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.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Crystal Skull

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

Probably one the more bizarre searches I have ever been involved in occurred in the summer of 1980. Like my friend Bob Corbin, I had sworn to stay out of the Superstition Mountains in the summertime. The extreme heat was dangerous, rattlesnakes were quite common, and not to mention water was at a premium. On July 2, 1980, a man named Joe Mays contacted me and wanted me to help him hunt for a crystal skull buried in the Superstition Mountains. I tried to laugh off his request, but I had this curious desire to hear his story out.

At first he sounded somewhat reasonable, but when he said he wanted to pack into the Superstition Mountain on July 6th I certainly had second thoughts. The temperatures were hovering around 110 degrees and the monsoons were late that year. So far there had been no relief from the heat.

I met with Joe Mays, Everett Johnston and three of Mays’ men at Cobb’s Restaurant in Apache Junction on July 5th. Joe explained to me that he had contracted Johnston, owner and operator of Peralta Stables on South Meridian Road, to pack him into the mountains for three weeks. Joe looked at me and said he wanted to hire me as a consultant in the mountains. He said I would only need to go into the mountain for a couple of days. Again I thought he was joking, but when he offered me six crisp new one hundred dollar bills to help him I soon changed my mind. Summers were always a lean period for me because I only worked nine months a year as a teacher in those days... but this consultant job was one I lived to regret.

At 4:30 a.m. on July 6th we loaded up the horses and gear at Peralta Stables on Meridian Road and drove out to First Water Trail Head. The rays of the sun were shining on us before we were saddled and packed up ready for our trip into a burning hell.

As we rode along the trail down toward Garden Valley and Second Water it started getting warm. We rode up East Boulder Canyon and then picked up the trail over to La Barge Canyon. Johnston was sure we would find water in La Barge Canyon above the Lower Box. Riding down La Barge about 11 a.m., again I realized I had made a big mistake. But it was too late to turn back at this point.

We found good water for the stock and ourselves in La Barge Canyon. We packed in all of our drinking water. Johnston planned on somebody going to town every day and hauling ice and drinks back to camp. Once at the site, the wranglers set up a large fly for a shade to eat and rest under. We had plenty of good food and lots of cold drinks. Once camp was set up I didn’t think it was going to be so bad after all even with temperatures above 109 degrees.

That evening when it cooled down a little we hiked down La Barge Canyon toward the Upper Box looking for the site where the crystal skull was supposedly hidden. Joe wandered up and down several small side canyons until he came to a spot where there was a very deep vertical crack in the rock. He peered into the crack a hundred feet or so and declared this was the spot. He immediately put his crew of three guys to work trying to break the rock. What an effort in futility!

These guys must have believed there was a ton of gold buried behind the crack the way they were trying to break the rock. Within 30 minutes or so Joe Mays determined we would need an explosive expert. I informed Joe it was against the law to blast in the wilderness without a federal permit. This permit soon became a point of contention between Mays and I. After a couple of really hot days of digging and scraping, Joe Mays abandoned the site and said he had been wrong. We started looking for another site.
It wasn’t long before Joe came up with another site. This was the day before my birthday, July 9th. I absolutely refused to leave camp on my birthday and ride or walk in the blazing hot sun. I planned to sit under the shade all day and drink Pepsi to celebrate my birthday. On the evening of my birthday it was decided that early the next morning I would go out with the pack horse and send Auggie, a wrangler, back in with ice and supplies. My time in the mountain was over... I thought.

I learned a lot on that trip. First of all, I couldn’t believe the money Joe was spending on this adventure in the Superstition Mountains. It wasn’t long before I found out Joe was spending an investor’s money on this whole operation. Furthermore, I couldn’t believe anyone would invest money in such a wild tale as a crystal skull hidden in the Superstition Mountains by the Aztecs 500 years ago.

I later found out Joe was using an ancient book as collateral for his adventure. When Joe’s stories began not to prove out, his investors told him stories about guys who were thrown in the Atlantic Ocean with concrete shoes. It was at this point he convinced his investors they should make a video documentary of this entire adventure. Believe it or not the investors thought this was a great idea.

Joe almost begged me to accompany them and help with technical information for the documentary. He told me if I didn’t he might end up in the Atlantic Ocean. I guess I took pity on his soul and continued with them until they completed the project at the end of July. Like so many things about the Superstition Mountains there was no Crystal Skull. I really think it was a figment of Joe’s imagination that he transposed from another story or legend.

Johnston and his crew ended up packing Joe and his group all over the Superstition Wilderness Area while they were filming a documentary that was never produced. They spent a week at the Reavis Ranch were it was much cooler. I rented a high quality video camera from Troxell Communications for this project.

Some twelve hours of tape was shot on the Superstition Wilderness Area. Before this operation was over Joe had spent more than $20,000 of his investor’s money. To this day, I don’t know what happened to the tape, but I did make a VHS copy of it and it is still in my files.

I swore at the end of July that I would never work in those mountains during the summer months again. Basically I have adhered to that rule for obvious reasons. Over the years many people have succumbed to the heat of the desert. It can really be dangerous if you are not properly hydrated.

The search for the Crystal Skull still remains as one of the most interesting and bizarre expeditions I have ever joined.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Dismal Valley

September 7, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Several years ago Joe Clary introduced me to the military records of the Rancheria Campaign in the Superstition Mountain area. The Rancheria Campaign against the Apache and Yavapai between the years 1864-1868 eventually ended much of the hostilities along the Gila and Salt Rivers. Among these field reports and maps were several new names for various landmarks within the Superstition Wilderness area.

The region east of Tortilla Creek and west of Fish Creek Canyon formed a small alluvial flat that was once the site of the Tortilla Ranch. Cattlemen and cowboys have used this valley for stock gathering and raising for more than a hundred years.

Prior to the cattlemen’s use of this valley it was an important Native American encampment or farmstead. During the 1860s the Apaches and Yavapais had a rancheria in the valley. This village was used on an intermittent basis because of the water supply. When water was abundant the Native Americans grew maize, beans and squash along Tortilla Creek.

The Apaches and Yavapais had a nasty habit of raiding their distant neighbors along the Salt and Gila River for women and supplies. Prior to 1860 there was very little the Pimas could do to prevent these raids. It was certain death to challenge the Apache in their mountain sanctuary to the east, and the Pimas avoided these mountains because the region was the home of their dreaded enemy.

This all changed when John D. Walker settled along the banks of the Gila River near modern-day Florence in early 1860. Walker soon organized a loose-knit militia of Pimas and white settlers to combat the problematic raids of the Apache and Yavapai. This militia was called the 1st Arizona Volunteers. Territorial Governor John N. Goodwin commissioned Walker a brevet lieutenant and promised to help with supplies.

Walker’s first campaign against the Apache-Yavapai consisted of several attacks by his poorly armed group of volunteers. Even under such conditions this rag-tag militia struck hard against the Apache- Yavapai rancherias in the Pinal Mountains. The first campaign consisted of approximately 200 Pima scouts and forty American settlers.

Camp McDowell was established along the Verde River in 1864 to control the predatory raids of the Apache-Yavapai from Tonto Basin down the Rio Salinas (Salt River) into the Salt River Valley. Units from under the command of Brevet Colonel Bennett went into the field in 1866 and continued operations until the end in 1868. Their mission was to eliminate hostile villages in the Tonto Basin area, the Pinal Mountains and the Superstition Mountains.

On May 11, 1866, Brevet Lt. John D. Walker led elements of the 14th and 24th infantries against Apaches and Yavapais in what is now known as the Superstition Wilderness. Their mission was to destroy all Native American villages or rancherias and capture or kill all inhabitants they could find south of the Salt River, north of the Gila River and east of the Superstition Mountains. Walker turned southward from the Salt River at a place called Mormon Flat and then followed Tortilla Creek into the mountains. His column first attacked a large encampment of Native Americans above Hell’s Hole on Tortilla Creek. The infantry unit killed 15 warriors at Hell’s Hole and then moved up Tortilla Creek to Dismal Valley. Walker’s command attacked a large rancheria in Dismal Valley killing 57 Native Americans, including several women and children. During the mopping up operation, the mosquitoes were so fierce, the stench of the dead so nauseating and the heat so extreme that the site became known as Dismal Valley.

Walker led several other campaigns into the Superstition Mountain area during the period 1860 to 1868. It was this involvement which led to his name being prominently attached to the story of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Some storytellers believed Walker received a map from Jacob Waltz’s partner Jacob Wisner. It was believed this map was given to Walker because of his knowledge of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Walker eventually passed this map on to Thomas Weedin, the editor of the Florence Blade newspaper (now the Florence Blade-Reminder).

Joseph Clary’s work with military records in Washington D.C. opened another interesting area in the history of the Superstition Wilderness area. His research located many new names for landmarks in the area around Tortilla Mountain and in Dismal Valley.

Prospectors and treasure hunters have always linked John D. Walker with Jacob Waltz and his alleged partner Jacob Wisner (Weiser). It is apparent the most logical site for this link was during the military campaign of 1864-1868. The irony is the fact that Waltz was not in the area until at least 1868. These skirmishes had already been fought.

It is highly unlikely that Walker came across Waltz or Wisner in the Superstition Mountain area. It is very interesting how facts get mixed with supposition and faith. Walker was not involved with the second campaign against Apaches in the Superstition Mountain region-- a Major Brown led units of the 5th and 10th United States Cavalries against the Apache in this campaign of the 1870s.

The Walker-Waltz connection is strictly supposition and there is little or no documentation to support it. It is just another tale about the legendary mountain range east of Apache Junction.