had taken the white stallion standing on a ridge near Garden Valley. There was no question the horse was a stallion. I had not doubted Dan’s story, but I did want to collaborate it. I talked to another old friend of Chuck Aylor. He had also observed the stallion in the Second Water-Garden Valley area. Al Reser, an old timer prospector, also told me about seeing the stallion on several occasions. I was now convinced the white stallion existed.

I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company until June of 1959, and did not know of any horses that had been turned out on to the Barkley range. When William Thomas Barkley was no longer capable of managing the ranch because of health problems, I wondered if he might have turned his old horse out on the ranch. “Champ” wasn’t a true white, but a gray. Monte Edwards, a prospector and airline pilot, told me he saw the horse several times the winter of 1966-67. I must confess I had never observed the white stallion of Superstition Mountain, but I had seen signs of him.

Several years ago I found out the truth about the White stallion near Second Water. This beautiful animal had belonged to an old cowboy who lived in eastern part of the Salt River Valley. He was diagnosed with a terminal disease and decided to release his horse in the wild. I just can’t imagine an old cowboy releasing a horse in the Superstition Wilderness Area knowing the rules and regulations the forest service has pertaining to unassigned livestock on Taylor graze. Secondly, it is difficult to believe the horse survived for almost two decades and evaded capture. The man who told me this story would not reveal the name of the man who released the horse.

From what I have been told the horse roamed the Superstition Wilderness Area for almost two decades. The white stallion had been observed from one end of the wilderness to the other. I was told the horse died of natural cause near the Tortilla Ranch in 1984. This wild, white stallion could be the source of the name Whispering Horse Canyon near the Apache Trail about three miles east of Tortilla Flat.

The spirit of that white stallion still roams the rugged Superstition Wilderness Area in the minds of those who love to wander this endless and pristine region thinking about its’ legend and lore.

Monday, December 17, 2007

An Unforgettable Christmas

December 17, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The spirit of Christmas was in the air late in December of 1956. The first snows had fallen in the high country as winter announced its arrival in the Superstition Wilderness Area east of Apache Junction. Low stratus clouds engulfed the towering spires of Superstition Mountain while a slow drizzling rain met with the approval of the local cattlemen.

Deep in the Superstition Wilderness there was an angry, bitter and lonely old man who had chosen isolation rather than the kindness of friends. “Old Ben” had been prospecting these mountains for more than a decade. He believed the old Dutchman’s lost mine existed and he wanted to find it. His search for the Dutchman’s gold had become as strong for “Old Ben” as the devotion of any pilgrim of Islam headed for Mecca.

My father and I visited Ben over the years because he and Dad had something in common. They were both veterans of World War I and had served with General John Perishing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. Both men had witnessed the slaughter in the trenches along the Western Front. Both men had survived the horror of trench warfare in Europe. Each year Dad and I tried to visit Ben’s Camp a couple weeks before Christmas to say hello.

Ben functioned well in the mountains, but within society he was a misfit. His experiences, no less than that of my father’s during the war, had left his heart laden with hate for those who were associated with the production, distribution and application of war materials that were designed to destroy thousands and thousands of lives during a terrible time. Ben chose to live apart from this society because he couldn’t forget the rattle of machine guns, exploding artillery shells, fumes of poison gas and the screaming agony of the wounded and dying soldiers on the battlefields. The war had been over for almost forty years, but Ben still lived in the shadow of its horror.

Dad had also survived the battlefield of that war and for that reason understood Ben and was his friend. Ben and my father had spent many hours in idle conversation discussing the Dutchman’s lost mine, each being careful not to reveal any important information about its possible location.

We often sat under a large boulder in Petrasch’s old camp in La Barge Canyon talking about the Dutchman, Jacob Waltz. Sometimes Dad and Ben would hike up to Petrasch’s old camp on Tortilla Mountain and spend the day.

Christmas was once again coming to Ben’s Camp in the Superstition Wilderness, but he never celebrated Christmas because he didn’t see any real value in it. He said there was no God or Jesus Christ at Flanders, Verdun, or the other battlefields of Europe. Once again we bid our farewell to Ben and began our hike out of the mountains leaving the lonely old man to cope with his misery. As we drove home that day I thought of old Ben and his lonely existence.

Arriving home we found Mother had decorated our house and a beautiful tree for Christmas. The spirit of Christmas filled our home as friends dropped by with a friendly “Merry Christmas.” My mother was always full of the Christmas spirit and she wanted to share it with everyone who would listen or sing carols with her.

On Christmas Eve morning I got up early and talked to Dad about our friend Ben. I kept thinking about Ben and finally suggested to Dad that I wanted to hike back into the mountains and spend Christmas Day with the old man. I was young and very impressionable at the time. My father’s first concern was my mother and our traditional family’s Christmas get together.

“What is Christmas,” I asked, “if it is not about sharing one’s friendship? Didn’t you teach me this dad?”
Mom and Dad decided to allow me to share my Christmas spirit of friendship and giving with Ben on Christmas Day. Mom provided me with a couple of quickly wrapped Christmas presents for Ben and I grabbed a colorful ornament from the tree. I prepared my hiking gear and I was on my way to First Water Trailhead.

I arrived at First Water about noon. By the time I reached Ben’s Camp the daylight was rapidly disappearing. I called out for Ben as I arrived in his camp, wishing him a Merry Christmas. He called back inviting me into his camp. He immediately scolded me for leaving my parents on Christmas Eve and coming into the mountains. I handed him the two small packages mother had wrapped for him. The delicate glass Christmas ornament had survived the hike in my backpack. I handed him the ornament and then suggested we needed a Christmas tree. Ben laughed and said, “You’re not going to find many pine trees in this desert.”

At that moment I could see that Ben enjoyed having my company. He ended his comment with, “The only trees around here are those devilish Cholla.”

Near Ben’s camp, in the dark, using a small flashlight, I found a Cholla cactus skeleton that would serve as our fitting desert Christmas tree. I piled some large rocks around the base to hold it in place. Once the Cholla was secure Ben and I went about decorating it.

We placed the Christmas bulb from my mother’s tree on top of the Cholla. We added a few pieces of tinfoil here and there. We then made some ornaments out of empty sardine and bean cans. Ben had a plentiful supply because he loved sardines and beans. We made a simple garland out of bits of colored string we found in camp. The tree was not an ordinary one, but then Ben was by no means an ordinary man. And this was also no ordinary occasion for Ben. The meaning of Christmas had found its way into Ben’s heart in that odd-looking Christmas tree. We laughed together at our effort to create a Christmas tree. We had found the spirit of Christmas together.

We sat admiring our handy work when Ben reached into his bag and removed a very old Bible, then placed it under our tree. He looked at me with a tear in his eye, and said, “Isn’t this what Christmas is really about?”

Yes, we were celebrating Jesus Christ’s birthday in the simplest manner. The happiness of sharing our friendship on that Christmas Eve I will never forget. My father eventually talked Ben into returning to society and being a friend to others.

This lonely old man taught me that it is not how much you have, from Kollenborn, A-4 it is sharing of your friendship with others that is so important. Since that time many Christmases have come and gone, but few of them are remembered as this one.

Ben returned to the world of the living and each Christmas for many years, until his death, we received a card from him addressed to “My Desert Christmas Friends,” and simply signed “Ben”.

After almost fifty years we still decorate and enjoy a Cholla cactus skeleton in our home for Christmas.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Camera is My Ticket to the World

December 10, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I recently attended a friend’s funeral in Mesa. He was a wonderful father, husband, and friend. He had four children. They were Alan, Robert, David and Susan. He was a world renowned photographer. His photos have appeared in major magazines world-wide. Several years ago he retired from the Arizona Republic & Gazette after thirty-two years. But he never did lay his camera down. The camera was his ticket to seeing the world.

I first met this man and his wife while hiking the Superstition Mountains in the late1940’s or early 1950’s with my father. We met again on a trip down the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry to Lake Mead. Nyle was doing a photo story for the Arizona Republic about rafting on the Colorado River.

I was teaching an introduction course to the Geology of the Grand Canyon with Jim Palmer for Arizona State University. Shortly after this trip Nyle Leatham made several trips into the Superstition Wilderness on photo assignments for the Arizona Republic.

Nyle Burnham Leatham was born in Mesa, Arizona on July 27, 1930. He grew up in Mesa and attended Mesa Public Schools.  He was a life-long member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Nyle and his lovely wife Carol met at Mesa High School and began dating when they where sophomores. He was already interested in photography. Nyle and Carol graduated in June of 1948 and were married in the Arizona Temple on September 17 of that same year. Nyle and Carol spent much their leisure time hiking in the Superstition Mountains, camping, fishing and taking lots of pictures.

Nyle’s introduction to professional photography came when he entered the United State Air Force. He attended aerial photography school in Colorado. He was then transferred to California were he studied still photography. He traveled to North Africa, Japan and other exotic places around the world as a military photographer. Nyle loved Japan and his many flights over the Orient. He saw many unique and interesting places. He even climbed the world famous Mount Fuji in Japan!

Upon his return from the Far East, he and his wife Carol traveled around the Western part of the United States. They stopped in Montana to visit their old friends Clay and Muriel Worst. Nyle and Carol had met Clay along the trail between First Water and Aylor’s Camp in East Boulder Canyon in the Superstition Wilderness Area east of Apache Junction. The four have been friends for more than sixty years. After his military career Nyle went to work for the Arizona Republic as a photojournalist. He loved his work. He photographed countless people, places, and events. He photographed the rich, the poor, the famous and the not so famous.  He was published in many major national and international magazines and books. His photographs of the Superstition Mountain area and Arizona have appeared in the pages of the Arizona Highways on several occasions.

Nyle retired from the Arizona Republic after thirty-two years. He then started another career photographing shooting matches. Nyle called his camera his “Magic Carpet to the World,” and the camera has certainly served that purpose for him. He has photographed from hot air balloons, airplanes, helicopters, trains and ships. He has taken his cameras into operating rooms, forest fires, mountain tops, deep mines, scuba diving, and mountain climbing.

Nyle made many trips into the Superstition Wilderness Area with me over the years because of his love for the area.

He traveled to and photographed Circlestone and Roger’s Canyon for the Arizona Republic. He photographed several of my classroom horseback trips in the Superstition Wilderness Area. He enjoyed working with children. One of his classic photographs was a photo of Kendra McKinney, 12 years old and Sammy Marquez, 13 years old both of Apache Junction, on a horseback trip in the mountains in 1975.  At the time they were students at the Apache Junction Jr. High School known today as Desert Shadows Middle School.

Early in December 1975, Nyle accompanied a group of horsemen into the Superstition Mountains to visit the old Reavis Ranch. The group experienced a blizzard that dumped about ten inches of snow in the area. The plan was to return to Apache Junction in five days, but the group was delayed because of deep snow drifts and dangerous trail conditions.  This caused a bit of concern among families members that knew the group was in the mountains. The weather was extreme, however they were prepared. The tired riders finally arrived at Tortilla Ranch on the six day and rode out the following day to the Apache Trail. Nyle’s photographs of this trip recorded the anxiety of several riders that made this trip.  Nyle’s photographs of the pack trip were featured in a special Arizona Republic tabloid called the Arizona Adventure.

The Arizona Republic followed this article up with a spectacular display of Nyle’s photos of Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwellings. His photos emphasized detail rather than dimension. Shortly after this trip Nyle Leatham rode to the top of Superstition Mountain with me. I believe, at first, he had his doubt about how a horse could make it to the top of Summit 5024. After that ride Nyle told me he would never doubt me again. I warned him we were lucky this time. Shortly after the ride to the top of the mountain we hiked up Monument Canyon with his sons Allan and Rob to inspect an old AT-6 plane crash.  Nyle and I discussed a variety of project over the years that were important to the preservation of Arizona history. I have always respected his knowledge of Arizona History and its preservation. Early in October of 2006 I invited Nyle to be a speaker for the Arizona Lecture Series. I knew without a doubt who he would like to talk about. He put together an excellent program on Edward David Newcomer, the first photojournalist for the Arizona Republican. He made that presentation on February 23, 2007. The Arizona Republican was the forerunner of the Arizona Republic.

From the rapids of the Colorado, to the mountain tops of Japan, to the trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area, to national shooting competitions, or lecturing on his favorite topic Nyle Leatham was a scholar, an intellect, a man of integrity, a man of his word and most of all a wonderful human being that anyone should be proud to have known. His photographs and his face were known by many in the Apache Junction area.  Nyle thanks for introducing me, so long ago, to the world of photography and its importance in preserving history.

I would like to thank Nyle’s wife Carol for her assistance with this story.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Going Home to Reavis

December 3, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A clap of thunder, a flash of lightning and the threat of rain made the old Reavis Ranch house a haven to weary hikers, horsemen and cattlemen who rode or walked the trails of the eastern portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area for almost three decades. This old skeleton of a ranch house survived almost thirty years alone in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness Area with little or no maintenance. Many friends of the old Reavis Ranch house tried desperately to help the old ranch house limp into the Twenty-first Century.

The Friends of the Reavis Ranch cleaned, cleared, hauled trash off and repaired the old ranch house for more than a decade. Their effort was a labor of love, nothing more. We all understood the character and spirit of this old house after spending a few days in it. The roar of the fire place, the clanging of the tin roof, the wind blowing through the breeze way and the attic, the squeaking of a door hinge were sounds all of us were familiar with. The beauty and solitude of this valley has made it a popular destination for hikers and horseman.

Since 1956, I have traveled to and from the Reavis Ranch on foot, horseback and by vehicle on many different occasions. I can recall the old road and how rough it was between Castle Dome Corral, up through Windy Gap and on to Plow Saddle. I can remember the friendly smile of Alice Stone and the strong hand shake of Floyd “Stoney” Stone when welcomed to their mountain ranch. I can recall the closing of the road and Mary Leonard’s article in the Arizona Republic about the old ranch in 1967. Only those who have spent a weekend or a month at the old ranch in Reavis Valley know what we have lost. The Reavis Valley is a pristine ecological niche of the Upper Sonoran Desert with the old ranch serving as a window for human kind.

The Reavis Ranch house burned down sometime around Thanksgiving 1991. The old ranch house has been gone for more than sixteen years. The old house was constructed about 1937. The ranch was patented by the Clemans Cattle Company in 1919. William J. Clemans purchased the ranch from John J. Fraser in 1909. Fraser had acquired the ranch shortly after the death of the old hermit “Elisha” Marcus Reavis in 1896.

Clemans and his two sons, Earl and Mark Twain ran the ranch from 1910-1946. Billy Martin Sr. served as foreman of the Clemans Cattle Company from 1915-1946. Prior to Martin, William “Billy” Knight served as foreman from 1891-1915. Still to this day there are old catch pens deep in the forest made entirely of wood, not one nail or a piece of wire was used in their construction. The range was so brushy the Clemans’ cowboys had to trap a lot of their cattle.

The Reavis Ranch road was started in 1910 by a group of Mesa promoters who wanted to sell lots in the pines south of the Reavis Ranch. They never completed the road. Bacon and Upton purchased the ranch from the Clemans Cattle Company around 1946. The road was completed by Bacon and Upton in 1948. Floyd Stone, Bacon’s son-in-law, and Kenneth Lockwood purchased the ranch in 1955 from John A. Bacon and Upton. Stone and Lockwood sold the ranch to the United States Department of Agriculture in 1966 for $80,000 and twenty acres of patented land near the Apache Trail.

Shortly after the government purchased the Reavis Ranch they closed the access corridor. The reason for the closure of the road was the extreme maintenance cost and the danger to vehicular travel. After the road was closed in 1967 only hikers and horseman were able to access the Reavis Valley and the ranch.

When news of the Reavis Ranch fire spread among those who had visited the old ranch over the years a sort of sadness prevailed. I suppose many of the wilderness purists believed the fire was a blessing to the wilderness concept. Many hikers and backpackers were disappointed to find their severe weather haven destroyed by fire. Now outfitters and packers will have to carry more gear and take more animals to provide adequate service to their customers.

Many will just miss the old ranch house because of the nostalgia associated with it. I must admit I really enjoyed being a part of this history. The destruction of the old Reavis Ranch house ended an era in the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Settlers and cattlemen have lived in the valley since 1874.

The Reavis Valley had served as the first Camp Geronimo for the Boy Scouts in 1920, before the Spade Ranch north of Payson became their permanent home. Arizona’s Governor Campbell rode horseback to the Reavis Ranch in 1920s to visit with the Boy Scouts at Camp Geronimo (Reavis Ranch) and tell them stories around a campfire. Even post cards told the story of the idyllic Reavis Valley.

I visited the Reavis Valley in 1994, not for the last time, but to see the old ranch house once more. The walls were still standing and the chimney towered above the old house like a monument to the past.

I returned to the site of the old Reavis Ranch in October of 2000. None of the walls of the old ranch were standing. All that remained was the concrete slab the old ranch house was constructed on. I was amazed how obliterated the site was. All human history had just about been removed and the valley had been almost returned to its pure state.

Like all man-made things, the Reavis Ranch was just a temporary fixture on the landscape destined to be destroyed someday. Those who knew the old house undoubtedly had a better understanding of man’s mark on the wilderness and the value of this place.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Horses I Have Known

November 26, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many years ago when I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch I became very well acquainted with some interesting and provoking cow ponies. Many of these ponies were pleased to just dump your carcass anywhere they could. Believe me, they tried it often, with persistence and with some success.

I will never forget the time I was riding a pony called Spook. Spook was a small bay gelding with white socks and a blaze. He was appropriately named because this pony could crow hop and complete a full 180 degrees before coming back to earth. He would spook at the drop of a hat, the snap of a twig or the strike of a match. My bruised and skinned body was a testament to this cow ponies ability or to my lack skill at riding these rough cow ponies. I spent considerable time on the backs of these broomtails searching the Superstition Mountains for Barkley’s cattle, maintaining fence and repairing water holes. When there was nothing else to do I was busy packing salt to some isolated area. Ironically, I worked alone for the most part.

I will never forget the time I left the Quarter Circle U Ranch with two pack mules loaded with salt. The morning was very cold and there were unusually dark low clouds. Rain or snow was in my forecast. My destination was the salt grounds on Peter’s Mesa. The ride required about four hours.

I knew before I left the ranch I wouldn’t get back until after dark. When I arrived on Peter’s Mesa the temperature had dropped and the dark clouds had moved in lower. Bad weather was upon me. Blizzard conditions had moved in by the time I was ready to ride down off the Mesa. As I descended the trail above Charlebois Spring it was snowing so hard I had to depend on my horse to find the treacherous trail down off the rugged escarpment. I turned off the trail and rode into Charlebois Spring for a temporary shelter. It was here that my horse and two mules got away from me and started running for home. I hiked all the way back to the ranch some seven miles following the tracks of the mules and my saddle horse. It was so cold I never stopped to rest. Not only was I embarrassed I was also quite foot sore when I finally arrived at the ranch. This will always be a day I will remember in my annuals at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch.

During the 1950’s the Barkley Ranch included some 117 sections of forest and state lease land. One hundred seventeen sections of land is one hundred and seventeen square miles my friends. Our range ran south of the ranch to Tule Canyon and north to the shores of Canyon Lake. The western boundary was forest fence east of Apache Junction. The eastern boundary sliced across Peter’s Mesa through Peter’s Divide. All of Superstition Mountain was part of the Barkley Ranch, a ranch that began operating around 1907.

I spent many sunny afternoons talking to Gus prior to his death in 1955 at the old Three R’s Ranch in what is now Gold Canyon. He was a great story teller, and he loved his cattle and this mountain. I worked for his son William Thomas Barkley in the mid 1950’s and in 1959.

Now back to those horses I have known. I am a little older now and a bit wiser about horseflesh. I am not sure I would have climbed on the back of any of the horses Barkley owned with the knowledge I have today. However, in the 1950’s I was young and a very inexperienced cowboy. A real greenhorn is the best way to describe it.

Early one morning we rode out to Tule Saddle to inspect some calves for screw worms when I met with disaster. This particular morning I was riding Spook of course. As I rode through the gate, Spook crow-hopped into the middle of a large Cholla patch. I had Cholla balls from the brim of my hat to the heel of my boot. The pain was excruciating. I couldn’t even get off the crow-hopping and bucking horse.

Finally I just dove off and landed in a pile of boulders, luckily not breaking my leg or arm. The last time I saw Spook he was bucking and running back to the ranch a mile or two away. You might say I was in a difficult situation. If you haven’t had a chance to experience Cholla cactus in your flesh you haven’t really experienced the Arizona desert.

I picked up a small piece of Mesquite and began to knock the Cholla balls out of my hide. This was a long painful process and to top it off I knew I had a long walk back to the ranch. It was ten o’clock in the morning when this horse wreck occurred. I limped into the ranch about 4 p.m. just in time to feed. Not one animal in the corral could care about my painful situation. All they wanted was to be fed on time.
Spook is a horse that is still at the top of my memory list for U Ranch horses. That was just another incident I had with Spook. Let me tell you about another. I was always trying to impress Bill Barkley with my latest acquired knowledge. One day I put on a pair of bat wing chaps, backwards that is. I climbed on Spook and did I ever put on a ride for Barkley.

The bat wings spooked that horse like a bolt of lightning. He literally exploded in the corral. The next thing I knew the earth was coming up fast. My impact in the corral startled the cattle nearby. I was extremely slow getting up, and Barkley looked at me and said, “Slim you got your chaps on backwards no wonder the damn horse spooked.” “Well, why didn’t you tell me that before I got back on the horse?”
I continued to ride Spook or maybe he rode me. Eventually I could stay in the saddle, but it wasn’t always easy. Another horse Barkley had was named Scooter. He was also named appropriately. He was never a problem to saddle or get on.

However, once you were on him he made an effort to scrape you off under just about every Mesquite, Palo Verde, Ironwood or Saguaro along the way. Any of the methods could be quite painful.

One day I was running a mother cow trying to get a rope on her and Scooter decided it was time to dump me. He lined up on a big Saguaro with many arms and grabbed the bit in his mouth. I lost my control and saw the Saguaro coming up fast. Believe me I abandoned ship (horse) at the first opportunity. This particular departure was quite rough on my hide and my shoulder. I again limped around for several days before I recovered from this particular rapid departure. Believe me I didn’t ride Scooter anymore than I absolutely had to. He was a horse to reckon with. I finally started using a mechanical hack with him and was able to break him of his nasty habit of rubbing cowboys off his back.

Barkley had another horse named Sorrel. This was a beautiful red gelding. He was gentle, but somewhat inexperienced. One early cold morning I saddled the Sorrel for a quick inspection of the fence in the east pasture. Several cows had slipped out of the east pasture according to our neighbor Bill Martin. I rode east from the ranch house to locate the break in the eastern fence line. Barkley’s directions were often insufficient. I rode east until I reached Reid’s Water then I started checking out the fence in several areas where we had problems before.

Sorrel was walking along not paying a lot of attention while I searched for a break in the fence line. All of a sudden we went crashing to the ground. I was on bottom and the Sorrel was on top. The only thing that saved my body from the weight of a one thousand pound horse was two large boulders I fell between. I lay there waiting for the sorrel horse to make his move. He just laid there and nickered. He made no attempt to get up. I couldn’t get out from under him because my foot was still wedge in the stirrup. This was a bad situation to be in. If the horse jumped up to soon he could easily break my leg. After about ten minutes of lying on two large boulders the sorrel horse finally got up slowly allowing me time to extract my foot from the stirrup. I looked myself over, then the horse and finally remounted and continue on with my inspection of the fence line casually as if nothing had happened.

Horses were my main tool for working cattle, checking fence, packing salt and inspecting water holes. Working cattle on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch was something I really enjoyed even though it was sometimes very hazardous work. My work on the old U Ranch was sporadic.

I worked off and on for almost five years. The longest period I worked as a cowboy on the ranch was in the winter and spring of 1959. The last day I worked on the Quarter Circle U Ranch for the Barkley Cattle Company was May 8, 1959. My tenure as a cowboy was ended by a thirteen hundred pound Black Brahma-Angus bull named El Gaucho. After my encounter with El Gaucho I retired from being a cowboy and choose another career.

After I retired from working cattle I continued to ride horses in the Superstition Wilderness for the next forty-five years. I have owned several horses over the years. They were Grey Horse, Crow, and Chico. I rode Grey Horse for about eight years. I rode Crow for twenty- one years in the Superstition Wilderness and I have ridden Chico for the past twelve years.

I still think about those wild and careless days as a young cowboy on the Barkley Ranch in the middle of the Superstition Mountains. I was lucky to live and survive the life many people only dream about. Those wonderful, wild and sometimes dangerous experiences are memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bigfoot in the Superstitions

November 19, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many years ago I received a call from a man in northern California, a Mr. C. Thomas Biscardi, who was interested in Yeti or “Big Foot.” He had heard of Reavis Valley, a landlocked biotic island high above the Sonoran Desert floor, that supported a dense Ponderosa pine forest. He wanted to know how to get to Reavis Ranch.

I must admit I have heard everything now. A story of Big Foot in the Superstition Wilderness Area was preposterous, if not down right laughable. Then I thought for a moment about another tale about a strange encounter more than eighty years ago when two prospectors hiked into the area of Pope Springs to search for gold.

Late at night something attacked their camp, killed and hauled off their burro before they could even fire a shot. Both men got a good look at the towering beast as it dragged their burro away. The two prospectors stayed up for the rest of the night scared out of their wits. The only thing they could think of capable of carrying off a burro was a large Grizzly bear. Their burro weighted about four hundred and fifty pounds. It would require a mighty large animal to carry off a four hundred and fifty-pound burro.

The story, as I recall, said the prospectors described the intruder as a large, smelly, strange animal with a matted, coarse and tangled hair coat. They said it walked on its hind legs and towered at least eight to ten feet in height. When the prospectors told their story, many old timers figured they ran into a large Grizzly bear.

The prospectors said they could not identify the beast as an animal or a human, but did say it smelled like feces and urine and was unusually agile on its hindquarters. They estimated the animal weighed between 400 – 800 hundred pounds. This description could easily fit a Grizzly bear. This same story could have fueled the imagination of noted Big Foot hunter C. Thomas Biscardi.

The Phoenix Gazette on Monday, May 11, 1981, announced, “Explorer Plans Capture of Big Foot.” C. Thomas Biscardi was making an exploration trip to the Superstition Mountain of Arizona to search for Big Foot. Biscardi claimed his latest encounter with Big Foot occurred on Mount Lassen in Northern California. He said he took photographs of the elusive primate but concedes the front-view images of a large hairy figure emerging from a clump of trees may not be enough to convince skeptics.

Biscardi reported there were more than eight hundred fifty sightings of creatures matching the descriptions of Big Foot in the Soviet Union, Canada and the United States. Biscardi planned to prove their existence and said he believed these creatures could be the possible missing link.

The researcher had two reports of large human-like creatures in the Superstition Wilderness Area and spent two weeks in the Reavis Ranch area reporting no sightings. He did report finding signs of Big Foot in the region. He pointed out Ponderosa pines with scratch marks thirteen feet above the ground indicating a mighty tall animal scratched on the tree. Biscardi also stated there was a sour-sweet smell associated with Big Foot. This smell was reportedly found in several locations south of the Reavis Ranch in tall timber.

Biscardi’s exploration trip into the Superstitions may have been a serious attempt to prove the existence of Big Foot in the Superstition Wilderness Area. However, Big Foot was not found. Biscardi said his expedition was disappointing and he concluded in the final analysis that the wilderness area was not large enough to support a population of these unknown creatures.

There has been another update as of 2007 on Big Foot in the Superstition Wilderness Area. It was recently reported that a large upright animal spooked a rider and pack horse near the head waters of Rough Canyon along the northern edge of White Mountain. This story surfaced about five years ago. Rough Canyon is almost impossible to hike through. The area is extremely remote and ignored by many. The rider who reported the large upright animal was trying to get to the head of Rough Canyon to set up a camp and explore the area for archaeological sites. He claimed he was studying the pattern of inhabited areas north of White Mountain and south of Reavis Mountain. Recent years have produced a lot of interesting characters who explore the Superstition Wilderness Area trying to explain what exists there whether it is archaeological, fauna, flora or just plain tall tales.

The Superstition Wilderness Area has always been a region that attracted the unusual and unexplained tales and stories. If Big Foot exists, it still remains to be proven. I must admit I was riding horseback north of the Reavis Ranch in the fall of October 2000 when a friend and I spotted a large Black bear. The animal ran in the opposite direction from us. I could easily see, if a person had an imaginative mind they could have envisioned Big Foot running across the old pasture in tall grass. The scratch marks on Ponderosa pines reported by Biscardi could have easily been caused by Black bears. Black bears can climb pines like squirrels almost. Often when bears are playing they will slide down trees using their claws.

If nothing else, the Big Foot story created interest in yet another Superstition Wilderness Area legend or myth.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Aylors at Caballo Camp

November 12, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I can not claim to be Chuck Aylor’s biographer, but while working for the Barkley Cattle Company in the 1950s I met Chuck and Peg Aylor on several occasions and had many interesting conversations with them.

The first time I met Chuck Aylor was with my father in 1948. The next time our trails crossed, Chuck Aylor was at his Caballo Camp in East Boulder Canyon. I believe it was in the summer of 1955. Barkley had asked me to pack salt down to the Brush Corral salt grounds. I found my way to Brush Corral, dumped the salt and then decided to take the stock over to East Boulder for a drink of water. As I was riding up East Boulder I came upon Chuck and Peg Aylor’s Caballo Camp. Chuck knew I worked for Barkley the moment he saw me riding toward his camp. I am sure Betty Barkley had told him. Chuck always called me “Slim” or “Red” for obvious reasons. He asked me to step down and talk for a little while. He offered me a cool drink of water and a chance to rest. This began my friendship with Chuck and Peg Aylor that lasted for almost a decade.

I was no different than other visitors that stopped at Caballo Camp. Chuck began his spill about the mountains once he learned who my father was. We talked for a couple of hours about the old Dutchman and Spanish gold in the Superstitions. He offered to take me over to see his mine, but I decline because it was getting late in the afternoon and I needed to get back to First Water Ranch and start the windmill or Barkley.

Chuck was working closely with the Q.E.D., a corporation on the East Coast at that time. A man named Jim Butler was the lead man for Q.E.D., and Chuck had taken him into the country above the Upper Box of La Barge Canyon. I am sure he showed Butler old Roy Bradford’s diggings at the head of the Upper Box and they may have gone on into Miller Basin looking for the juniper stumps.

Chuck Aylor was a very interesting man. He found quoting Shakespeare a way of relaxation. I was told Chuck had worked as a cook in an insane asylum in Colorado prior to moving to Arizona. I heard many stories about Chuck and Peg Aylor; some were probably true and others were undoubtedly not.

Chuck was always packing people and their gear into the mountains to make a little money. He had two burros, one named Cisco and the other Jacko. There were many occasions when I was sitting around a campfire I would think of Chuck and Peg Aylor and their many stories.
Chuck and Peg staked a claim in the Pioneer Mining District near the Silver King Mine on January 20, 1937. They called the claim El Caballo. They soon moved to the Superstition Mountain area in 1938 and then recorded the Palomino #1 on February 24, 1939.

Chuck and Peg were actively involved with prospecting and mining in the Superstition Mountains from 1939-1961, according to the record books. I have heard stories about them prospecting in the Superstition Mountains as early as 1935.

My father and Bill Cage first met Chuck Aylor in 1937 on the old road to the Silver King Mine. About 1955 Chuck built Peg another house in La Barge Canyon near the old Indian Paint Mine. Chuck had to give up this residence and returned to Caballo Camp when the forest service learned about the La Barge house in an article written by Mary Leonard in the Arizona Republic. The forest rangers would not allow any permanent camps. Chuck’s La Barge Canyon dwelling had a masonary wall and a large glass picture window.

The last time I saw Chuck and Peg in the Caballo Camp was in late spring of 1960 when I rode into Charliebois Spring. Chuck Aylor had come in contact with many of the old timers who had searched for the Dutchman after 1900. Chuck believed in the gold of Superstition Mountain, and many men have spent time with Aylor prospecting and talking about these mountains. Aylor’s stories still flourish because of these people.

The other side of Chuck Aylor’s life was his wife, Peggy. She considered herself an astrologer and also thought of herself as a predictor of future events. Peggy had also taken up oil painting and had painted several pictures of the interior of the Superstition Mountains. I have one of her paintings in my collection that was done about 1951. There is a good possibility that several of Peggy Aylors’ oils still exist around Apache Junction.

The Aylors were a special part of Superstition Mountain history. They were icons to many old timers who hiked the trails of the Superstition Wilderness in the 1950s and early 1960s. Their names have been etched into the pages of Superstition Wilderness history and will remain there forever.

Chuck and Peg Aylor both passed away in the early 1960s leaving behind a legacy of searching and dreaming.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Desert Life in the Early Days

November 5, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

My mother and I arrived in Apache Junction for the first time in May of 1948. We lived on the desert southeast of the “Junction” in a small stone cabin. The stone insulated the cabin quite well from the early morning and evening heat from the desert. However, there was no insulation from the old tin roof on the cabin. My father constructed a very primitive cooler for us. He made it out of two “powder” boxes used for dynamite. He took a small rotating fan and made it stationary, then anchored it in the bottom of one of the powder boxes. Large rectangular holes were cut in two sides and the bottom of the box by my dad. He then carefully threaded copper tubing, that had holes drilled in it every two inches, through some burlap material and then hung it around the box covering the cutout rectangular holes. This allowed the fan to draw air through the moistened burlap. As the air was pulled through the burlap it was cooled. My father’s primitive cooler worked well enough for us to survive a couple weeks until he returned to further improve our primitive desert swamp cooler. My father was working at the mines in Christmas, Arizona at the time. It was a long drive in those days over very primitive roads.

Our cooler worked quite well I thought, but my mother always claimed it wasn’t cool enough. We had a fifty gallon barrel beside the house we kept full of water. The cooler constantly recycled the water in the barrel. Eventually through evaporation we would have to refill the barrel. Staying cool on the Arizona desert in the late 1940s was no easy task. Most people today living under refrigeration couldn’t have survived the summer heat in those days. If the conditions still existed today Arizona would still be a ghost town. Air conditioning made the desert habitable in the summer months.

My father was constantly making improvements on our cooler. Within a month he built a large cooler out of four powder boxes and some metal lathe to form a stronger box. This cooler was twice the size of our first one and twice as efficient. His work resulted in a much cooler house. Even my mother noticed the difference. Sometimes with summer temperatures reaching 119 degrees these primitive desert swamp coolers really made a difference in our lives. During the hottest part of the day my mother and I stayed indoors and she read to me or had me read.

A friend of my mother’s came by one day in the summer heat and she was amazed how cool our little cabin was. The following summer metal water coolers were being produced. We bought our first metal cooler in 1952 in Phoenix. During the 1950s there were a lot of recycled swamp coolers on the desert. Few people spent the summer on the desert in Apache Junction during the early 1950s. Even seasoned veterans like Barney Barnard traveled to cooler climates once the summer heat started.

We hauled all of our water in those days. I don’t remember exactly when the well on Octotillo Street was first in use, but I do know we picked up our water there in 1948. The well was located just north of Pappy Russell’s garage. Eventually they built a volunteer fire station, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and the justice court at the site. The desert dwellers of the day also carried “desert water bags” on the front of their cars. The old canvas water bags had been around since the Model T Ford. The bags were soaked in water then filled with water and hung on the front of the car. You could always depend on a cool drink of water from these simple water bags. Mother also kept an old Olla on the front porch wrapped in burlap soaked with water. The Olla was a simple method to keep water cool enough to drink. She always had a clean ladle available to dip the water out of the Olla. The water container was always covered with a lid to keep bees, wasps and flies out of it. The water was always cool after being outside in the heat.

Our life in the Apache Junction desert was bearable and we survived quite well. During the forties and early fifties we traveled in the early mornings or late evenings to avoid the heat of the day. We always had food, water and shelter. However our living conditions were quite primitive compared to today’s modern living with refrigeration. I would imagine Apache Junction and much of the valley wouldn’t exist today if it hadn’t been for the invention of refrigeration.

One of the most interesting things I recall as a child was a “window swamp cooler” for an automobile. My Aunt Nelllie lived in Chloride, Arizona in the 1940s. My Uncle Harvey was the hoist operator at the mine. Each summer Aunt Nellie and Uncle Harvey would come to Christmas for a visit.

Uncle Harvey had a friend of his rig up a blower fan operated by airflow in a tube with burlap around it. The burlap was kept moist and the blower, while the car was moving, would produce cool air. Of course it was mounted on Aunt Nellie’s side of the car. You might say Aunt Nellie in 1945, had one of the earliest passenger cooling devices in Arizona.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Real Gold of the Superstitions

October 29, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

This column often features stories about lost gold, prospectors, geology, and a variety of associated topics. However, the real gold of the Superstition Wilderness Area is its natural ecosystem.

The region is part of the fragile Upper Sonoran Desert life zone controlled by precipitation, sun angle, slope angle and elevation. The fauna and flora exhibit a wide-range diversity with plants ranging from the magnificent Saguaro cactus to the stately Ponderosa pine.

The fauna represents almost the entire spectrum of biological forms. The survival of animals and plants are dependent on the controls placed on man. Actually man is the most destructive predator placed in any natural ecosystem. The desert is a very fragile and sensitive environment easily disrupted by the activities of humans.

The statement “man should be only a temporary visitor to a wilderness,” is philosophically sound. However, the temporary visitation of man to a wilderness is not realistic if limitations are not placed on the number of visitors or visitations. As Americans, we must determine what portion of our public lands should be preserved in their natural state and what lands should be highly impacted by development.

All development and no preservation causes the crowding of too many people into one place and eventually leads to urban blight.

Arizona’s greatest assets are its public lands (open spaces) and its climate. The two are entwined in minds of visitors and new and old residents alike. Each year more and more of our public lands are slated for development with little or no concern for the future of open space. Some politicians believe open space is not a cost-effective option for public lands.

The National Wilderness Act of 1964 and 1984 preserved several million acres of Arizona’s public lands for future generations of Americans to enjoy. Each year more and more Americans want to have a wilderness experience. These enormous demands have impacted the wilderness areas and state public lands. There is a tremendous need in our state for open space, access to public lands, and green belts within communities, not just golf courses (which are considered ‘open spaces’). Golf courses are not an efficient or effective use of water resources. Families with small children or school children don’t have much use for golf courses. Arizona has a great opportunity to become a special place in America, not just another California or Los Angeles.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is slowly becoming an urban wilderness with little protection for its ecosystem. The wilderness serves as a large hiking and riding park for the Phoenix metropolitan area and surrounding communities that have limited open space. The Tonto National Forest ranger district has taken steps to control the impact on the Superstition Wilderness Area by assessing parking fees and limiting parking space at two of the major trailheads. An estimated 70,000 to 100,000 visitors access the Superstition Wilderness Area each year and, as the Phoenix metropolitan area continues to grow, the impact on the far East Valley and Apache Junction will increase.

Open space is one of America’s most valuable resources and, while its value cannot be measured easily, it is in tremendous demand. Real estate prices along the Tonto National Forest fence line east of Apache Junction should convince anyone how valuable open space is. Lyle Anderson’s Superstition Mountain development should also give you some idea.

There is an old saying, “Our hearts scream open space, however our pocket books scream for profit.”

The real gold of the Sonoran Desert region is in the open space that has survived development, and the Superstition Wilderness Area is one of those real treasures. These lands and their ecosystem are protected from development, but not overuse. This vast wilderness preserves a large tract of public land for future Americans to enjoy. Fifty years from now our descendents will appreciate any effort we make today to preserve open space for the future. They will also recognize the immense value of the Superstition Wilderness Area to our nation and its citizens.

After all, a true wilderness is a place where man is only a temporary visitor and leaves no trace, therefore protecting a fragile ecosystem.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Apache Trail Mile Post Marker

October 22, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Several years ago I was helping a friend who worked for the Page Land and Cattle Company gather a few cows on the old Weeks’ cow outfit west of the Apache Trail in the Goldfield Mountains.

We were working near the old Government Well Highway Yard on the west side of the road. I was moving four or five cows along an old abandoned section of the Apache Trail when I spotted an old concrete pillar in a thicket of Broombush. The post was about four feet high, triangular in shape, made of concrete and had the numbers “23” and “37” engraved on it.

My curious nature dictated that I should step down from my horse and examine this old concrete mile post used by stagecoach drivers of the old Apache Trail. One side of the post had the number “23”, meaning twenty-three miles to the Mesa railhead. The other side of the post had the number “37”, meaning thirty-seven miles ahead to the construction site of Roosevelt Dam.

This discovery was made in the summer of 1960. I left the old marker as I found it.

I returned to the site during the winter of 1973. At the time I was teaching a class, “Prospecting the Superstitions,” for the Apache Junction Community School. I was absolutely amazed to find the old concrete mile post marker still intact and undisturbed. The mile post marker had stood for 66 years when I revisited it in 1973.

I had totally forgotten about the old mile post by the spring of 1990. It was by accident I came across it again while photographing the Goldfield Mountain one evening. Again I was surprised it had survived so long.

It was at this time I decided something should be done to protect this old mile marker from vandalism or destruction. I contacted the Tonto National Forest district ranger who eventually arranged for the removal of the mile post marker and the placing of it in the Superstition Mountain Museum at Goldfield Ghost Town in 1991.

My friend and close associate, Greg Davis, brought me an article about the Apache Trail. The mile post was mentioned in this article, The Nile of America, and carefully identifies this particular concrete mile post. The article was published March 21, 1908. The following is quoted directly from the article:

“About a mile from Mesa the government road begins, and one of the first things noticed was the neat cement mile and half mile posts. Each mile post gives the distance from Mesa to the dam, and the observant teachers soon made up their minds to commit to memory all the combinations of sixty that can be made by using two numbers at a time, 0-60, 14-45, and ’30 all’ were correctly anticipated, and each found the figures corresponding to the mile post of his life, though not all in the same half day. At the eight mile post Desert Wells is past, where Mesa and Roosevelt stages change horses.”
The article continues, “Gradually swerving toward the north, at twenty miles the foot hills are reached and soon the beauties of a thoroughly constructed mountain road are appreciated.

Passing the ranch (Weeks’ Station) where water is sold at ‘ten cents a span,’ and the deserted mines at Goldfields in the corner of Pinal County, we returned to Maricopa County and stop for dinner at Government Well, near the 23 mile post. This also was a changing station for the stage and here you could change a ten dollar bill. Only one family lives here and neighbors are not within call, although three or four miles south at the foot of Superstition range can plainly be seen the camp and gold mine of two Scandinavians who are said never to allow a visitor to set foot on their claims.”

Today the named sites along the Apache Trail are difficult to recognize. Old Government Well is located opposite the Needle Vista Point and the old mine mentioned as belonging to two Scandinavians, Silverlocke and Goldleaf, can still be found if one searches the slopes of Superstition Mountain southeast of First Water Road.

This interesting article pointed directly to this old concrete road marker that now resides in the Superstition Mountain Museum 3.8 miles northeast of Apache Junction on the Apache Trail.

When they lowered the waters of Apache Lake this Spring (2007) another road marker (Three Mile Wash marker) was found along the old Apache Trail roadbed. Only a portion of this marker was saved and returned to the forest service for preservation.

These markers where placed along the Apache Trail every mile between Mesa and Roosevelt Dam. Only a few survive today. The most amazing one to survive was the Government Well marker. It remained undisturbed for more than eighty years.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Our Desert Lands

October 15, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Wilderness Area and the desert that surrounds it is a vast region of a delicately balanced ecosystem. There is no ecosystem in the world more fragile than a desert environment except for the high latitude tundra. Humankind has for centuries played a major role in impacting the Upper Sonoran Desert.

The various Native American groups have used the region for several thousand years in subsistence hunting and gathering modes. Many of the ancient archaeological sites found in the area today are a mute testimony to the existence of these cultures. The ancient sites are rapidly disappearing as the desert continues to be developed.

Most development allows no desert greenbelts at all for minimal survival of fauna and flora in the Sonoran Desert, unless you want to call a golf course a greenbelt. It is a tragic sacrifice for what we get in return. Our gift in return is more air pollution, more traffic, more water quality problems and more crime.

The Native Americans followed the early prospectors who were searching for mineral wealth in these mountains long before the tales and myths of lost gold and treasure emerged from the region. There is some evidence that suggests early Mexican prospectors from Sonora and along the Gila River may have entered the region of Superstition Mountains as early as 1799.

The first American miners penetrated the area about 1863. These were small parties of prospectors coming down from the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott during the winter months. Once silver was discovered in the Pinal Mountains the Anglo American population began to grow in the area. The miners and prospectors were soon followed by the cattlemen. The early years of the cattle barons were totally unregulated. Thousands of cattle roamed the canyons and mountains of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

One of the earliest of the cattlemen was Robert A. Irion. He arrived in the area from Wyoming with a herd about 1878. Irion brought beef on the hoof to feed the miners at Globe and the Silver King Mine. He was followed by other cattlemen like Jack Fraser, Ed Horrell and W.J. Clemans.

Fraser started his herd with 300 head of cattle he won in a poker game at the Silver King Hotel. When Fraser sold out to W. J. Clemans in 1909, more than 5,000 head of cattle roamed the Superstition range. All of this activity severely impacted the fragile Sonoran Desert ecosystem.

Regulated grazing was introduced to the Superstition Wilderness with the formation of the Tonto Preserve in 1909. The purpose of this preserve was not to protect the fragile ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert, but rather the watershed of the Salt River drainage system. The creators of the Salt River Drainage Basin feared overgrazing would cause severe soil erosion therefore destroying the drainage basin planned for natural runoff.

After the turn of the century and the death of Jacob Waltz, of the alleged Lost Dutchman Mine fame, hundreds of treasure hunters, gold prospectors and promoters searched the area for gold. Their efforts produced several books and a few permanent scars on the land. Their unique Our Desert Lands history survives to this day, but in reality did little damage to the Sonoran Desert. Those permanent scars are now monuments to the determination and tenacity of those who searched for gold and treasure, right or wrong.

The Superstition Wilderness Area has been impacted by all, including cattlemen, prospectors, miners and treasure trove hunters. The hundreds of holes produced by these people not only scarred the landscape but also created dangerous pitfalls for the innocent or novice adventurer.

During the mid-1960s the wilderness received yet another kind of human impact, the kind caused by the recreationist. This group fell into two large categories: the hikers and the horsemen. The overuse and the improvement of the trail system for these recreational users created a critical management problem for forest service. These new trail systems impacted the terrain to such a degree the trails were visible from space and high vantage points.

The sheer numbers of recreationists who use the Superstition Wilderness have heavily impacted the trail heads, trails, water sources and campsites. This impact dramatically affected the fauna and flora.

Stone rings used for campfires are found throughout the wilderness even though the forest rangers have a campaign to reduce them. There are areas where the vegetation is totally denuded, even in isolated and remote locations.

There are three modern forms of litter found throughout the wilderness since the 1960s. They are filters from cigarettes, poptops from cans and gum wrappers. These are monuments to human occupancy and use of the region in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Maybe sometime in the 21st Century we will realize how important open space and desert greenbelts will be to future generations.

If we don’t recognize the importance of desert greenbelts, most of the upper Sonoran Desert life zone will be lost to our society and future generations. If we are to maintain the beauty and solitude of this urban wilderness and the desert around it we need to examine our priorities and express concern about what is happening to our lifestyle here in the desert. Apache Junction has become one of the most unique areas in the Salt River Valley (in addition to Scottsdale) to make an attempt to preserve portions of the Sonoran Desert.

How important is this desert lifestyle? Ask any real estate agent about property values adjacent to forest service lands in the Apache Junction area. The desert has always been a part of our lifestyle. If we are to enjoy this beautiful desert we must educate people on how to care for it and how delicate it really is. We must also learn how to preserve it for the future. This we must do now. Apache Junction has taken an initiative to protect natural areas in greenbelts. Hopefully these attempts will be supported by the citizens of our community. We will need these desert preserves for future generations.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Lost Dutchman Mine Store

October 8, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Two men had a dream of opening a small store and trailer park on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch road in the early 1980s. Ernie Provence and Tracy Hawkins wanted to fulfill a dream of living near Superstition Mountain and at the same time make a decent living.

Both men had searched the rugged Superstition Mountains for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine but the only thing they came away from their search with was knowledge of the area.

Their dream included building a business on their knowledge of the Superstition Mountains; hence the idea of the Lost Dutchman Mine Store and Trailer Park.

The spot they chose at Peralta Trail was really off the well-beaten path. The only available private land they could lease belonged to a Phoenix baker named Hill. Tracy and Ernie both invested their meager assets in the project.

Eventually, by 1984, they had a building up that could be used as a store. They sold a variety of things in the store including cold drinks. A store in the middle of nowhere was a challenge especially without electricity or water. They hauled all their water and generated their own electricity with an old one-cylinder diesel generator.

I will never forget the time Tracy took me on a tour of their power house. We opened the door, knocked down the spider webs, and watched a large rattlesnake slither away under the edge of the wall. It was certainly an interesting power house. The old one-cylinder diesel generator ran and ran for several years providing them with ample electricity to run a walk-in cooler, refrigerators, lights and cooling.

The Lost Dutchman Mine Store was the hub of action, you might say, in an area where there was no action. The proprietors of the store were always looking forward to a visit by customers. Ernie and Tracy offered a variety of interesting things for sale at their store. There were the usual Lost Dutchman Mine maps, treasure maps, a selection of antiques, different odds and ends, cold drinks and groceries on a very limited basis.

Ernie was proud of his free give-away match books. The match books were black with “Lost Dutchman Mine” printed in gold on their covers. These match covers were in demand by many collectors. The owners, operators and neighbors at the Quarter Circle U Ranch were the most common visitors to the store. Few people drove in from Peralta Road in the beginning. I visited the store for the first time shortly after Tracy and Ernie announced they were going build it. I must admit they really worked hard at building their dream in the beginning. It took them almost a year and a half to get the first building up, the generator in place and a water tower built so they could have water pressure.

Once the most needed amenities were in place Tracy and Ernie moved their families out to the site. They lived in mobile homes under quite primitive conditions.

By 1985 the store was becoming a novelty and several people did drive off the well-beaten path to Peralta Trailhead and visited the store near the Quarter Circle U Ranch. Ernie acquired a beer license from the State of Arizona and this helped business considerably.

The major problem with the idea of building a store and trailer park was finding water. They drilled a well near the store to over two hundred feet, but found no water. They then tried drilling a well near a small hill east of the store, but found no water at that site. These two projects devastated their investor’s money. Once it was decided there would be no wells in the area and it cost far too much money to run power into the area, the store began to decline. Ernie and Tracey couldn’t find any more investors after that. The word had gotten out.

Ernie and Tracy had a wonderful idea and a lot of people believed in their project. Believe it or not the little store became quite a popular spot with a lot of people before its total decline.

After 1985 you could always find a crowd at the little store on weekends and hear a lot of stories about the Lost Dutchman Mine. A lot of the old-time Dutch hunters visited or hung out at the store and told their stories. Characters such as Chuck Crawford, Bob Ward, Lloyd Sutton, Dutch Holland and many others stopped in on occasion and told their stories.

Ironically, as the store grew more popular it began to suffer a tremendous financial loss. Operational cost of the store far exceeded the revenue the store generated. Ernie and Tracey both put their own money into the store to keep it going until the end of 1987. The final straw that destroyed the project was the lack of water. Every attempt to drill a well and find water failed. These drilling endeavors required all the capital Ernie and Tracey could round up. The survival of the store was dependent on the development of a small trailer park. It wasn’t meant to be. Soon the store was abandoned and everyone moved on

I have visited the little store several times over the years and watched it slowly deteriorate back into the desert. Like so many dreams on the desert the little store of Ernie’s and Tracey’s failed to generate a profit that would have insured its survival.

Recently my wife and I visited the little store to take some photos. Dreams still emerge on the landscape. A sudden rainstorm produced a beautiful rainbow that ended near the old Lost Dutchman Mine Store. The store had finally become a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Ironically this pot of gold would not save the old store from its state of deterioration.

As we drove away my wife and I thought about the many tales that still linger around that old Lost Dutchman Mine Store.

Monday, September 24, 2007

CD Cabin Near Bluff Springs

September 24, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Deep in the Superstition Mountains near the south end of Bluff Springs Mountain there is the ruin of an old one room cabin. The cabin is about eight feet wide and ten feet long. It had bunk beds at one end and a potbelly stove at the other. The roof was sound enough to keep water out and a barrel at the side of the cabin to gather rain water. As I studied the cabin one morning while working for the Barkley Cattle Company in the 1950’s, I could imagine all the wonderful memories others must have of it. Its’ obscured location made it a special place to get-a-way from our modern complex society. I am sure others have come across this old cabin in the last four or five decades, or at least its remnants.

I had no idea who built it or its origin until last year when Grover Ryan contacted me by sending me photographs and the story about the cabin. Grover’s heart had always been in the Superstition Mountains. Throughout most of his life he has worked as an architect, but always had time for the Superstition Mountains. His friendship with Fred Guirey helped build his interest even more in the mountains. He heard stories from Fred about the infamous Lost Dutchman mine. Grover climbed Superstition Mountain, Weaver’s Needle, Tortilla Mountain, Mound Mountain, visited Reavis Fall and the Reavis Ranch. He was friends with the Uptons and often spent time at the old Reavis Ranch. Grover has tried to enjoy all of the Superstition Wilderness Area over the years.

Grover Ryan first learned about the Superstition Mountains from his Grand-Dad Bill Hamby. Ryan’s grandfather had wandered Arizona prospecting, farming and being a forest ranger from 1890 to1920. He met many of Jacob Waltz’s friends and heard their stories about the old Dutchman. According to those stories Waltz had a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. Grover wanted to spend some time searching the Superstition Mountain for Waltz’s lost mine. Grover Ryan was born in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area in 1934 and began hiking in the mountains with his grandfather in 1944. Ryan attended Phoenix North High School between 1949 and 1953. He played football for Phoenix North High School and after a game he would spend the night hiking in the Superstition Mountains. By the early 1950’s Grover knew the mountains very well.

He led many groups of young people on hikes in the Superstition Mountains. Out of these many groups two young men believed they needed to build a cabin back in the Superstition Mountain. These two young men were C.D. Rhodes and Elson Schwabe. They all had passed the remains of the William’s Mining Camp on the south side of Bluff Springs Mountain recognizing the potential of building material. The young men decided to tear down the old William’s Camp and use the material to build a hiking cabin.

The project began in earnest shortly after high school for the young men. Finally an 8’ by 10’ cabin was built high above the trail and off the regular path. This cabin remained obscure and hidden for several decades. The cabin became known as the CD Cabin. Eldon was the architect and the chief builder of the cabin. CD Rhodes packed most of the materials from the William’s Camp to the cabin site. He even packed in a pot belly stove from Peralta Trail Head. This certainly was no easy task.

The cabin was used for many years by the families of the founders, but was eventually abandoned to the ravages of time.

Grover had revisited the cabin several times over the years only to watch it weather and crumble. Their sons had no real interest in hiking or camping: they preferred to “Cruise Central.” Their lives were of a different era. The cabin stood strong for forty five years never being disturbed. Grover’s last visit to the cabin was February 12, 1995. Just a few years ago the old pot-bellied stove was packed out to safety.

There are many more out there like Grover who appreciated the mountains as a very special place of their youth. This story is dedicated to all of you who find Superstition Mountain and its environs a special part of your life. My father introduced me to these mountains in 1947 and I have never forgotten that special relationship I had with my father and the mountains.

Dan Hopper is a good friend of mine who also enjoyed that very special relationship with the mountain because his father introduced him to it as a young lad. Dan also introduced his son Bobby to the mountains.

Grover, thanks for sharing your story with us. Until I had heard Grover’s story I had always thought the old cabin was a prospector’s cabin. I never dreamed it was a hiker’s cabin especially from this particular time frame. Each year new secrets of old Superstition Mountain are revealed. It appears somebody comes along and reveals yet another great story about the Superstition Wilderness Area.

We who have known the mountain for decades can really appreciate these stories about others and how their lives were affected by the mountains. Granted some people have had serious altercations associated with the mountain, but most have just enjoyed their beauty, remoteness, solitude, and tranquility. Some have searched for gold and other have just enjoyed hiking or walking through the beauty and vastness of the Superstition Wilderness Area.