Monday, March 30, 2009

Wild Fire Season in the Desert

March 30, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The beauty of the Sonoran Desert after a wet spring is fabulous. The winter has been witness to quite a bit of precipitation. This tremendous growth of weeds presents a great fire danger for the late spring and summer months. A lot of the dead, older growth provides fuel for the slightest spark whether accidental or natural. A dry desert is often marred with dangerous wildfires in the late spring and the early summer months prior to the monsoons.

The fire danger increases as late spring and early summer temperatures increase. The wildfire season has increased dramatically as more and more people move to the arid deserts of the American Southwest. Many of these new residents don’t realize the extreme danger of a dry desert under the extreme high temperatures of summer. This desert tinder can be as volatile as gasoline.

Most wildfires result from one of two things; lightning or human carelessness. Lightning usually occurs during the July monsoons, and most fires prior to the monsoons are human caused. It is usually a carelessly tossed cigarette or an abandoned campfire that causes these fires, and could cost you your home and your life.

As we move into summer, families are beginning their summer vacations and outdoor activities. These activities include backyard cookouts, camping, and other activities. Any of these enjoyable activities can lead to disaster if we are careless with fire.

I have witnessed many major wildfires in our area during the past 55 years. The first real wildfire I recall occurred in July, 1949. This fire raged out of control east of Reavis Ranch for several days before it was brought under control. Another wild fire broke out west of Roosevelt Lake in the Pinyon Mountain area in 1959, and burned several thousand acres of the Tonto
National Forest before it was contained. Lightning caused those fires.

A fire broke out south of the Reavis Ranch in 1966, destroying much of the Ponderosa pine forest in the area. This fire was known as the Iron Mountain burn and was attributed to a campfire. The forest service planted drought resistant grasses in the area to prevent soil erosion. This grass has become the climax vegetation in the area today.

A large wildfire raged through Needle Canyon in 1969 destroying several thousand acres of desert landscape. An abandoned campfire was the likely cause of this fire, which eventually burned itself out because of the inaccessibility to the area.

I witnessed and photographed one of the most dramatic wildfires on the slopes of Superstition Mountain in July of 1979. This fire raged across the slopes of Superstition Mountain with a fifty foot wall of flame engulfing everything in its path. This fire was caused when a high wind blew over a charcoal grill in somebody’s yard near the base of the mountain. One careless neighbor endangered hundreds of lives and millions of dollars of property as the fire spread over the mountain within an hour. The smoke was so thick Superstition Mountain could not be seen from State Route 88 (Apache Trail). If it had not been for slurry bombers many homes would have been lost in this fire and lives could have hung in the balance.

On July 4, 1983, another major fire raged on the eastern side of Superstition Mountain destroying several thousand acres. This fire eventually burned its self out. Needle Canyon was struck with another wildfire in March of 1984. This fire burned up the northeastern side of Bluff Springs Mountain and eventually also burned itself out. Abandoned campfires most likely caused these fires.

There was a large wildfire in the area of the Massacre Grounds and along the northwestern slopes of Superstition Mountain in April of 1984. This fire was contained and in some areas burned its self out. Several other man-made fires occurred in the wilderness or around Superstition Mountain between 1984 and1994.

The next big fire to strike the region was the Geronimo blaze near the Gold Canyon development area. This fire started around June 11, 1995 and was fought for three days. A hundred and twenty fire- fighters eventually brought this blaze under control before lives or property was lost. Twenty-three hundred acres were destroyed by the fire and it threatened several homes near Gold Canyon. This particular fire produced huge columns of smoke that could be seen from Phoenix skyscrapers.

This past four or five years has been quiet except for the Lone Fire on Four Peaks Mountain near the end of April 1996. The Lone Fire destroyed almost sixty-two thousand acres of the Tonto National Forest. o put this figure in perspective, this would be almost one third of the Superstition Wilderness Area. This was one of the most devastating fires on public land adjacent to the Superstition Wilderness Area during the past twenty-five years. The Superstition Wilderness experiences some kind of wild fire almost each summer. On several occasions the wilderness has been closed to camping and hiking during extreme during extreme fire conditions.

This historical accounting of wildfire in our area gives you some idea of what a potential fire hazard the desert can be between late April and mid July. Precipitation is often a double-edged sword. Rain always brings relief to a dry desert region reducing fire danger, but it always produced an abundant growth of brush that can create more fuel and cause more fires. Precipitation also causes severe erosion in areas that have been burned and denuded of vegetation. This in turn destroys the watershed that is so crucial to water conservation in an arid place like Arizona.

As the dry season approaches, the fire danger will continue to escalate bringing dangerous conditions to our desert. There is plenty of tinder and dead-fall to burn on the desert. Once the high temperatures arrive and dry out the tinder it is extremely volatile.

Your care with fire and open flames at all times is extremely important and will protect us all. Smoking should be confined to automobiles or buildings during extreme fire conditions. Your caution with fire protects us all and the firefighters who fight these desert fires.

We can help by having reasonable firebreak around our home, especially if we live on a large lot containing a lot of dry tinder. I would like to encourage everyone to be extremely careful with matches, cigarettes, outdoor cooking, power tools, and any other use of open flames or sparks. Fire safety in the desert starts at home and should be practiced at all times. For more information about fire safety; call the Apache Junction Fire Department at 480.982-4440.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Fire on the Mountain

March 23, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

My life is filled with many memorable experiences, and my first visit to the old Reavis Ranch in the 1950s I can easily reminisce. Alice and Floyd Stone operated the Reavis at that time, and Floyd Stone was John A. Bacon’s son-inlaw.

Floyd “Stoney” Stone was ramrod on the Tortilla and Reavis allotments. Stoney’s handshake and smile were genuine and made you feel welcome after a long drive over a terrorizing road up the mountain from the Apache Trail. Stoney had given me permission to drive up to the Reavis Ranch.

I wanted to visit Circlestone and hear more stories about this unusual archaeological site above the Reavis Ranch. Circlestone had captured my imagination since old “Red” Cowan had taken me there several years prior.

While at the Reavis Ranch, I was able to observe and study the Western beauty and decor of the ranch house. The kitchen had a long wooden table with benches on both sides. All meals were served on this table. The copper-paneled ceiling of the kitchen appeared out of place for such an isolated ranch house.

Alice Stone kept the copper polished and clean. There were three windows in the kitchen and a large wood burning stove for cooking. The front room or living room dominated the decor of the ranch house setting. At the west end of the room was a large fireplace. The hearth  was framed with peeled pine logs that had several cattle brands burned into them for decor. Western style wooden furniture filled the room. The floor was covered with large Navajo rugs, while the ceiling displayed open round timbers. Scenes of cowboys and cattle adorned the walls on framed canvases. The light filtered through the paintings adding life to them. Here and there a Native American artifact was displayed. I will never forget the subtle beauty of the ranch house’s interior. It was such it made you feel at home immediately. The interior had the aura of a rustic old museum.

The exterior of the house exhibited carefully laid sandstone rocks. On the west end of the building was a room separated from the remainder of the house by a large breezeway running north and south. The east side of the ranch house displayed a large screened porch with flagstone columns. There were two bedrooms on the south side of the house. On the other side of the breezeway there was a bathroom and a storage area.

Using a ladder, you could climb into the attic where numerous things were stored and where occasionally a tired cowboy would throw his bed down.

The Stones sold the Reavis Ranch to the Department of Agriculture in 1967 for $80,000 and 20 acres of patented land at the old IV Ranch near the Apache Trail.

Native Americans were the first humans to occupy the Reavis Valley. They may have settled here some 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. These early residents settled here for the same reason Elisha Marcus Reavis did in 1874, and that was water. This high mountain valley has the only permanent stream flowing year around in this entire region. Native Americans, farmers and cattlemen all cherished and coveted this beautiful valley and its abundance of water in a desert environment. Numerous archaeological sites, including Circlestone, dot the towering knolls that surround Reavis Valley.

Elisha Reavis died in April of 1896, some four miles south of the Reavis Valley. Shortly after his death, John J. Fraser, better known as Jack Fraser, a local cattleman, took over the Reavis Valley and its water rights. Fraser, like Reavis, was just a squatter on this land. Fraser never acquired title because at the time he was not a citizen of the United States. Fraser operated the ranch from 1896-1909.

Fraser sold his interest in the ranch to William J. Clemans in January of 1909. Clemans patented 140 acres of the Reavis Valley on January 16, 1919. He and his sons operated the ranch until 1946, when it was sold to Bacon and Upton. John A. Bacon ran the ranch from 1946 until 1953. Bacon’s son-in-law Floyd “Stoney” Stone took over operation in 1954.

During the period 1909-1954 many improvements were made at the Reavis Ranch. A road was put in from the Apache Trail to the ranch in 1946. Almost two miles of irrigation canals were dug for irrigating the 600 apple tree orchard and 60 acres of hay. A large pond was created near the ranch house to irrigate the ranch lands. There was even a small sawmill constructed to make lumber.

A Mormon company known as Pineair Summer Resort Company tried to market small lots in the valley 1909-1919. The construction of a railroad to Prescott from Phoenix ended the dream of this ill-fated company. They were able to start a road to the Reavis Valley, but never finished the project.

The valley became part of the Tonto Forest Reserve in 1909, and served as the site of the first Camp Geronimo for the Roosevelt Boy Scout Council in June of 1922. Swimming merit badges were awarded because of the small lake in the valley. Governor Campbell rode into valley as a guest of the Roosevelt Boy Scout Council.

Finally, in 1946, the long promised road was completed into the valley, but was closed in 1968, surviving only twenty- two years. The old ranch survived another twenty-three years through famine, fire and vandalism, however the old homestead could not survive the pressures of the Nineties.

It was around Thanksgiving of 1991, a fire erupted in the old ranch house and it was burned to the ground. The fire on the mountain crushed the dreams of many who had envisioned the old ranch being a way station for those who needed a protected rest stop in the wilderness. All that remains today is the concrete slab where the ranch house once stood.

The old ranch will no longer be a haven for wayward campers, hikers, or horseman. It will no longer protect the weary traveler from a thundering rainstorm, a raging blizzard or the freezing cold.

Goodbye to an old friend.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back Trails of West Boulder Canyon

March 16, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Over the years I have mention some of the remote and seldom used trails in the Superstition Wilderness Area. There are several wilderness purists who enjoy these trails while they remain anonymous. Most of them would prefer these rarely used trails were not made public. For this reason I refrain from telling the world about some of the more interesting areas within the confines of the region to protect these sensitive areas from over impact.

I have not publicized the trail to the top of Summit 5024 in detail because of the hazards of riding that trail. Hiking that particular trail would be no real problem. An old friend of my  amed Monte Edwards called the trail to the top of the Summit 5024, the “Old Spanish Trail.”

Personally I doubt any Spaniard ever walked this particular trail or even came close to it. Edward’s always believed the Spanish Jesuits climbed to the top of Superstition Mountain to draw their maps of the area. These stories resulted in the “Legend of El Gato.” It is believed by some “El Gato” was a Spaniard or Mexican who climbed to high points in the Superstition Mountains and sketched maps.

There is another trail that is a real challenge for man and beast. The old Quarter Circle U Trail from First Water to Carney Springs. To follow this trail today would be a challenge for any experienced hiker. The last time I rode up to Willow Springs the old trail had almost been obliterated by brush and flash flooding; especially that portion of the trail just below Willow Springs and the old stone corral. I am sure the trail has not improved much since then. Monte Edwards and Don Shade prospected the area for several years and kept the trail brushed out. The area above Willow Springs is densely overgrown today. I am not sure you can even ride a horse through the upper portion of the trail to the saddle above Carney Springs.

Willow Springs was the site of Adolph Ruth’s camp in the late spring of 1931. Ruth left his camp around June 15, 1931, never to return again. His skull was found north of Bluff Springs Mountain, east of Needle Canyon and near the Three Red Hills along the old First Water-Charlebois Trail on December 10, 1931. The remainder of his body was discovered by William A. Barkley and Jeff Adams in January of 1932. Ruth’s search for the Lost Dutchman mine became national news for about six months between June 1931 and January 1932 because of his disappearance. How he died remains a controversy to this day. Many individuals still believe Ruth was a victim of homicide. The authorities reported Ruth’s death as an accident resulting from exhaustion and dehydration.

A short distance above Willow Springs is located a large stone corral. Most of these old corrals have vanished from the wilderness area. The stone corrals that survive today are a fitting monument to the hard work of the cattlemen who worked these mountains for almost a century. Twenty- five years ago we packed out an old scraper (Fresno) from the Willow Springs Corral. I am sure it was used to level the floor of the corral when it was being used. I once asked Barkley if he ever used the stone corral. He told me he always moved his cattle out to First Water or to the old Brush Corral in Boulder Basin. I am not sure anyone used that corral in West Boulder Canyon after the turn of the century. There was the old brush corral in Boulder Basin that Barkley used to work and gather cattle in that area. The West Boulder Canyon country is extremely rough and a difficult place to work cattle. A cowboy’s best helper in this country was a good cow dog.

The area around Willow Springs has always played a role in the story of the Lost Dutchman mine. The site was always a good source of water in the summer months. Over the years I have made several trips into West Boulder and I seldom came across anyone. A new interest has developed for West Boulder Canyon and particularly the area around Willow Spring because of Adolph Ruth’s death in summer of 1931. Actually the canyon is a beautiful area filled with many interesting things. There are several prospect holes in the canyon, a stone corral, a couple of very old camps with reminders of the past, and even an “ORO” carved in stone near the confluence of Old West Boulder and West Boulder Canyons. There are several short and obliterated trails that lead to old diggings along the course of West Boulder Canyon.

I was first introduced to West Boulder Canyon by Bill Barkley when I worked for him in the 1950s. I remember riding into the canyon with him and his two cow dogs. When Barkley would see a calf and cow he wanted to check out he would have the two dogs corral the stock rather than us chase them through the rocks. Horses don’t do well hopping over big boulders. We had our share of wrecks in those rock strewn canyons. In the mid 1950’s we were still fighting Screw Worm infestations. It was common for Screw Worms to develop in a calf’s eyes or their navels. By 1959 the Screw Worms were practically eradicated by the U.S. Government sterile fly campaign and program.

Sometime during the early 1980’s a prospector or Dutch hunter named Braun worked a prospect above the old Stone Corral in West Boulder. He was very secretive and not too friendly. He rode a horse and had two pack mules. I ran into him several times during the 1980s. I often heard dynamite charges he set off prior to December of 1983. He had dug an incline shaft about thirty feet deep in a side canyon. He had shored the inclined up with native timbering. He used short pieces of Mesquite timbers. I found his diggings about two years after he abandoned it some time in the late 1980s. The interesting thing about Braun is he worked the incline like old time prospectors from the 1870s. His technique of excavation was kind of interesting.

He was very meticulous in the way he timbered his incline. He also hid the waste from the incline. He used a sled-box to move his waste and what ever he was getting out of the incline. Braun’s work is just another mystery among the many mysteries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Monte Edwards often talked about his prospect, but didn’t really know anything about him or what he might be recovering from the site.

There were several prospectors who worked West Boulder Canyon over the past decades. Don Shade, Monte Edwards, Mr. Braun, and the Whistler are just a few. Their stories contain tales of lost gold and buried treasure. It is these stories that continue to attract people to the area in search of their dreams.

There are hundreds of prospects within the Superstition Wilderness Area and each of them probably has an interesting story associated with them. All of these prospects required money and energy to develop. They are always a reminder of who was here before we were.

Sometimes I look at them as a futile attempt, but a positive one at trying to prove out a dream.

Monday, March 9, 2009

10 Grand Marshalls

March 9, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

How do you preserve the legacy of the old “Dutchman” of Lost Dutchman Mine fame? Maybe by letting the world know who talks, writes, and hunts for the Lost Dutchman Mine or the gold of Superstition Mountain!

The Apache Junction’s Chamber of Commerce’s Lost Dutchman Days parade committee made an esteemed effort to preserve the history and legend in this manner. They assembled the largest group of local writers, historians, collectors, and builders of a legacy. Most of these individual have been involved with the tale of the Lost Dutchman Mine for more than forty years; some have been involved with the mountains for more than fifty years. It is for this reason the LDD Parade Committee picked ten Grand Marshals for the 2009 Lost Dutchman Day’s Parade. Congratulations to them for their foresight and planning for the future preservation of the history and legend of Superstition Mountain.

The Lost Dutchman Day’s Committee chose to put all these individuals on a single float. This challenge was answered with a 20 foot flat trailer and a row of hay bales in the center of the bed. Prior to our ride down Apache Trail we posed for a group photograph. I certainly want to share this photograph with you. Jayne Feldman took this photograph otherwise I couldn’t have been in it.

At precisely 10 a.m. Chris Hansing of Arnold’s Motors, did his volunteer duty for the day and pulled these ancient relics through Apache Junction on the old Apache Trail for 2009 Lost Dutchman Days Parade. Chris is a great outdoorsman and loves to drive his ATV. We warned him to take it easy or he might loose one these old Dutchman fossils along the Apache Trail.

I would like to write a little narrative about these individuals who rode on the Lost Dutchman Day’s Grand Marshal Float. Most of you know who I am from the many columns I have written for the Apache Junction News over the past ten years and I have lived in the area far to long. Some say over fifty years or more. I was the co-founder of the Superstition Mountain
Museum with Larry Hedrick and served on the board for twenty years.

Next to me is Robert Schoose, the founder of Goldfield Ghost Town. This is a man who moved to Arizona from California with a dream and followed through. First, he spent a little time in the early 1970’s looking for the Dutchman and found the pickings a bit lean. He and his wife LuAnn decided to build a Ghost Town along the Apache Trail in 1984. Today Bob and LuAnn’s achievement is a landmark along the Apache Trail northeast of Apache Junction.

Ron Feldman came over from California with a dream to discover the Dutchman’s Mine in 1966. He soon realized he needed income to search for gold so he opened a livery stable known as the OK Corral. He started this business with a burro named Phoenix. Today Ron and Jayne have one of the most successful stable operations in the Southwest.

Next is Robert K. Corbin. He moved to Arizona after law school in 1957, so he could hunt the Dutchman’s mine. He was Maricopa County Attorney and then the Attorney General of Arizona for twelve years, 1980-1992. Corbin has searched for the Lost Dutchman Mine since 1957.

George Johnston arrived here about 1952 and fell in love with the desert. He became involved with the Superstition Mountain Historical Society and served as President for several years. He was a columnist for the Mesa Tribune for several years.

Next is Larry Hedrick. Larry is the co-founder of the Superstition Mountain Historical Society in 1979. Larry and Tom organized a temporary board of directors when the museum was incorporated in March of 1980. Larry had been dedicated to the building and preservation of the Superstition Mountain Museum.

Next to Larry Hedrick is Clay Worst. Clay has hunted for the Lost Dutchman Mine since the late 1940’s. He served as the first president of the Superstition Mountain Museum when it was first incorporated. Clay had dedicated much of his life to the museum and its goals.

Standing beside Clay Worst is Jim Hatt. Jim has dedicated more than twenty years to the search for gold in the Superstition Mountains. He has searched for the Dutchman and the Peralta lost mines. Jim served as director of the museum for a couple of years when the museum was located at Goldfield.

Next to Jim is Gregory E. Davis. Greg has collected material on the Lost Dutchman Mine, Superstition Mountain and the general area since childhood. He undoubtedly has the largest assembled collection of topic specialized material on the subject. His collection exceeds that of any museum or library in Arizona or the Southwest. Greg is presently the archivist for the Superstition Mountain Museum. If you have any questions about the Lost Dutchman Mine or the area you should contact Greg through the Superstition Mountain Museum.

Another most interesting aficionado of the search for Coronado’s gold is Salvador Delagadillo. I first met Salvador in 1977 when he was working for a prospector in the mountains. Sal has been searching for the gold of Superstition Mountain for more than thirty years. Sal may never find the gold, but he has a heart of gold when it comes to helping others. Everyone knows about Sal’s willingness to help others.

Now you have the names of the ten Grand Marshals of the 2009 Lost Dutchman Days and parade.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Whistler's Gold

March 2, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area have yielded many interesting characters during the past century. They came here to search for lost treasure or gold mines. These individuals followed in the footsteps of Coronado’s Children, according to Frank J. Dobie, noted western author. If anyone could be classified as one of Coronado’s Children the ‘Whistler’ was certainly such a man.

This obscure recluse wandered the deep canyons and towering peaks of the Superstition Wilderness for more than two decades. His search for the Lost Dutchman Mine began in 1939, and was immediately interrupted by World War II. The Whistler’s first knowledge about the Lost Dutchman Mine came from Barry Storm’s book, On the Trail of the Lost Dutchman.

The Tortilla Flat area served as the Whistler’s base camp from 1949-1951. In the years following 1951, he prospected an area around Willow Springs. The Whistler walked from First Water to Apache Junction monthly to up pick his VA disability check and his monthly supplies. He was always whistling a tune.

Keen eyes of hikers and prospectors rarely spotted the whistler. They often heard him, but didn’t see him. Even the Barkley cowboys rarely saw him.

He always wore dark clothing, even during the hot summer months. His dark clothing was his trademark. It was his whistling at night while he walked that gave him his nickname. His nocturnal habit of hiking through the Superstitions at night during the summer months caused other prospectors to be suspicious of him. Some men claimed he was a camp robber.

It was quite strange for cowboys to be sitting around a campfire and hear somebody whistling a tune while walking in the distance. Many of us believed the Whistler was afraid of the dark, whistling to vent his anxiety.

The Whistler spent much of his time in the West Boulder Canyon area. His camp was located in the high rocks above the canyon floor. He chose this location because he wanted a camp safe from detection and from the flash flood waters of West Boulder Canyon.

While rounding up cattle in West Boulder Canyon in the spring of 1959, we came across the Whistler’s Camp by accident. We heard somebody with a serious cough. When we rode up the hillside to investigate we found the Whistler flat on his back with either the flu or pneumonia. Barkley sent me back to First Water and Apache Junction to contact the Sheriff’s Office. The next day the Whistler was taken out of the mountains and admitted to the Pinal County General Hospital then transferred to the VA hospital at Fort Whipple near Prescott. The Whistler asked us to look after his meager belongings while he was in the hospital. I rode back to his camp three days later with a packhorse and picked it up. Among his possessions was a small Christian Bible given to American soldiers during World War II with the following inscription in it: “To Hal, The service you have given to your country in the time of war will never be forgotten by this grateful nation,” signed General “Hap” Arnold, U.S. Army, 1943.

How ironic this statement was I thought. Here was a man who gave everything for his country in the time of war and now was just trying to hold on to a few meager possessions while hospitalized. I couldn’t imagine the Whistler being a war hero, and also being in this desperate position. To this day I don’t know who the Whistler was, except for his first name. Bill Barkley just considered him another one of the nuts hunting for the Lost Dutchman Mine and wanted me to clean up his camp. He might not have been a war hero, but somehow he had attracted the attention of General “Hap” Arnold.

This tale enlightened us about those who we sometimes prematurely judge. Most of the cowboys thought the Whistler was a bum wasting time on a legend of gold. The Whistler eventually returned to the First Water Ranch and picked up his camp from our tack shed where I had place it. He returned to the mountains to search for his dream.

The only treasure the Whistler found in the Superstition Mountains was probably peace and solitude. He never found gold, but then again he may not have been searching for it. I had only met the man once, and to this day I don’t recall exactly what he looked like. What I do recall were his penetrating blue eyes, gray hair, and his rugged calloused hands. Was the Whistler a war hero? Or was he searching for peace and solitude to ease his tired and worn out soul?

He is now a forgotten man swallowed up by time. He’s a ghostly face from the past that once defended our nation, walked the trails of the Superstition Wilderness and followed in the footsteps of Coronado’s Children. Ironically I have never forgotten General Hap Arnold’s words, “never to be forgotten by this grateful nation.”

Many lost souls have roamed the Superstition Wilderness over the decades searching for gold. The Whistler was just one of many searching for peace and solitude. Many years later Tim O’Grady told me the man I knew as “The Whistler” was a highly decorated hero of World War II who had an extremely difficult time readjusting to civilian life after the war.

If you have time today, tell a veteran thanks for his sacrifice that has insured us a free nation. You don’t have to wait for a national holiday to do this my friends.