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.