Monday, October 26, 2009

Debating Landmark Names

October 26, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Landmark names in the Superstition Wilderness Area have caused a considerable amount of debate in recent years. The debate results from changes in place names and landmark names from generation to generation. There will never be any real resolve to this issue because of changing generations.  Place or landmark names can be here one year and gone the next.

Being a resident of the area for more than fifty years I have observed many changes in place and landmark names. The most obvious being name changes here in Apache Junction. How many of you remember County Line Road, Wilson Drive, Vineyard Road, Hickman Road, Transmission Road, Rattlesnake Drive or Sunset Drive? This name changing has also occurred in the Superstition Wilderness Area for the past one hundred years, and even continues today as new folks find a different name for a landmark or come up with their own name.

Some of these names remain and we are challenged with trying to interpret somebody else’s knowledge when it comes to search and rescue or hiking in these mountains. Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart have done an excellent job with their hiking guide books for preserving place and landmark names. Their books will be around for a long time and hopefully will benefit future historians and research people, and will help stabilized the present names on landmarks. Their books are the most accurate and factual ever written on the Superstition Wilderness Area. I highly recommend them for anyone who plans to become involved with the Superstition Wilderness Area in any way from hiking to historical research.

The premises of any landmark name that leads to any kind of solution about its origin has to be based on accurate research. Ironically, most information to do with landmark and place names is based on hearsay. This material is extremely subjective and very difficult to document. Let’s study, just for moment, the most popular landmark in the Superstition Wilderness Area, other than Superstition Mountain. Even with this statement there would be controversy as to what landmark within wilderness would be the best known. Some would say Ship Rock, Flat Iron, First Water, Weaver’s Needle, and Peralta Canyon just to name a few. Let’s evaluate the name of Weaver’s Needle.

This landmark is the oldest historically named landmark in the area. It was named after mountain man and guide Paulino Weaver. This prominent landmark east of Superstition Mountain has been named since 1853, however it has been called other names on maps and in a variety of stories.

Weaver’s Needle was known as Picacho Peak and Statue Mountain on various military sketch maps. These sketch maps were basically maps submitted by commanding officers who led campaigns against the Apaches in the Superstition Mountains between 1864-1878.

Arizona already has one Picacho Peak near I-10 Highway between Phoenix and Tucson. Weaver’s Needle has appeared as Statue Mountain on a couple of military sketch maps of the 1860’s. References were made of the prominent point being called Picacho as late as 1872. This reference can illustrate what happens to place names. Believe me, there have been many changes in place name during the past fifty years in our area. Recording landmark and place names for the future is very important when there is a need to do historical research about an area. Proper names help to identify a location and some of its history.

Within the Superstition Wilderness Area there are more than twenty-five hundred landmarks and place names that can bear out a systematic study. Many place names have three to five different names according to the source and the period the source lived.

The forest service wilderness management plan discourages the naming of places and landmarks within the wilderness area. However, the management office has conceded to the fact search and rescue operations would be almost impossible with recognizable landmark and place names to guide searchers. Could you imagine following instructions for a search and rescue operation in the wilderness with no names for landmarks? There also remains the distinct possibility that GPS coordinates could replace landmarks and place names in the Superstition Wilderness Area. To do this everyone would have to have GPS instrument and know how to use it. The names will survive and technology will help in the location of various landmarks and place names.

The additional argument for place and landmark names is the preservation of local history that was generated by the old cowboys; ranchers, miners, prospectors, treasure hunters and adventurers who walked and rode these hills. This history will never be lost as long as there are those of us who are interest in preserving stories of this unique region we call the Superstition Mountains of central Arizona.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Desert Symphony

October 19, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I have often sat and listened to the sounds of the desert while visiting Lost Dutchman State Park or some isolated locale in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The collection of sounds that can be found in or on the desert alluvial fans, flats, spires, and deep canyons and mountains of the Sonoran Desert could fill a symphony hall with hundreds of different sounds and tones, these sound events being very acoustical in the open desert.

This description may not be the most accurate and even sometimes it may be far reaching, however it can give us a special feeling for what the desert is like we live in. The roar of thunder, a blinding flash of light from cloud to ground, followed by the sound of summer hail crashing down on Creosote, Bursage, Mesquite, Palo Verde, Ironwood and the giant Saguaros can ring loud in sensory perception of the desert. This is the opening bar of a “Desert Symphony.”

The pungent odor of the Creosote bush, the smell of the dampened earth, and the cool moist breeze that flows through the Saguaros, Chollas, and Prickley Pears after a desert thunderstorm is musical to one’s ears. This is the body of a desert thunderstorm in the Superstition Mountains.

When the sky clears and the moon shines bright the mountain begins to rumble deep from within the Earth. The Thunder God is awakening to the call of the desert. Some listen carefully and take warning from this mountain roar so far away.

The desert symphony continues to call together its followers. Now we can hear the distant call of a lonely Coyote. The squeal of a terrified Cottontail rabbit echoes through the air. You can hear the hoot of a Barn owl or the screech of a Screech Owl. The buzz of a rattlesnake warns all intruders not to tread on him. The night air is filled with the music of the desert symphony.

The sky turns golden with red streaks as the orb of the sun begins to rise above the horizon. We can still hear the distant call of a Coyote serenading the desert. The call of the quail can be heard through the Jojoba bush. You can hear the melodic call of the Cactus wren, Mourning dove, and the Curve-Bill thrasher. As the sun rises in the eastern sky the symphony’s crescendo is near.

Walking along a path we can see ants scurrying about looking for food. We can see a variety of reptiles crawling from one place to another searching for a meal. Bees are humming about searching for nectar in the cool morning air. As the temperature rises the buzz of Black gnats becomes the resounding echo of the desert. The desert symphony continues to play its way through the various bars of this melody.

We listen careful for even more sounds from our desert symphony. The noisy call of the Black raven and the whistle of the wind through the wing feathers of a Turkey buzzard circling above all add to our desert musical.

Near a desert seep you can hear a frog call to its mate. A Canyon wren chirps out a call to another. A large Chuckwalla searches for food while slowly moving about.

Bees continue to circulate around the water also searching for sweet desert nectar. Water is the root of all survival here in the desert. It is water that keeps the desert symphony sounding its melody. Those who walk these paths through the desert can write their own bars to this beautiful symphony of life in the desert and continue this serenade.

Our love for the desert is tested each day as more and more rooftops dot landscape and our beloved desert symphony slowly disappears.

The day will come when most of the desert is gone with its special collection of animals and those who care. Far beyond our dreams and expectations lies the memory of what was once a unique and very special desert symphony.

But, the call of the wild is still there as it rings across this land.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Closing Paradise

October 12, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

This past summer my wife and I decided to drive out First Water Road and take walk down First Water Trail toward the old Barkley First Water Ranch site. I had worked here as a young man in the 1950’s.

Driving out First Water Road about three quarters of a mile east of Jacob Cross Cut Trail Parking Lot we were astonished to see the old Massacre Ground Trail Head road had been obliterated by heavy equipment. Three huge mounds of rock and dirt were piled along First Water Road to prevent any access of the old road. The road to Massacre Grounds had existed for almost one hundred years. Old Carl Silverlocke and his partner used the road to access their claims around the turn of the century. Prospectors and treasure hunters have been using the road since the 1920’s to visit the Massacre Grounds.

This location was believed to be the alleged site of Peralta Massacre in 1847.It was the spot where the Apache cornered the Peralta mining group and destroyed them.

According to legend the bones of the miners and their burros were spread around the area. Also the Apache allegedly dumped the rich gold ore the Peralta’s had mined on the ground. Over the decades many individuals have claimed finding caches of rich gold ore in the area. Another explanation to the gold ore cache could be they were stashed by high-graders who worked at the fabulously rich Mammoth Mine between 1893-1897.

My father and uncle both talked about driving out along this two-wheeled track of a road in the late 1920’s in an old Ford Model T Touring car. They spent some time searching the area for anything that might have indicated a massacre almost a century before.

During the past fifty-five years I have hauled horses up to the Massacre Ground Trail Head, worked cattle along the base of the mountain and rode the myriad of trails in the foothills of Superstition Mountain. There was an old trail that ran from just below the Massacre Grounds to O’Grady Canyon, then into Old West Boulder and into West Boulder Canyon. From this point the trail went east along West Boulder Canyon by Willow Springs, the old stone corral and eventually over a saddle and down through Carney Springs Canyon. Some old timers referred to this trail as the Quarter Circle U Ranch Trail.

The Massacre Ground Trail Head has been used for years as an access point to the region along the east base of Superstition Mountain. Most of these trails are overgrown from lack of use during contemporary times. When cattle were used on this range the trails were kept open by the cattle moving from one place to another.

Over the years many families would drive out from Tempe, Mesa and even Phoenix to have their family Easter picnic along the Massacre Grounds Trail Head road. My wife and I have been spending evenings out on a small hill near the Massacre Ground Road for the past fifty years. It was an ideal place to set up a telescope to observe the heavens.

About fifteen years ago we noticed were some inconsiderate people were running their four-wheel drive trucks around in the wet desert off the Massacre Ground Road. “Mud bogging” as some people would call it. I told my wife it wouldn’t be long before the Tonto National Forest Service would close this road to all because of an ignorant few.

Each year as we visited the area the extent of the damage increased. We were certain closing this road would soon become a priority for the district ranger’s office. It is by no means cheap to close such a road. We understand why the road was closed and sadly enough we had to agree with such a harsh measurement to protect this fragile desert environment from more damage. Please be aware it is now close and the area is totally restricted to motorized vehicles of any kind.

As far as my wife and I are concerned this was closing a paradise in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains making such areas as Nashi’s Cave, the Massacre Grounds, Massacre Ground Draw, the Salt Tank Mountain Trail, and access to the Northwest Summit Trail far more difficult. We were shocked to find this road closed. When we eventually called the local ranger district they said closing that particular road had been in the management plan for ten years. Here again the majority has suffered in the name of a few ignorant and inconsiderate users of public land.

For those interested in hiking to the Massacre Grounds you will now have to park at the Jacob Cross Cut Trail Parking Lot or at the First Water Parking Lot if you want to save yourself a citation.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Waltz at Pinto Creek

October 5, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The story of Jacob Waltz and his fabulous gold mine continues to attract prospectors and treasure hunters to the Superstition Wilderness Area of central Arizona. There are many versions of stories about Waltz’s lost mine.

Many old timers really don’t believe Waltz had a mine, but knew exactly what he was doing when he high-graded gold from other mines. He allegedly left clues around the frontier town of Phoenix to discourage anyone trying to figure out his scheme. One of his clues was, “You can’t see my mine from the military trail, but you can see the military trail from my mine.”

He also said, according to legend, “The evening rays of the setting sun shine into the entrance of my mine.” Waltz left these clues behind to hinder and confuse those who wanted to follow him into the mountains. Actually there is no real proof Waltz left such clues behind.

Jacob Waltz did exist. His name appears on naturalization papers, census records, grain receipts, and other documents. Waltz did live in Phoenix from about 1868 until the time of his death on October 25, 1891. His death was well documented by local periodicals.

Some claim there was forty-eight pounds of high-grade gold ore in a candle box under his deathbed. This discovery of gold ore under his deathbed lead to many versions as to how he acquired this small fortune.

Many of you have heard the standard version of where this ore came from, but there are others stories from different sources that are creditable. There are several interesting stories that have emerged from the old pioneers around Florence.

There is a story told about Waltz arriving in Florence in 1872 looking for a carpenter who could build a dry washer. Waltz was told to look up a man named “Frank”. Waltz found Frank. He asked him if he could build a dry washer that could be packed on the back of a burro. Frank looked at Waltz’s burro and agreed he could build such a dry washer.

Waltz told Frank that he had been working some placer gold near Pinto Creek and he wanted to trace its source with a dry washer. He had already worked the area with a horn and pan. He said he wanted to do a little more serious searching. Waltz’s search area was no secret to many people around Florence at the time.

This story correlates well with another tale. The story of Fool’s Canyon has some interesting parallels to this story first printed in a book by John D. Mitchell, a close friend of Milton Rose’s father. The Fool’s Canyon story tells of another placer gold deposit near Pinto Creek. Bill Cage spent many years prospecting the area and knew old man Shute quite well. Shute claimed there was a rich deposit of placer gold in the area somewhere, therefore there had to be a rich vein of gold ore in the area. Shute had used a dry washer in the tributaries of Pinto Creek since the 1880s.

Shute also told Bill Cage he had never seen Jacob Waltz in the area, but that really didn’t mean anything. The Pinto Creek country is really a rugged brushy terrain.

Prospectors have worked placer gold in the Pinto Creek and Gold Rush Creek area for decades until the mines completely obliterated the eastern tributaries of creek.

Placer gold could still be found in the narrows below the old steel bridge that crosses Pinto Creek on the Kennedy Ranch (Miles) road in the mid 1970s. It is possible the area was the source of some of Waltz’s gold ore, especially if Waltz had traced out the placer and found the ore deposit. We must remember Waltz was very experienced at hunting gold and tracing placer deposits to their source.

Many prospectors have worked the placer gold of Pinto Creek over the years. Big mining conglomerates and individual prospectors claim much of the area today.

There are a few areas along Pinto Creek, when there is sufficient water, you might be able to stick your pan in the water and pan for gold and not be considered a high-grader.

Some of the claim holders along Pinto Creek are serious prospectors and miners and if you are on their claims looking for gold they may consider you a high-grader. You are\ stealing if you remove material from a legal claim.

Several years ago there was an enormous flood that completed covered most of the bedrock in the “narrows” of Pinto Creek. These “narrow” were the best locations for placer. Flash floods continue to change the topography of Pinto Creek along with the mining companies and prospectors.

The story about Jacob Waltz working placer in area is not preposterous. You must consider he was an experienced miner, there was gold in the area, and he could have discovered the source of the placer gold in Pinto Creek.