Monday, October 20, 2008

The Ghost Trail

October 20, 2008 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Anderson-Ely Trail off the northeast end of Bluff Springs Mountain and into La Barge Canyon is a real challenge on horseback. You might ask Jim and Betty Swanson about the trail. The three of us, along with Harold Christ, rode the trail across the top of Bluff Springs Mountain several years ago. The trail was rough and very brushy. There was plenty of cacti and Catclaw to keep you busy as well as plenty of boulders and rock slides to negotiate. This trail was often used by cattlemen checking on their livestock that grazed on top of Bluff Springs Mountain during the early and late spring. Basically there are two horse trails that will take you to the top of Bluff Springs Mountain.

One trail is located at the south end of Bluff Springs Mountain near Bluff Spring, a permanent source of water in the early days. For more than fifty years there was a concrete water tank at the site that provided cool water year [round]. Several years ago the forest service removed the concrete trough, broke it up into small pieces and packed it up onto the alluvial slopes of Bluff Springs Mountain. This action was part of the wilderness management plan to return the region to its natural state.

The southern access trail is also a challenge to a rider on horseback. I have ridden this trail many times and have often wondered why anyone would want to chase cows in this God-forsaken, cacti-covered country. Some old timers also consider this a part of the Anderson-Eli Trail. I’ve always been told the Anderson-Ely was the trail off the northeast end of Bluff Springs Mountain. Contemporary mapmakers and Dutch hunters make reference to the trail as the Ely-Anderson. Today the trail is often called the Ely-Anderson because of Ely’s notoriety as an author and his search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. Anderson punched cows in the Superstitions for many years. He worked for Barkley and Criswell in the region. I believe Anderson worked for both Barkley and Bark as a cowboy. Sims Ely was James Bark’s prospecting and Lost Dutchman Mine-hunting partner. 
Sims Ely was born on January 7, 1862, in Overton County, Tenn., during the American Civil War. He attended the College of Commerce at Bloomington, Ill., and was first editor of a Hutchinson, KS., newspaper before moving to Arizona in 1895. He was 33 years old at the time and became involved with the Arizona Republican newspaper. He soon became the publisher and editor.

He became a life-long friend of James E. Bark, a wealthy cattleman who had several Arizona ranches and other businesses. Bark owned and operated the Bark Ranch (Quarter Circle U Ranch) near the Superstition Mountains. Bark was also an avid mine hunter. He searched for the Dutchman’s Mine in the Superstition Mountains most of his life. Sims Ely became his partner. In many ways they were an unlikely pair to share in the rigors of the rugged Superstition Mountain range searching for lost gold.

Sims Ely served as secretary to Territorial Governor Joseph Henry Kibbey. Ely, after his tenure as secretary, traveled to California and became involved with the Federal Land Bank in 1924. Ely, after serving several years in the banking business, became the city manager of Boulder City, Nevada in October of 1931. He served as city manager of Boulder City until April of 1941.

After retiring, Sims Ely became best known for his book The Lost Dutchman Mine published by William Morrow & Company in 1953. This book was based on Ely and Bark’s search for the infamous Dutchman’s Lost Mine. It is difficult to determine just how many trips Bark and Ely made into the Superstition Mountains together. Some pioneers claim they spent considerable time on Peter’s Mesa, Bluff Springs Mountain and Bronco Butte. Little remains today to suggest Bark and Ely spent a lot of time in the mountains. They were both very busy men with little time to spare.

The Barkleys were close friends of James Bark. They were familiar with his and Ely’s search for the Dutchman’s mine. When I first went to work for the Barkley’s I was curious and listened to the many stories told by Jack Riddle and old Bill Finch who were both good friends of Barkley and knew James Bark as well. They talked often about the trail that Ely and Bark used to access the top of Bluff Springs Mountain. Barkley called it the Anderson Trail, named after one of the old cowhands that had worked for his dad. Early in 1959 we worked out of the old tin barn (cabin) at Bluff Springs. We rode up on Bluff Springs Mountain almost daily working cattle down off the mountain. Barkley told me on several occasions we were riding on the old trail used by Sims Ely and Jim Bark to access the top of Bluff Springs Mountain. Bill pointed out several old cairns used as markers along the trail. He said Jimmy Anderson had piled up these rocks across long stretches of rock slabs so the trail could be followed easily. It has always been difficult for me to envision Ely and Bark together on top of Bluff Springs Mountain. Of course it would be difficult for people today [to] believe former Arizona Attorney General Bob Corbin and I rode on top [of] Bluff Springs Mountain also.

Today cartographers call the trail across Bluff Springs Mountain the Ely-Anderson Trail. I suppose that is a bit of a misnomer when you consider the fact that Jim Anderson blazed the trail off the northeast end of Bluff Springs Mountain. Following this trail on top of Bluff Springs Mountain is very difficult. For this reason it has often been called the Ghost Trail by some old timers. I would recommend you follow the information in Jack Carlson’s book “Superstition Wilderness Guide” for information about the trail today.

Sims Ely died in Rockville, Md., in 1954 at the age of 92. Ely left three legacies behind. One was as city manager for Boulder City during the construction of Hoover Dam (Boulder Dam); two, authoring the book, The Lost Dutchman Mine; and finally his name appearing on a trail in the Superstition Wilderness Area.