Monday, March 28, 2011

Rattlesnakes & Common Sense

March 28, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Spring is here and reptiles, meaning most cold-blooded animals, become very active when temperatures soar. When it warms up in the Spring it is wise to keep a keen eye open for rattlesnakes.

August and September are traditionally the most active months for rattlesnakes on the Sonoran Desert at elevations below 4,000 feet. But reptiles come out of hibernation begin the search for food as the weather warms in the Spring of the year. In late fall when temperatures drop below seventy-eight degrees, reptiles begin to prepare for hibernation.

I have lived in the Sonoran Desert for more than sixty years and have encountered hundreds of rattlesnakes. Under most conditions a rattlesnake is very difficult to spot unless it is disturbed and it moves. Rattlesnakes generally rattle before they move, but if the truth were really known, most people who walk or hike in the desert will walk by ten snakes for everyone they see.

A rattlesnake can easily be identified by the triangular-shape of its head and the rattle on its tail. A closer examination will reveal an elliptical-shaped pupil in its eye. This trait is common to poisonous snakes in the Sonoran Desert.

All rattlesnakes will have a pit organ near the nostril orifice. They come in a variety of colors and patterns. The snakes found in our area will have rings around their tails above the rattles. The color of these rings will alternate between black and white in various shades. The visibility of these rings will depend on the species. The Western Diamond Back rattler’s rings are very pronounced and stand out, where as the rings on an Arizona Black is not very visible because of the blending of the rings. Occasionally a rattlesnake will lose it rattles. When this occurs, the difficulty of identification increases.

Rattlesnakes are ectothermic vertebrates (cold-blooded animals), meaning they lack an appropriate physiological mechanism for maintaining body temperature. All cold-blooded animals are at the mercy of their environment. Air and ground temperatures dramatically affect the environment of reptiles. This condition directly affects their daily rhythm of activity and their habitat.

There are six species of rattlesnakes in our area, including the Western Diamond Back (Crotalus atrox), Mohave (Crotalus scutulatus), Arizona Black (Crotalus vidiris), Black-Tailed (Crotalus molossos), Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes), and the Tiger (Crotalus tigris). These animals have a very highly developed mechanism of injecting venom, therefore making them very successful predators in the desert. A rattlesnake’s diet is composed of small rodents 82% to 85% of the time.

Reptiles, including rattlesnakes, like cool shady spots during the spring, summer and fall months. During the winter months rattlesnakes generally go underground and hibernate. They usually choose caves or old mine tunnels. Occasionally dens of rattlesnakes have been accidentally uncovered by construction equipment and hundreds of rattlesnakes are found at one time.

Rattlesnakes have been known to come out of hibernation if temperatures warm to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The functioning temperature for a rattlesnake is 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s effective temperature is 82 degrees Fahrenheit to 96 Degrees Fahrenheit. The effective temperature is the temperature at which the snake moves about and hunts for prey. Direct exposure to heat or sunlight will kill a rattlesnake in about 10 to 15 minutes.

You might say rattlesnake season is twelve months a year in the lower Sonoran Desert if temperatures rise above 72 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter months. Rattlesnakes are most commonly sighted from the first of April until about the middle of October. These animals are primarily nocturnal and prefer the hours after sundown and before sunrise. Most victims bitten by rattlesnakes are generally bitten ½ hour before sundown and up to two hours after sundown. It is estimated that 72% of all bites occur during this period.

There are some interesting facts about rattlesnakes. The oldest known rattlesnake in captivity, a Western Diamond Back, was 30 years and 7 months of age. The largest rattlesnake officially recorded was an Eastern Diamond Back (Crotalus adamatus) at 7 feet 4 inches long. The largest Western Diamondback was measured live at 6 feet 8 inches. There have been many wild claims about ten to fifteen-foot rattlesnakes, but usually these are snakes were measured after death and their skin had been stretched. The average distance a rattlesnake can strike and effectively inject venom is one-third of its body length.

Some 80% of all rattlesnake bites are the results of carelessness or the handling of rattlesnakes by older juveniles or young adults. It is now estimated some 20% of rattlesnake bites are accidental or legitimate. About 15% of rattlesnake bites are dry socket bites, meaning no venom was injected into the victim. The Arizona Poison Control and other medical resources reported some 121 venomus bites for the year 1991. These numbers have been on the increase as our population continues to grow and more people head for the outdoors.

How do you know a rattlesnake has actually bitten you and did it inject venom? There are several signs and symptoms of envenomization. First, there will be fang marks. These fang marks can be singular, dual or even a scratch. Fang marks are generally a very small puncture wound and a burning sensation usually follows the injection of venom by the reptile.

A metallic or rubbery taste in the mouth often follows a bite, but not always. The tingling of the tongue or numbness can also occur. If a rattlesnake has injected venom into its victim, local swelling will occur within ten minutes. The amount of envenomization is generally indicated by the severity of edema or swelling at fang puncture site. Nausea and weakness is often associated with snakebite.

Black or blue discoloration will generally appear near the site of envenomization after three to six hours. Every snake bite victim should be treated for shock, which is a greater threat to the victim of snakebite than the venom.

The following is the recommended first aid for a rattlesnake bite. Call 911 immediately; snakebite is a medical emergency. If medical help is several hours away the following treatment is recommended. Calm and reassure the victim, decrease the movement of the limb. Identify the snake if it is possible without further risk of another bite. It is not recommended to use a constricting band or tourniquet unless you are a medical professional. Many snakebite victims have come into emergency rooms with a constricting band, such as shoelace, completely obliterated by edema or swelling. It is extremely important to move the victim to a medical facility without delay.

The following are some things we can do to prevent rattlesnake bite: When walking in the desert or in any area known for reptile habitation, always look where you step, or place your foot, or feet (caution should always be used at night, late evening, and early morning). Always look where you are placing your hands or fingers. Use extreme caution before placing your hands where you can not see what you are touching. Always look before sitting down, especially around or near boulders or brush. Think before defecating or urinating in the outdoors.

I have observed a variety of bites during the past fifty years that resulted from total lack of common sense. Small children must be closely supervised at all times in areas of possible snake infestation or inhabitation.

If you and your family observe these basic rules you should be safe from snakebite. As urbanization continues at the desert edge in Arizona the threat if snakebite is always a reality.

Editor’s note: I would like to thank Jude McNally and his staff, Arizona Poison Control Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, and Dr. Findlay E. Russell and his enormously valuable resource “Snake Venom Poisoning” printed by Scholium International, Inc. Great Neck, New York 11021 Note: This book is a physician’s desk reference for snake venom poisoning.

For information call Arizona Poison Control System 1-800-362-0101. For snake removal in Apache Junction call Apache Junction Fire District at 982-4440.

Tom Kollenborn directed the Snake Alert program for the Apache Junction Unified School District for seventeen years. He attended workshops and worked closely with the University of Arizona Poison Control Center and Medical Center.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Wilderness Treasure

March 21, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is a significant treasure trove of ancient archaeological sites belonging to the Hohokam and Salado cultures. Mixed among these cultures are the more contemporary Apaches and Yavapais.

The Apache and Yavapais use of the Superstition Wilderness Area was more superficial than that of the Hohokam and Salado. Both the Hohokam and Salado cultures built mud and stone structures. Remnants of these structures can still be found throughout much of the area. Circlestone, Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwelling, Castle Dome ruins, Mound Mountain ruins and Garden Valley are classic examples of these types of structures.

It is difficult to estimate when early man first occupied these lands in what is known today as the Superstition Wilderness. Many archaeologists suggest ancient cultures were using the region for gathering and hunting subsistence as early as 350 B.C. There are lithics or stone tools that suggest a primitive hunting culture may have existence in this area 8,000 – 10,000 years ago. The Salado probably arrived on the scene around 800 A.D. These architects of mud and stone left several excellent examples of their work in the region. You might say their architectural ingenuity created structures that have survived the ravages of time.

More damage has occurred to the Salado cliff dwellings in Roger’s Canyon during the past thirty years then in the previous eight hundred years. This damage is the result of modern man’s ignorance to the fragility of these ancient structures. The ruins were in almost perfect shape at the turn of the century. When I first visited the site in 1948 with my father the ruins appeared as if the inhabitants had just moved out the day before.

Another interesting prehistoric ruin in the region is Circlestone. This 136- foot in diameter circular stone wall still defies complete explanation. The ruin is located on a grassy knoll 6, 010 feet above sea level. Knowledge of the ruin’s existences has been with us since the territorial days when the region was visited by early miners and cattlemen. Elisha M. Reavis was one of the first Anglo- Americans to mention Circlestone.

The theories associated with this structure are numerous; however actual explanations with supporting documentation are unavailable. Early visitors to the site believed Circlestone was a Spanish corral or fortress. Others believed the site was once used as an early U.S. Army’s heliograph station connecting the military post of Arizona Territory in the early 1870’s. Not until the 1970’s was the site accepted as an ancient Native American archaeological site. Today Circlestone remains as one of the major enigmas of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

The discovery of surface potsherds and fetishes has created interesting speculation about Circlestone. Mr. Sam Henderson, an earlier superintendent at Casa Grande National Monument, has suggested the site may have been used as a trading center or even a special ceremonial site. Other archaeologists have suggested the site may have been celestially oriented and used for ceremonial purposes.

Garden Valley was farmed by a small group of Hohokams probably a thousand years ago when the climatic conditions were more favorable. This large valley flat has more than 200 acres of arable land when there is a sufficient supply of water. Today mesquite and Chain Cholla are the climax vegetation in the area because cattle growers overgrazed the area. Cattle are no longer part of the setting and vegetation has climaxed over most of the valley.

A ruin was located in the center of the valley. This structure probably housed twenty-five to thirty individuals, while small caves on the fringe of the valley contained other families. Prior to 1930, the valley floor was literally covered with stone tools used by the ancient inhabitants who cultivated this special parcel of land.

Late in November of 1931, the Arizona Republican cosponsored an archaeological expedition into the region. The expedition was lead by the City of Phoenix archaeologist Odds Halseth. The expedition undertook selective collecting of surface artifacts and documented the location of each artifact before it was removed. Halseth, Harvey Mott and other members of the archaeological expedition made a cursory inventory of surface artifacts they did not collect. Several hundred lithics were inventoried on the surface, recorded, and left in place. Today, none of these lithics remain on the floor of Garden Valley. They all have been carried off by collectors during the past sixty-nine years. My father and I often walked through Garden Valley on our way to Second Water. Sometimes my father would take a side trip and show me the matates and manos. They were still quite numerous in the late 1940’s if you looked closely for them. The lithics and potsherds of Garden Valley were indicative of the Hohokam culture.

There is considerable evidence to suggest the Pimas gathered and foraged in the area long before 1500 A.D. The Pimas gathered the seeds of many plants common to the Superstition Mountain region including the cacti fruit and the seedpods of various legumes such as the Mesquite, Ironwood, Palo Verde and acacia. Another important plant was the Jojoba. The Apaches and Yavapais probably moved into these rugged mountains around 1500 A.D. They constructed temporary rancherias or farmsteads in locations such as Garden Valley, Frog Tanks, Dismal Valley, Rock Tanks, Reavis Valley, along Tortilla Creek and many of the tributaries draining into the Salt River.

Most of these rancherias or farmsteads were destroy during the U.S. military campaigns against the Apaches and Yavapais between 1864- 1868.

The Apaches and Yavapais used many of the caves and undercuts along Fish Creek Canyon, Tortilla Creek, La Barge and Boulder Canyon when they were pursued by the Army from Fort McDowell. The Native Americans often stole cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and mules and took them to the more accessible caves to be slaughtered for food. Bones of these animals have been found in caves along La Barge Canyon and Tortilla Canyons. It is estimated there are more than 2,500 archaeological sites within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. During the past forty-five years I have recorded hundreds of sites on several maps.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is a fantastic artifact and heritage trove of ancient cultures that existed here for the past 1,000 years or so. It will take archaeologists a century or more to sift through the archaeological history of the Superstition Wilderness and develop a systematic history of the area. Until that time the National Wilderness Act will help to preserve this valuable resource for future archaeologist and scientist to study. Hopefully, visitors to the area will understand the importance of not disturbing these archaeological resources within the wilderness area. Educating the public about the significance of this resource is a very important mission of the Tonto National Forest.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Roosevelt Dam, 100 Years

March 14, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

On March 18, 2011, we will be celebrating the centennial of the completion of Roosevelt Dam. This enormous reclamation project was accomplished during the transition from mule teams to motorized vehicles in America. This accomplishment at that particular time in history was a triumph over overwhelming odds of the period. Man, beast, and machine had harnessed the power of the mighty Salt River of Central Arizona.

The early pioneers who first settled in the Salt River Valley dreamed of harnessing the river. An early pioneer named John W. “Jack” Swilling looked at the Hohokam canal system and wondered why he couldn’t do the same thing. Swilling formed a canal company and started digging. He planned to irrigate the fertile desert land with water from the Salt River. Swilling began construction on a canal site along the north bank of the Salt River in December of 1867. This vision of irrigating thousands of acres of desert land eventually led to the construction of Roosevelt Dam. A hundred years ago nobody would have believed Swilling’s name would someday be synonymous with reclamation.

Prior to the construction of Roosevelt Dam the citizens of the Salt River Valley depended on weirs (a small overflow dam used to alter the flow characteristics of a river or stream) and a canal system along the Salt River for water to irrigate their crops. This system was constantly destroyed by flooding or had no water to irrigate crops during drought. These weirs and canals did not provide a dependable source of water for the valley and its farmers.

Water storage wasn’t something new. The valley pioneers had explored the Salt River for a dam site, but didn’t have the capital to build such a dam. They were very familiar with the site at the confluence of Tonto Creek and the Salt River. The Hudson Company had acquired the Tonto site by 1897 with plans of building a dam.

The combination of serious drought, federal inaction at the time and the failure of the Hudson Company to construct Tonto Dam led to the formation of a citizen’s committee on water storage in 1897. It was Benjamin A. Fowler, a man who abandoned a successful book publishing career, who stepped in and led the citizen’s committee which eventually ended up forming the Salt River Water’s Users’ Association. The committee wanted to bond all cultivated acres and charge $1.25 per acre water rent. This created considerable consternation among committee members.

In the fall of 1900 a permanent Salt River Valley Water Storage Committee was appointed. It was composed of thirty-six men. The Arizona Republican in 1900 reported a lot of talk by this committee, but no real action.

Fowler was able to pull the group together into a working body. The group worked hard lobbying Congress to pass the Newland Arid Lands Act. When the Newland Act passed it provided the much needed reclamation construction for the West and set into motion the future of the Salt River Valley Project. The National Reclamation Act of 1902 promised financial subsidies through the use of interest free federal money for construction projects in the arid West. At first this act appeared to be an act of national benevolence for the farmers of arid regions in the Southwest, but upon closer examination it had many strings attached to it.

Fowler and others worked diligently to organize the Salt River Water Users’ Association. The process required signing up landowners. The association closed its books on July 17, 1903 and forged ahead with 198,587 acres of land on the books. Fowler became the Associations first president and was instrumental in bringing together many factions in the Salt River Valley so Roosevelt Dam could be constructed.

The Salt River Water Users’ Association committed bonding money to construct Roosevelt Dam by having its membership put up their land as collateral for a federally subsidized low interest loan. This loan is what built Roosevelt Dam and insured a good water supply for the future of the Salt River Valley.

The construction bids for Roosevelt Dam opened February 23, 1905. John M. O’Rourke of Denver, Colorado submitted the winning bid of $1,147,600 and to complete the project in two years. The newly formed Bureau of Reclamation started on the infrastructure of the Roosevelt Project in 1903. Preliminary construction consisted of building roads, base camps for engineers and workers, a cement mill, a sawmill, a power canal, a sluicing tunnel, an outlet tunnel, a coffer dam and stone had to be quarried at a nearby quarry. The government needed cheap timber, cement, stone and electricity to keep the construction cost of this project within the original budget.

Louis C. Hill was appointed as an engineer for the U.S. Reclamation Service on June 8, 1903. Hill, age 38, was a former railroad engineer and professor of hydraulics and electricity at the Colorado School of Mines when appointed to this job. Hill was placed in charge of the Roosevelt Project in the spring of 1904 and remained with it until March of 1911.

The first stone was set down on September 20, 1906, and the last stone was laid on February 6, 1911. The original contract had called for a completion date within two years. The construction site suffered severe flooding on several occasions between November 26, 1905, and the spring 1906. Flooding caused many delays in the construction. It required almost three years to raise the dam to 150 feet at its lowest point. The dam was finally completed in late February 1911. The dam was 284 feet above bedrock, at the time, was the largest dam in the nation. The cost reached a staggering 5.4 million. Even at this cost the dam had borne out the wisdom of Louis C. Hill’s decisions. This dam has become a national model in sound water development and has been vastly important to the growth of Central Arizona. President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the dam on March 18, 1911.

The construction and success of this massive reclamation project was dependent on the cooperation of many federal agencies. The success was dependent on the protection of the watershed of this lake. This need led to the formation of the Tonto Forest Preserve in 1909. The Bureau of Reclamation, Tonto National Forest and the Salt River Project are all constant partners today insuring a good water and electrical supply for the Salt River Valley.

The need for a greater water storage capacity and better flood control resulted in the modification of Louis C. Hill’s work. The dam was raised 77 feet in 1996 (work completed) giving this Arizona icon a new modern look. If you decide to visit Roosevelt Dam be sure and visit the Visitor’s Center at Roosevelt. The old haul road, the Apache Trail, will provide you with a scenic and adventurous road to drive.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Apache Trail

March 7, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Apache Trail can certainly be classified as one of the most adventurous and scenic routes in the American Southwest. Since 1906 tourist have traveled this unique mountain road and marveled at some of the most spectacular scenery in our state. The Apache Trail, as we know it today, originates in Apache Junction and terminates at its junction with Highway 60-70 some four miles east of Miami, Arizona. The original roadway began at the Mesa railhead and terminated at Roosevelt Dam site on the Salt River some sixty-two miles away.

This approximate route of the Apache Trail has served humanity for more than a millennium. The Salado used the trail to penetrate the Salt River Valley around 900 A.D. Other Native Americans groups continued to use the trail as a migratory route between their winter homes on the desert lowlands and their summer homes in the mountains along the Mogollon Rim.

The Apaches and Yavapais used the trail for their predatory raids against the Pimas along the Salt and Gila Rivers south and west of Superstition Mountain. The Apaches and Yavapais continued their raids after the arrival of the Anglo-Americans in the early 1850’s. Finally in 1864, Camp McDowell was established along the Verde River some four miles north of the Salt River. The Pimas became willing allies of the blue-shirted soldiers who manned Fort McDowell. This footpath (trail) along the Salt River through the mountains to Tonto Basin was called both the Tonto Trail and the Yavapai Trail. The Army quelled the Apache-Yavapai in this region by 1868, but there were other military campaigns fought against renegade Apaches from 1871 until Geronimo’s surrender in 1886 at Skeleton Canyon in Southern Arizona.

A young man navigated the Salt River near the present site of Roosevelt Dam to Phoenix in a cataract boat during the early part of the 1880’s. He reported numerous ideal dam sites along the river’s course. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors ordered a feasibility study done on the Salt River for possible water storage and flood control dam sites shortly thereafter. William “Billy” Breakenridge, James H. McClintock, and John H. Norton conducted this feasibility study for the county board of supervisors.

Breakenridge also explored the route for a possible wagon road at the time of the study. Billy Breakenridge was a well-known Tombstone lawman during the 1880’s and James McClintock became Arizona’s first official historian.

Breakenridge’s report highly favored for the construction of a dam just downstream from confluence of Tonto Creek and the Salt River. The Congress of the United States authorized the dam’s construction and the project was funded in March of 1903. The task of supervising the building of this dam was given to the newly formed U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Service under the United States Department of Interior.

Immediately after funds were approved by Congress the communities of the Salt River Valley realized no money was appropriated for the construction of a haul road from Phoenix to the dam site. The valley communities wanted to participate in this economic boom. They wanted a greater involvement in the market developed by the construction of Roosevelt Dam.The communities immediately worked on a bonding plan to raise enough money to fund the construction of the Mesa- Roosevelt Road.

Actual construction of the Tonto Wagon Road, as it was known in the beginning, began on August 29, 1903, with two hundred Apache laborers working just below the dam site on the Salt River. Another work camp was established on November 11, 1903, at Government Well, some twenty-five miles from Mesa, employing some 200 Pima laborers. The Tonto Wagon Road was completed on September 3, 1905, at a cost of $551,000. The road was sixty- two miles in distance, running from the Tonto Dam site to the Mesa railhead. It was reported more than a million and half pounds of freight moved over the road in its first month of operation.

The first Concord stage made a run over the Mesa- Roosevelt Road on June 10, 1905. The first automobile traveled over the road from Mesa to Government Wells on August 23, 1905. This was a Knox Automobile and was known as the “Red Terror.”

The first so-called tourist group to travel over the Mesa- Roosevelt Road was on October 10, 1905. The first major accident to occur on the Mesa- Roosevelt Road occurred between Mormon Flat and Fish Creek Hill with a stagecoach. The accident occurred on November 23, 1905. The curves, steep grades, and narrowness of the Mesa-Roosevelt road challenged the skills of early teamster and drivers. Even today as we drive the Apache Trail the road certainly can still challenge our skill as a driver.

The Mesa-Roosevelt Road was highly regulated during the construction of Roosevelt Dam (1906-1911), however, after the construction, the road became a favorite tourist attraction. Sometimes the media called the road the Roosevelt Road. Shortly after 1915 the road became known as the Apache Trail. Historians appear to agree in general as to the origin of the name “Apache Trail”. They believe the term was coined by an enterprising young entrepreneur who worked as a railroad agent for the Southern Pacific. The man’s name was E.E. Watson.

Watson was trying to promote the Southern Pacific’s “Sunset Limited” as it made its way through Arizona. The Southern Pacific offered a side trip for its transcontinental passengers over the Apache Trail if they were interested. The Southern Pacific Railroad promoted the Apache Trail widely in advertisements all over America and even in Western Europe from 1915 through 1929.

The Apache Trail (State Route 88) was officially dedicated as Arizona’s first historic highway on February 25,1987, at Lost Dutchman State Park along the Apache Trail.

Tourists have been traveling the Apache Trail since 1906. They have been enjoying one of the most beautiful desert highways in America. The Apache Trail is a roadway to adventure, beauty and history. President Theodore Roosevelt was given credit for the following words about the Apache Trail— “The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have. To me, it is most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful.”

Editor’s note: The Apache Junction Centennial Committee will be honoring President Teddy Roosevelt and The Apache Trail’s impact on Arizona in a number of centennial events during next year’s 100th Anniversary of Arizona statehood during the February, 2012 Lost Dutchman Days Celebration.