Monday, June 29, 2009

Gold in West Texas

June 29, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Dreams of finding a lost gold mine was in the minds of the “over-the-hill” prospecting gang from the “Land of Oz.” Please let me explain!

Peter Gardiner, 68, is a retired homicide detective and British Embassy Security Agent from England, Robert “Bob” K. Corbin, 80, a retired Arizona State Attorney General and, the third member of the gang, yours truly, age 71. Believe it or not we could all see the headlines as we drove from Apache Junction to West Texas. “Retired Attorney General of Arizona, Retired English Detective, Retired Educator and Cowboy Discover Rich West Texas Gold Mine.” Dreamers all we were as we drove across the barren and deserted desert land between Apache Junction and Van Horn, Texas.

This was Peter’s second trip to Apache Junction in search of gold. His first trip involved the Lost Dutchman State Park in 1981. He had pin-pointed a gold deposit in the area that was actually a vein associated with the old Mammoth Mine. The vein proved valueless in the end and Peter returned to England empty-handed. However, while here in Arizona for the first time, Peter made several trips into the Superstition Wilderness Area on horseback. This English detective was fascinated with the west and the many stories of lost gold mines. Peter was introduced to Bob Corbin and heard more interesting stories about the Lost Dutchman gold mine. Bob Corbin and I have spent close to twenty years roaming around the Superstition Wilderness Area on horseback looking for clues to the old Dutchman’s mine.

Interesting enough the Lost Dutchman mine brought the three of us together again some twenty-eight years later in the spring of 2009. Peter contacted me in January of that year about a lost gold ledge located in the Eagle Mountains of West Texas near the Rio Grande River and south of Sierra Blanco. The gold ledge was located on a Texas rancher’s land. It just happen the Texas rancher was also the county attorney of Hudspeth County, Texas. Peter called Mr. C. R. “Kit” Bramblett and introduced himself. He explained to Mr. Bramblett that he had located a rich gold ledge on his property and Mr. Bramblett agreed to allow Peter to visit his property and examine the site.

Peter drew up a legal agreement according to the laws of England, but Mr. Bramblett thought Peter should use the laws of the United States and Texas. Peter agreed and then asked him if he could bring two friends along. Those two friends Peter identified as Mr. Robert K. Corbin and Tom Kollenborn. “Kit,” as Mr. Bramblett liked to be called, said he had been riding this country on horseback for seventy years and couldn’t imagine missing such a gold ledge in this country or on his property.

Mr. Bramblett’s statement did not deter Peter in any way. He was determined to search the top of Eagle Mountain for this rich gold vein he believed was there. When I first observed the area upon our arrival, the Eagle Mountains appeared to be marine limestone. We stopped along to the road to Kit’s ranch and the rock we found exposed was limestone and a lot of the debris along the road and in arroyos turned out to be limestone also. Kit said most of the mountain tops were formed of marine limestone with an occasional outcrop of basalt. Never the less Peter insisted we were going to climb this three thousand foot mountain to look on top.

Kit, Bob or I thought these were not good conditions for a gold prospect. After walking around and looking at the debris that had eroded down from these mountains there was little indication that this would be gold producing country. I was a real skeptic, as was Kit Bramblett. I believe Peter thought I had jumped ship. I was thinking all along, what were these three Superstition Mountain characters doing searching for gold in West Texas? You know that was a good question. From Apache Junction to Kit’s Ranch was 619 miles.

We continued our search based on an 1851 story of a railroad surveyor who went into these mountains southeast of Sierra Blanco and allegedly found a rich deposit of gold. Many of the locals thought he found his gold in the Eagle Mountains because of how rugged they were and inaccessible. These mountains were much like the Superstition Mountains of Arizona.

We continued our search for a couple of days and finally decided we were not properly prepared for such an undertaking. We were all over age seventy, except for Peter. As we departed West Texas and began our journey back to Apache Junction we realized how significant the trip really was. We made some wonderful friends in West Texas and heard a lot of wonderful stories of life along the Rio Grande River. The stories included cowboys, Texas Rangers, Native Americans and Mexican bandits. Yes, my friends we did find some real gold in West Texas in form of wonderful friendships.

We had all heard about Texas hospitality, but never realized how great it was until to met wonderful people like Kit and Jerry Bramblett of Sierra Blanco, Texas.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Miracle Day at Whiskey Springs

June 22, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Wilderness Area has yielded treasures other than gold, treasures such as archaeological sites, old mines and even vintage aircraft. The following is the story of one aircraft that went down in the wilderness some 67 years ago.

A Canadian pilot and an instructor took off from Falcon Field for a routine check flight on the morning of February 21, 1942. This routine flight turned out to be a miracle for the two Canadian military men when, high over the rugged Superstition Wilderness, the aircraft’s engine failed. With nothing but deep canyons and lofty mountain peaks below the pilot and student suddenly were confronted with a life and death crisis. If you were to pull out a 7.5 min. topographic quadrangle of the area where Whiskey Springs Canyon flows into La Barge Canyon you would find no available emergency landing sites of any kind.

I became involved with this story for the first time in the late fall of 1946. My father had heard about the airplane crashing in the Superstitions during the war and had decided to hike to the site. This was shortly after the end of the end of World War II when few people were interested in either the Superstitions or plane crashes.

William A. Barkley had told my dad exactly where the plane had crashed in Whiskey Springs Canyon. He told my dad the plane was in excellent condition and most of its instrumentation was still on board.

After hearing this information, my father and I drove out to the Quarter Circle U Ranch in Pinal County. We departed the ranch on the morning of November 15, 1948 and hiked up to Miner’s Needle Summit. We turned right, paralleling the ridge to the east. We then hiked up through another saddle and then down into the headwaters of Whiskey Springs Canyon.

As we came around a small bend in the canyon there, resting in the morning sun, was a Fleet Mark 7 PT-6 airplane in amazingly good condition. This particular aircraft was used as a primary trainer by the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The plane was a two-place tandem and all-fabric fuselage except for the cockpit area. It was powered with a five-cylinder radial, 125 horsepower Kinner engine.

There were only 15 of these aircraft constructed for the U.S. Army Corps during the war years 1940-1945 because the aircraft was dangerously under-powered and easy to stall. This particular aircraft was assembled in Ontario, Canada, and the information available on this aircraft indicates it was used for service by the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The Mark Fleet 7 PT-6 remained at its crash site until the spring of 1963. At which time it was packed out of the Superstitions piece by piece. The project was accomplished by a flying club in Tucson. The Tucson Aero-Club had originally planned to restore the aircraft to flying status once again. However, this proved to be too much of a financial burden for the club.

The club retained the aircraft for a year or so, then sold it to a local collector of vintage aircraft. In 1975 the plane was sold to another collector from the state of Washington. Recent information indicates the aircraft is once again flying.

I returned to the crash site in 1961 with an old friend named Joseph Roider. We spent the night camped at the old crash site, and the next morning we took numerous photographs of the plane and the area. I climbed to a ridge above the crash site and looked down. I could hardly keep from wondering what was on the minds of the pilots when they were searching for a place to set the airplane down. From a bird’s eye view, the only thing I could see were rocks, saguaros and deep canyons.

I’m sure the 2-man crew thought the end was near as the plane came crashing in for a landing. The plane impact on the top of a ridge and flipped, eventually coming to a rest on its wheels. The two pilots survived the impact. Faith and luck probably saved their lives. They walked out to the Quarter Circle U Ranch and once again returned to flying status. I returned to the site again in 1982 and found only a single tire from the airplane. Today it is difficult, if not impossible, to locate the exact site where the crash occurred in 1942. The miracle of that day is that two lives were spared.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Arizona's Largest Saguaro

June 15, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A large saguaro cactus formerly located near Horseshoe Lake was believed to be the largest in Arizona. This forty-six foot giant crashed and burned recently. This giant was known as the “Grand One.” According to Todd Willard, Tonto National Forest wildlife biologist, this giant cactus fell in the summer of 2007, some two years after it was scorched in the Cave Creek Complex Fire. Forest service biologists have varying theories about what killed the “Grand One.” It could have been fire, wind, disease, old age, lightning or a combination of these factors. The lower arms of the cactus were singed during the Cave Creek Complex Fire. The cactus was estimated to be between 150 and 200 years old. This old cactus appeared to have survived the fire with little damage.

The National Registry of Big Trees listed the “Grand One” as Arizona’s largest saguaro cactus along with a co-title holder in Pinal County near Mammoth. The saguaro in Pinal County near Mammoth is relatively short in comparison at thirty-two feet tall. The girth of this particular cactus is nine feet and it has a spread of arms that encompasses some sixteen feet.

Ken Morrow of Patagonia, state coordinator of the Arizona Register of Big Trees, said that a fifty-four foot saguaro in the Superstition Wilderness Area east of Apache Junction has now been nominated as the state’s tallest cactus.

What may now be Arizona’s largest saguaro cactus may be located in the Superstition Wilderness Area. I am guessing, but the cactus I am thinking about would be over forty feet. I believe it has some forty-two arms and the girth of main trunk is about sixteen feet. This giant cactus is located about six miles from Don Camp or the Peralta trail head. I have been riding by this giant saguaro since 1955. I even visited the site in the late 1940’s. Over all these years the old cactus has changed very little. I do remember in the mid 1980s we counted the arms on the cactus and if I recalled correctly it had forty-two arms that were a foot or more long.

The approximate GPS coordinates of this cactus is W 111* 20.140” N 33* 26.060”. The cactus is located just off the Bluff Springs Mountain trail shortly after leaving the canyon going north toward La Barge Canyon. The cactus is located on the left hand side of the trail if you are walking northeast. If you are planning a hike into the area I would wait until next fall for cooler weather.

The saguaro cactus is the largest cactus specie in Arizona. Its’ blossoms are the state flower. The cactus is often known as the sentinel of the desert. The Native Americans use the saguaro for food and utilitarian purposes. The long rib skeleton can be used to build shelter, fencing and to make harvesting tools. The fruit of the saguaro produces a juice that, when fermented, becomes an important alcoholic drink for Native American. The drink is often used in religious ceremonies and other occasions.

Actually the saguaro is a very rare plant native only to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, California and northern Mexico. Residents of Arizona think they are abundant because they see them so often along highways. Thousands of saguaros died from exposure to frost in recent years during extra cold winters on the desert. Large saguaros don’t have much of a life expectancy because of birds, insects, fire, lightning, and humans. Humans are probably the most hazardous animal to saguaros. They often shoot them for target practice and push them over to develop land.

Oh yes, there are state laws that protect saguaros, however there are few people to enforce these laws. A drive out to Needle Vista on the Apache Trail and then a short walk to the end of the concrete sidewalk or trail will demonstrate this point. The most ignorant of our species continue to shoot saguaros for target practice. This small saguaro at the end of the trail demonstrates one the most common causes that destroy these magnificent plants. The giant saguaro east of Bluff Springs Mountain will probably survive for a couple more decades before lightning, wind or fire will bring it crashing down to the earth. For the time being this plant probably stands as one of tallest saguaros in Arizona.

I am not an authority on the saguaro cactus, therefore my estimated height could be inaccurate. I computed the height of this cactus based on my height and distance from the cactus. Credit to Arizona Republic, Peter Corbett, for his excellent article on “The End of a ‘Grand One.”

Monday, June 8, 2009

White Water on the Salt River

June 8, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The passing of time slowly erodes one’s recollections of the past. Therefore much of our oral history is lost. Some of our history is lost among the dusty old newspaper files at the state archives. Several years ago I was perusing stories from the Phoenix Daily Herald and Tempe News from 1885-1895. I came across a very interesting article in one of these newspapers.

“The Raging White-Water of the Salt River Claims A Life.” This headline does not sound much like the Salt River we know today between Roosevelt Dam and Granite Reef Dam. Prior to the construction of Roosevelt Dam the Lower Box of the Salt River was a raging torrent according to early Arizona pioneers who navigated its course.

The Salt River had always be a challenge to Arizona pioneers. The search for fording sites along the river created small Arizona hamlets such as Marysville. The soldiers at Fort McDowell used the fording site at Marysville to pursue the Yavapais along the upper Salt River and into the Superstition Mountains.

The challenge to run this river was first answered in 1875, by two daring Arizona pioneers. This was just eleven years after the founding of Camp McDowell along the Verde River. These brave men’s names have been lost in the pages of Arizona History, however their heroic deed has not been forgotten. Ten years after their sojourn down the Salt River four other men accomplished this challenge.

William Burch and his three companions formed an expedition in June of 1885 to explore the Salt River from Tonto Creek to Phoenix. Burch’s companions also included John Meadows and Lew Robinson, They didn’t run the river for its recreational benefit, but to conduct a feasibility survey as to whether or not logs could be floated down the Salt River to Phoenix from the Sierra Anchas.

A Mesa City boat builder by the name Logan constructed Burch’s river-running cataract boat. The boat constructed by Logan was eighteen feet long and five feet wide. This well-designed boat survived the trip down the Salt River with little or no damage. The Phoenix Daily Herald headlined the accomplishment of William Burch and his three companions on June 3, 1885. Burch and his companions reported it was feasible to float logs down the river to Phoenix. The log transporting company on the river never became reality.

Burch’s run down the Salt River started at the Eddy’s Ranch above the mouth of Tonto Creek. The distance down the river was estimated to be 60 miles. The trip required four days. Burch and his party thought they were the first to make the trip, but later found out another group made the river run in 1875.

Today the lower Salt River from Stewart Mountain Dam (c. 1930) to Granite Reef Dam is one of the busiest rivers in the world for recreationist from late May until Labor Day. As we look at the lower Salt River today, it is difficult to visualize a raging river through narrow canyons filled with huge rapids.

These early river runners reported the narrow boxes of the Salt River as ideal sites for dam construction. These early reports and the information contained within them provided the ground work that eventually led to the construction of Roosevelt Dam, Horse Mesa Dam, Mormon Flat Dam and Stewart Mountain Dam.

These structures totally tamed the mighty Rio Salinas as it was know in those days.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Memorial Day on Superstition Mountain

June 1, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

As each Memorial Day comes and goes we remember the thousands of men and women that have given their lives so we Americans can enjoy our freedom. Each year we honor our fallen soldiers in many ways. Twenty-six years ago we wanted to honor the veterans of the Vietnam War and we were not sure just how we could accomplish this. We felt a large portion of the American public resented the sacrifice these soldiers had given for their country.

The sixties and early seventies were certainly a difficult and different time in America. I recall reading an article about Dewey Wildoner climbing to the top of Weaver’s Needle and flying the American flag on Memorial Day for the World War II veterans in the late 1960’s. He was a Navy photographer during World War II.

If Wildoner climbed Weaver’s Needle, we thought maybe we would try to take a horse to the top of Superstition Mountain and fly a large American flag on Memorial Day. We knew hikers had carried the flag to the top of Superstition Mountain before, but we were quite convinced no horse had been on top of Superstition Mountain. William A. Barkley had told me he had never known of a rider who had ridden to the top of either of the Superstition Mountain peaks.

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. was completed in 1982. The completion of the war memorial made our first trip to the top of Summit 5024 a priority. My wife and I had visited the Washington D.C. and the Vietnam Memorial that same year. Nothing in my entire life moved me so much as that “black granite wall of names” that had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. This trip to Washington D.C. changed our lives forever. It really inspired me to make this trip to the top of the mountain with the American flag.

We had found an old trail to the top of Summit 5024 in November of 1981. Lambert “Doc” Case, a local Vietnam veteran and I rode out the trail that year.
Greg Davis (Superstition Mountain Museum) and I rode to the top of the mountain on Memorial Day 1982 and raised the “Stars and Stripes.” I continued these Memorial Day trips until 1992.

The old trail we used for the trip to the top of Superstition Mountain is not a wilderness systems trail. We wouldn’t recommend anyone use it today. We are quite sure the trail has deteriorated considerably since we last used it in 1992. An old friend, Monte Edwards, believed the trail was used by the Mexican prospectors in their search for gold. We liked to believe it was anold game trail. Edwards hiked the trail on many occasions.
One of my most memorable trips to the top of the mountain was on Memorial Day 1989. I would like to quote from my journal:
“Monday, Memorial Day, May 29, 1989, Clear, 104*F I departed First Water at 4:30 a.m. with Greg Davis and Don Stevenson, an Arizona Highway’s photographer. The purpose of the trip was to fly the American flag on top of
Summit 5024 on Superstition Mountain. On Memorial Day we flew the flag for all veterans of America’s wars, but especially this year we flew the flag for the men and women who died in Vietnam. These were unforgotten veterans of a dirty little war.

We arrived on top at 9 a.m. and had ‘Old Glory’ up by 9:30 a.m. The six by eight-foot American flag we carried to the top of mountain made an awesome impact on us as it waved in the breeze from the top of Summit 5024 with the horses around its base. On this trip I left Duke, my trail dog at home, because of the high temperatures. These trips were just too hard for Duke anymore.

Dan Hopper and his boys climbed up Siphon Draw and met us on top for our Memorial Day service. Len Clements, helicopter pilot with KOOLTV Channel 10 filmed our flag ceremony on top of Superstition Mountain. The footage aired on the 6 p.m. news that evening. We departed the top of Summit 5024 at 2:45 p.m. and arrived back at First Water at 6:30 p.m.”

Don Stevenson did a short article on the trip to the “Top of the Mountain” for Memorial Day May 1991 in Arizona Highways. I am sure Stevenson will never forget this trip to the top of the mountain. I packed his Nikkon high definition telephoto lens on one of Duane Short’s mules. I put the lens in a mummy bag and wrapped it tightly and placed it in a pannier. Near the top of Superstition Mountain the pack mule took a tumble down a very steep slope. The mule rolled end over end at least three times before coming to an abrupt stop on its the middle of a large Juniper tree.

Looking at the wreck I supposed the mule must have broken something in such a fall, however that was not the case. The mule wiggle around and eventually fell out of the Juniper tree on all fours. He stood there momentarily as I made my way down the slope and grabbed the lead rope. I led the mule back up the slope and we checked the pack.

Stevenson’s expensive Nikkon lens had survived one “hell of a horse wreck, excuse me— a mule wreck.” To this day, I don’t know if it was my packing or just plain good luck that protected Stevenson’s expensive Nikkon lens from that disaster. When we returned to First Water that night Don Stevenson was pleased to be down off the mountain in one piece. He reminded us it was an awesome trip on horseback, one that he would never forget.

We made our final trip to the top of Superstition Mountain in 1992 to remember those that had paid the ultimate price for their country. After years of riding to the top of the mountain on Memorial Day I felt I had pushed my luck far too many times. I thanked the Lord for keeping us out of harms way on the trail to the top of the mountain and when I served this great nation of ours while in the military.

The flag we flew on “top of the mountain” had flown over the Capitol in Washington D.C. This special flag we carried had been draped over the coffin of World War II veteran who was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. We were asked by his wife to use the flag to remember the Viet Nam veterans.