Monday, December 28, 2009

'Crazy' Jake's Camp

December 28, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

One of the most colorful and controversial characters to ever play a role on Oren Arnold’s Superstition Mountain stage was a man named Robert Simpson Jacob. “Crazy” Jake, the name he liked to be called maintained a camp off and on within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area east of First Water Trail Head about seven miles. His main camp was located in Squaw Box Canyon just off La Barge Canyon below Marsh Flats. He used this camp for many years between 1966- 1974. After 1974 he moved his camp to the top of Peter’s Mesa just above his camp in Squaw Box Canyon. Jake was known to maintain quite elaborate camps in the mountains. He often entertained his investors and the press.

First, let’s discuss his camp in Squaw Box Canyon. This camp was located among some very large boulders at the mouth of Squaw Box Canyon. One boulder was large enough to serve as a shelter and protect his mining equipment. There was enough room under the boulder for four or five cots. Jake had large tarps stretched from boulder to boulder making a large shaded area for a kitchen and a place to rest out of the sun. I visited this camp about 1972. Actually it was by accident I came up on the camp with a group of Boy Scouts. Jake immediately advised us from horseback that it was far too dangerous to camp around his area because of blasting and etc. I lead the scout troop on down the canyon about 500 yards. Jake invited my assistant and I to visit his camp once we had our camp set up. My scouting assistant declined the invitation, but I decided to walk up to his camp and see what it was all about. The first thing I noticed when I walked into camp was the crude stone corral they had constructed to keep their horses in. Jake had five or six men in camp when I visited. He introduced me to a couple men and told them we were camping just below their camp in La Barge and he didn’t want any blasting or target practicing going on until we left the next morning. Jake’s Camp consisted of sleeping, storage and kitchen areas all partially under a large boulder and tarps stretched between other boulders held up with large poles. Some of his men slept in small tents away from the main camp. Jake’s camp was quite elaborate when it came to camping facilities. They even had a packer coming in every other day bringing them supplies that included ice.

I visited “Crazy” Jake’s upper camp upon Peter’s Mesa for the first time in 1987. By then Jake had abandoned his lower camp. This site was also quite elaborate for a mountain camp. This camp included large cabin tents. He had a cook tent, and the rest of the tents were used for sleeping quarters for his workers. I looked at some of the holes he had his men dig. The holes were randomly dug into rock that had no mineral value at all. Most of the rock in this area was volcanic ash or basalt. One of the most interesting things about this Peter’s Mesa Camp was the fact Jake built a trail from down in Squaw Box Canyon up the side of Peter’s Mesa to his upper camp site. I was amazed at the work that went into this trail. Many years later Ron Feldman and I took a news crew over this trail on horseback. What a challenge that was? Even my old friend Bob Corbin rode along on this trip. An old cowboy outfitter named Bud Lane packed supplies over this trail to Jake during the summer months when he had a crew in the mountains. If Jake had investors, he always had a crew working in the mountains. Many people have wondered where he hid all money he talked people out of. I don’t think he hid the money. I really believe he spent a lot of it in the mountains. He was certainly a man with a golden tongue and could talk people out of their money.

If you worked for Jake in the mountains he usually took good care of you if he had good investors. Jake’s camps never lacked the proper supplies to keep going as long as Jake was the ramrod them. He also spent a lot of money on frivolous things such as cases of bottled whiskey from Canada that were labeled “Crazy” Jake’s Whiskey. Jake maintained a headquarters at the Trails End Ranch in Chandler located at the corner of Pecos and Alma School Roads. His headquarters was an elaborate ranch-style home with a downstairs bar and a walk-in Diebold safe. The interior of the house was quite ornate with beautiful and valuable oil paintings. Jake had the ideal setting to convince investors to invest in his rich mining operation in the Superstition Mountains. Jake had about thirty head of horses on the ranch when I first visited it in the early 1980’s. I later found out the horses belonged to Jess Shumway and that Jake had worked out a deal to use the horses in return for feeding them. He also did not own the ranch-style home he was living in.

Robert Simpson Jacob became a legend in his own lifetime while pursuing the money of the wealthy with one of the biggest and must ridiculous scams since territorial days in Arizona. Today, in Apache Junction, many old residents have “Jake Stories” to tell if you have the time to listen. He had many wealthy doctors and lawyers investing in his gold schemes. I am sure someday a book or maybe a film will be made about Robert Simpson Jacob’s adventures in the Superstition Mountains.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Maiden Prayer Glen (Reavis Fall)

December 14, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The rugged Superstition Wilderness Area preserves some of Arizona’s most beautiful natural wonders. One of these natural wonders is a one hundred and ninety-six-foot waterfall near Castle Dome Peak. This waterfall can be found in a deep canyon about three miles north of the old Reavis Ranch.

The water from this fall tumbles over a basalt escarpment that traverses the flow of Reavis Creek. Reavis Creek is the main feeder stream for the fall. Most of the water that flows down Reavis Creek originates from seeps, springs, and ground water that percolate down through aquifers that underlie the region. Water flows over the fall year around except during extended periods of drought. This would probably classify the fall as intermittent. Reavis Fall is one of Arizona’s highest falls.

A trip to Reavis Fall is not for the novice hiker or horse person because the terrain is extremely rough with many deeply dissected canyons with perpendicular walls. The shortest and safest route to Reavis Fall is from the Reavis Ranch Trail Head three miles south of State Route 88, the Apache Trail. Often this parking lot is full on the weekend during the winter months. A trip into the waterfall requires about three and half hours on the trail. The last time I was over the trail it was in extremely poor condition and some areas were almost impassible.

Photographing this isolated fall can be a challenge even for a good photographer because of the precipitous cliffs, dense undergrowth, cold water, lighting and poor camera angles. Walking up Reavis Creek is a nightmare of dense underbrush, large boulders, numerous water crossings and always the possibility of a flash flood. Upon arriving at the base of the fall a photographer will encounter other problems such as mist resulting from the action of the water flowing over the basalt ledge. A lot of the water turns to mist in its almost two hundred foot drop from the top of the fall. The second major problem at the base of the fall is adequate lighting. Light conditions at the base of the fall are poor under the best of conditions.

The National Registry of Place Names never officially named this fall. The name of the fall does not appear on any official maps produced by the county, state or federal government. It is quite apparent the name used today for the fall originates from an earlier settler who lived here between 1874 and1896. His name was Elisha Marcus Reavis.

The naming of the fall may have been ignored in a deliberate attempt to protect the fall from too many visitors or maybe just an oversight on behalf of forest service or U.S.G.S cartographers. Some individuals I have interviewed over the years believed the forest service wasn’t aware of the existence of the fall. This is highly unlikely because the original goal of the forest preserve (Tonto National Forest) was to protect the watershed of the Salt River drainage system. Periodicals indicate there was knowledge of the fall as early as 1878. Military records indicate the fall was known during campaigns in the area between 1872 and 1874. Elisha Reavis told friends about the fall and even showed the fall to a few hearty souls as early as 1878.

Boy Scouts from the Theodore Roosevelt Council traveled to Camp Geronimo, Pineair, Reavis Ranch for summer camp on June 16, 1922. While at Camp Geronimo the scouts were involved in a variety of activities, including hiking. Several of the scouts hiked to Reavis Fall (or Maiden Prayer Glen as it was called by some of the scout leaders). It was such 1922 Arizona’s Governor Thomas Campbell visited the scouts in camp at Pineair. Seventeen years later the Department of Agriculture would authorize the forming of the Superstition Primitive Area.

To describe Reavis Fall area is like painting a picture of a true mountain “Garden of Eden” in the heart of the desert. The area includes Cottonwoods, Sycamores and numerous climbing vines at the base of the fall. Juniper, Pinyon pine and a few Ponderosa pines can be found at the top of the fall. At the base of the fall there is a large plunge pool measuring twenty to thirty feet across and four to five feet deep when there is sufficient flow that dominates the area. The water in this pool is usually crystal clear except during runoff after a major storm in the area.

Visitors called the area “Maiden Prayer Glen” in the 1920’s using the name to describe the beauty of this region. This was another name for an interesting landmark in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Author’s note: The Theodore Roosevelt Boy Scout Council’s first Camp Geronimo was held at Pineair along Reavis Creek seventeen years before the region became part of the Superstition Primitive Area in 1939.

Monday, December 7, 2009

One Man's Dream - Air Rescue

December 7, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The history of aviation has an interesting role in the legacy of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Men and their flying machines usually avoided the air space over the rugged topography of this vast wilderness during the 1920’s. Aviation was in its infancy during this decade. Most airplanes were underpowered and very dangerous to fly at low altitudes. Flying low over rugged terrain such as the Superstition Mountains was out of the question for most early aviators of the Salt River Valley.

The 1920’s marked an unusual interest in airplanes and flying by the public. Men like Commander Francesco de Pinedo and Colonel Charles Lindbergh held the world in awe with their aviation accomplishments. At the same time another man in Arizona was fascinated by the flying machine. Paul Ruble’s fascination for flying could not be controlled. In 1928, he designed and built his own airplane in the desert of Arizona. Not only did he design it and build it, he test flew it. His first airplane was somewhat underpowered, but was capable of extremely tight maneuvers. Ruble spent hours flying his creation over the mountains of Central Arizona.

Paul didn’t like to fly high in the air; he liked being close to the ground. Paul Ruble flew through canyons and mountains nobody else dared to. Paul was also a visionary who believed someday flying machines would be used to spot lost or injured people in the deserts and mountains of Arizona. His antagonist of the period claimed planes flew too high and too fast to be used successfully in air searches. This did not discourage Paul Ruble, he continued flying low and slow over the deserts and mountains of Arizona developing his skills as a pilot and attempting to prove his point.

Paul Ruble made several flights over the now famous Superstition Mountain range. He reported to friends the violent updrafts and down drafts that plagued the area during the summer months. Ruble was convinced these hazards could be avoided if flying was done in the early morning and late evening. Most aviators of the period felt low-level flying was far too dangerous, therefore airplanes would never be used for searching the rugged mountains of Arizona.

Some aviators also believed even if airplanes were safe enough for air rescue work, the cost of operating them would be prohibitive.

It was three years later in July 1931 the first attempt was made to use an airplane on a search and rescue mission. This aerial search occurred over the rugged Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. Adolph Ruth, a Washington D.C. prospector, had been reported missing in the Superstitions on June 18, 1931. Men and dogs had been searching the canyons and towering peaks of the Superstition range for three weeks and had found no trace of Ruth. On July 1, 1931, Erwin C. Ruth, the missing man’s son, hired a pilot and airplane to search the rugged mountain range. Ruth later claimed all pilots of the period held a great fear of these mountains and would never descend below 7,000 feet while flying over them. It was suicidal to fly into the canyons of this mountain range, most pilots believed.

Ruth was finally able to secure the services of Mr. Charles Goldtrap, a pioneer aviator in Phoenix to fly a couple of search missions. Goldtrap had recently opened an airport in Phoenix and needed the money to operate it. Ruth offered Goldtrap $200 if he would search the Superstition range for his father in an airplane.

Goldtrap, accompanied by Edward D. Newcomer, made the first aerial search of the Superstition Mountains with an airplane. Newcomer was a photographer for the Phoenix Gazette. On that hot July day in 1931, Goldtrap and Newcomer changed aviation history in Arizona and fulfilled Paul Rubles’ vision that someday airplanes would be used for searches over rugged mountain terrain for missing people.

This was the beginning of air search and rescue work in Arizona and it was another important application of the airplane. It was a primitive start initially, but rapidly grew with the onset of World War II. Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s the importance of aircraft in air search and rescue was proven again and again by the hundreds of civilian and military searches and rescues performed by the use of aircraft. There are those who will question the authenticity of this information because the basic concept of air search and rescue was started in many places at the same time.

It was 1947, when another prospector disappeared in the Superstition Mountains. James A. Cravey, a retired Phoenix photographer vanished from his camp deep in the mountains. Cravey had hired a helicopter from the Arizona Helicopter Service in Phoenix to fly him to a secret location in La Barge Canyon. On June 3, 1947, Charles Marthens, a pilot for Arizona Helicopter Service, had flown Cravey to a predetermined location and planned to return two weeks later to pick Cravey up. When he returned he could not find Cravey and then reported him missing to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Lynn Early organized the search. Cravey’s trip was the first time a helicopter was used for a prospecting venture in the Superstition Wilderness. Ironically, the same helicopter was used unsuccessfully to locate James A. Cravey.

Marthens used his helicopter for several hours trying to locate Cravey, but failed. The search for Cravey continued for several weeks without success. 1st Lt. Clifford Gibson, Arizona National Guard, searched several hours for Cravey on July 4, 1947, but failed to find any sign of him. This was the first recorded use of a helicopter in an air search and rescue in the Superstition Wilderness.

Since that first helicopter search hundreds of stranded and lost hikers have been rescued from the cliffs, mountain peaks and canyons of the Superstition Wilderness by military helicopters stationed at Williams Air Force Base or Luke Air Force Base since the early 1950s.

On October 1, 1972, the Arizona Department of Public Safety acquired their first air rescue helicopter. This unit has made many rescue and search flights over the Superstition Wilderness Area. Even with this modern and sophisticated helicopter it is still a difficult and time consuming task to extract an injured person from rugged terrain, especially areas like the western face of Superstition Mountain.

During the summer of 1985, Deputy Gene Berry of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, in cooperation with the Department of Public Safety’s Air Search & Rescue Unit and the Apache Junction Search & Rescue, introduced a method of mountain rescue which has increased the chances of survival for injured people involved in accidents in rugged mountain terrain. The method of rescue requires the extraction of an injured victim from a site, where a helicopter cannot land, by rappelling a trained rescue team down to the injured person. The victim is then stabilized and lifted out by the helicopter, which never has to land.

From the efforts of this highly trained and professional mountain rescue team emerged the Pinal County Mountain Helicopter Rescue Team. Arizona residents and visitors can rest assured they have one of the best mountain rescue teams in the world now based near the Superstition Mountains.