Monday, January 28, 2013

Our Friend Don Donnelly

January 21, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The origin of place names and their source is often very interesting. It is sometimes worthwhile to remind ourselves of their origin. The community of Gold Canyon named one of its main boulevards the ‘Don Donnelly’ Trail. Don made such an impact on this community in a short twenty years they named a street after him.

Don Donnelly was a nationally known cowboy and desert conservationist. The Sonoran Desert and Superstition  Mountains were a part of his domain, a region he loved. Don brought to this area a special meaning to the word Cowboy. He told stories about cowboys, horses, cattle, wranglers, and dude strings. He always found  some humor or mettle in cowboy stories.

In this community no individual has personified Marion Morrison as much as Don Donnelly. Yes, for those of you who didn’t know Marion Morrison, he was John Wayne. Don was a big man with an enormously big heart of which he extended to his fellow man. He had a special place in his heart for helping children.

He reached out to help others and he was loved for his caring disposition. Harold Christ introduced me to Don when he first arrived in Apache Junction in 1980. Don looked me in the eye and said, “Tell me friend, what do these mountain mean to you?” He accomplished two things that first day I held dear to my heart. I hadn’t known Don Donnelly more than five minutes when he addressed me as “friend.” He followed that by inquiring about what the mountain meant to me, not how much I knew about it. He was a true cowboy diplomat with wonderful tact. I never forgot that first meeting.

Our trails crossed at Chamber of Commerce meetings, at the wilderness trailheads, in different camps and on the trails for the next twenty years. Often we visited about the Superstition Mountains, its legends and lure. Don was a lot like Will Rogers in that he never met a man he didn’t like if given half a chance and always had some wonderfully humorous or witty remark to make about cowboys, horses or life on the trail. It was always a pleasure to talk to Don Donnelly. He always had time for a friend, visitor or stranger.

I rode along with Don on one of his rides to Roger’s Canyon in March of 1999. I believe it was his Crow Canyon Institute group. It was on this ride I really got to know the Don Donnelly of Gold Canyon. He talked about his love for the desert, his love for horses and how much he loved working with his people. He certainly was a natural when it came to soothing the soul of his riders. He had the right thing to say and knew when to say it. Don rode along talking to this rider and that rider assuring those that needed it and complementing those who were doing fine on the long trail into Roger’s Canyon from the trailhead.

Don was a natural teacher with an enormous amount of patience. Don made it a point to let me know how important it was for young people know about cowboys and the good they represented. As Don would say, “The cowboy is the good spirit of the West.” I learned a lot about a man who loved his work on that two-day ride to Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwellings.

Sometime in the early 1980’s Don and I rode across Bluff Springs Mountain. He was overwhelmed by beauty of the Superstition Mountains. On this occasion we talked about the old characters of Superstition Mountain. Don absorbed the history of the area and carried it on to others. Don became an exceptional storyteller of cowboy tales and stories about Superstition Mountain.

Don and Shelly Donnelly moved down from Estes Park, Colorado to Gold Canyon in 1980. Harold Christ, General Manager of Dinomount Corporation, believed a stable would add a lot to the Gold Canyon area. Christ eventually recruited Donnelly to move here and open the Gold Canyon Stables that eventually became the Don Donnelly Stables at Gold Canyon. Don enjoyed horses, animals, the outdoors, and meeting people. His business certainly suited his life style.

His comments and demeanor will be remembered for a long time in the Gold Canyon area and Arizona. His comments like, “Our mission is to be the best neighbor anybody has ever had,” or “We want to be the best riding stable in the Southwest,” attest to his method of conducting business. He and his business was a wonderful asset to our community.

Our community lost a great friend when Don passed away from a heart attack on December 27, 1999, at the age of 54. Yes, Don Donnelly is part of the history, legend and lore of Superstition Mountain and will be remembered for his contributions to the area.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Cliff Dwelling at Angel Springs

January 14, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

One afternoon several years ago, a man inquired about a mud house in the Superstition Mountains. We talked a few minutes and I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about. He had read about a mud house located in a rugged canyon in the Superstition Mountains Wilderness. He said prospectors had used this mud house to hide gold. After I heard more of his story I realized what he was talking about.

He was talking about Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwelling located near Angel Springs. This ancient structure was not a gold cache repository but one of the finest preserved Salado structures in the central mountains of Arizona.

This two-room cliff dwelling is in excellent condition and has suffered most of its damage from contemporary visitors. When I first examined this ruin in 1948 with my father, it was in extraordinarily good condition. At that time the roof was in almost perfect condition. It was as if the people who had lived in it had just moved away.

There are several recorded accounts about this cliff dwelling in Arizona periodicals. The first mention was in a periodical dated 1895.

The Southern Pacific Railroad was interested in the site as a tourist destination in 1927. They wanted to develop a hike or horseback trip from the Apache Trail to the ruin for customers of the Southern Pacific “Sunset Limited”. The railroad even speculated about building a trail from Fish Creek Lodge to the cliff dwelling in Roger’s Canyon. This idea never became reality, but was reported in local newspapers of the period.

The Arizona Highways Magazine featured the Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwellings in 1946. Up until this time the ruins had remained quite obscure from the public. I recall my father saying we would have to take a hike up to Roger’s Canyon and check it out. We were living in Christmas, Arizona at the time.

William N. Smith II, an archaeology student at the University of Arizona, reported on the ruin as part of his undergraduate work. Smith studied Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwelling and other related ruins in the area, and wrote a paper on Roger’s Canyon and surrounding ruins in 1941. He did his research on horseback while working for the Cleman’s Cattle Company.

I recall several trips into Angel Basin between 1946-1999. One interesting trip occurred in December of 1975. I accompanied a group of adventurers that included Dr. William F. “Bill” Wright, the Superintendent of Schools for Apache Junction, Nyle Leatham, a photographer for the Arizona Republic, and our guide, Bud Lane.

On our return trip from Angel Basin back to Tortilla Trailhead, Bud Lane decided to take a short cut through Goat Canyon. That was a mistake. We ended up a day late and overdue. This trip was followed by another interesting trip to Angel Basin in the late 1980’s with a National Geographic Magazine photographer. I have not visited the ruin since I made the trip on March 17, 1999 with Don Donnelly and the Crow Canyon Institute. Donnelly had asked me to go along and tell the story of the cliff dwelling in Roger’s Canyon. The roof of the ruin was still in good condition, except for a gaping hole caused by careless explorers of the site. The walls were all solid and still standing. Most of the debris had been removed from the ruin, and the most noticeable damage was the collecting of samples of material from the ruin. The fingerprints of the ancient people who built the walls of this ruin were still very visible in the dried mud.

Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwelling stands as one of the finest original structures of Salado work in the entire Southwest. The structure has never been reconstructed or repaired by contemporary man.

The future survival of this ruin is in doubt. Measures must be taken to prevent visitors from climbing on the walls and the roof and collecting insignificant artifacts from the ruin. Wilderness regulations prevent the forest service from building an iron grate over the entrance of the cave to protect the ruin from the public.

Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwelling is one of the unique wonders of the Superstition Wilderness Area. If each us would respect the architectural value and work of these early inhabitants of this structure, it would stand forever for others to enjoy. It has stood for almost a millennium, but we are capable of destroying it in a couple of decades through ignorance. The search for gold and treasure has also destroyed many valuable archaeological sites over the centuries.

The mud house in Rogers Canyon should not be a symbol of our throwaway society. It has stood for over a thousand years. Let’s hope it stands for another thousand.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Real Treasure

January 7, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

This column often features stories about lost gold, prospectors, geology, and a variety of associated topics. However, the real gold of the Superstition Wilderness Area is its natural ecosystem.

The region is part of the fragile Upper Sonoran Desert life zone controlled by precipitation, sun angle, slope angle, and elevation. The fauna and flora exhibits a wide-range diversity with plants ranging from the magnificent Saguaro cactus to the stately Ponderosa pine.

The fauna represents almost the entire spectrum of biological forms. The survival of animals and plants are dependent on the controls placed on man. Actually man is the most destructive predator placed in any natural ecosystem. The desert is a very fragile and sensitive environment easily disrupted by the activities of humans.

The statement “man should be only a temporary visitor to a wilderness,” is philosophically sound. However, the temporary visitation of man to a wilderness is not realistic if limitations are not placed on the number of visitors or visitations. As Americans, we must determine what portion of our public lands should be preserved in their natural state and what lands should be highly impacted by development. All development and no preservation causes the crowding of to many people into one place and eventually leads to
urban blight.

Arizona’s greatest assets are its public lands (open spaces) and its climate. The two are entwined in the minds of visitors and residents alike. Each year more and more of our public lands are slated for development with little or no concern for the future of open space. Some politicians believe open space is not a cost-effective option for public lands.

The National Wilderness Act of 1964 and 1984 preserved several million acres of Arizona’s public lands for future generations of  Americans to enjoy. Each year more and more Americans want to have a wilderness experience. These enormous demands have impacted the wilderness areas and state public lands.

There is a tremendous need in our state for open space, access to public lands, and green belts within communities, not just golf courses (which are considered ‘open spaces’). Golf courses are not an efficient or effective use of water resources. Families with small children or school children don’t have much use for golf courses. Arizona has a great opportunity to become a special place in America, not just another California.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is becoming an urban wilderness with little protection for its ecosystem. It serves as a large hiking and riding park for the Phoenix metropolitan area and surrounding communities that have limited open space. The Tonto National Forest ranger district has taken steps to control the impact on the Superstition Wilderness Area by assessing parking fees and limiting parking space at two of the major trailheads. An estimated 100,000 visitors access the Superstition Wilderness Area each year and, as the Phoenix metropolitan area continues to grow, the impact on the far East Valley and Apache Junction will increase.

Open space is one of America’s most valuable resources and, while its value cannot be measured easily, it is in tremendous demand. Real estate prices along the Tonto National Forest fence line east of Apache Junction should convince anyone how valuable open space is. There is an old saying, “Our hearts scream open space, however our pocket books scream for profit.”

Users of the Superstition Wilderness will eventually be even more restricted because of growth in the Salt River Valley and the limited access to the wilderness from the western side. Now is the time for Pinal County to start planning on large county regional parks that could be used for hiking and horseback riding. Without such parks there will be no future for those who come to Arizona searching for open spaces.

Where are the future planned households going to play in the outdoors? They certainly will not be playing in the Superstition Wilderness Area or along the shores of Canyon Lake. There will not be enough room for all of them and there will be too many  restrictions.

Grand Canyon National Park is an excellent example of restrictions in action. The use of Grand Canyon trails requires long range planning with trail use scheduled up to a year in advance. Every user is tagged and identified. If a user is not tagged and permitted they will be cited and fined. Is this the future of the Superstition Wilderness Area?

If the impact on the area continues at its present rate, there shouldn’t be any surprises for us in the future. Everyone interested in hiking, horseback riding and camping should keep themselves abreast of all regulations being implemented or recommended.

It is apparent the Superstition Wilderness Area has become a crowded wilderness. Fifty years ago man’s impact was restricted primarily to grazing allotments and limited mining. Some of those scars are still visible today. However, the most profound scars on the wilderness today are the trail systems. These developed wilderness trail systems are visible from space. The development of the trail system began in the early 1960’s as part of a program to allow easier access to the interior of the wilderness area for hikers and horseback
riders. Originally it was part of the multi-use plan for the management of public lands. This multi-use plan dynamically impacted the ecosystem of the wilderness by reducing the fauna between 1960-1990. A graded trail system is very costly and difficult to maintain. These trails today are directly linked to the overuse by the growing urbanization of the Salt River Valley.

The City of Apache Junction is making an effort to develop a trail system within the boundaries of the old “sheep drive”. This is a giant step in the right direction. The hurdles and issues that lie ahead for this to become a reality are enormous. However, where there are dreams, there is hope.

The real gold of the Sonoran Desert region is in the open space that has survived development, and the Superstition Wilderness Area is one of those real treasures. These lands and their ecosystem are protected from development, but not overuse. This vast wilderness preserves a large tract of public land for future Americans to enjoy. Fifty years from now our desendants will appreciate any effort we make today to preserve open space for the future. They will also recognize the immense value of the Superstition Wilderness Area to our nation and its citizens.

After all, a true wilderness is a place where man is only a temporary visitor and leaves no trace, therefore protecting its fragile ecosystem.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Ray Howland's Treasure

December 31, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Raymond and Elizabeth Howland arrived on the Arizona scene shortly after World War I from their hometown of Detroit, Mich. Howland was an excellent automotive painter and soon set up shop in Phoenix in 1917. Ray and Liz had another reason for coming to Arizona, and that was to search for hidden Spanish treasure.

Raymond C. Howland’s name appeared in the newspapers for the first time in 1917 when someone stole one of his cars and went joyriding in Phoenix. This would not be the last time Howland’s name would appear in Phoenix newspapers.

Shortly after Dr. Robert A. Aiton’s promotion of the Lost Dutchman Mine Corp. near Tortilla Flat in 1920, Ray and Liz Howland became very interested in the Superstition Mountains and Spanish treasure. Howland began roaming the Superstition Mountains early in the 1920s looking for clues to Spanish mining in the area. Around the middle of 1925, Howland claimed he had found several Spanish and Mexican artifacts in the Superstition Mountains. These artifacts ranged from spur rowels to ancient drilling steel. Most historian and old timers didn’t express much interest in Howland’s discoveries, but on June 20, 1927, the Mesa Journal-Tribune reported Howland claimed he found gold float assaying at $15,000 per ton. In this same article Howland was quoted as saying he “was close to discovering the Lost Dutchman Mine.”

The Mesa Journal-Tribune on July 28, 1927, reported Howland finding ancient Spanish corrals or dwellings deep in the Superstition Mountains. The article also reported Liz Howland helping her husband search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. Liz always verified what Ray Howland said. By mid-1927 Howland was playing a major role in the Lost Dutchman Mine scenario. You could say Ernest Douglas, a distinguished author of the period, gave Ray and Liz Howland their feeble credibility with a detailed story he wrote for the Los Angeles Times. In the article Douglas detailed the Howland search for the Peralta Mines and their claim the Dutchman’s Mine was one of these mines.

The Howlands called the mine the “La Mina de Sombrero” because it was alleged to have been near a hatshaped peak known as Picacho Aguila, Statue Mountain or Needle Rock. According to Howland, the rich ore from the mine was worked by 400 miners. The ore was then hauled down to the Rio Salinas and crushed in arrastres. When the Apaches finally attacked the Mexican miners, leather sacks of rich gold ore were hidden throughout the mountains, forming numerous caches. Howland believed Waltz found one of these rich Spanish caches. Ray Howland offered several rusty Mexican tools, spur rowels and drill steel as evidence to Spanish occupancy of the Superstition Mountains. His proof lacked provenience.

Howland became so involved with the Superstition Mountains he neglected his business. Al Henderson came over from California and took over the operation of Ray C. Howland’s Mesa Auto Painting and Duco Service Station on Feb. 13, 1928. Howland had moved his operation to Mesa in 1925. With Henderson in charge of his business, Howland returned to the Superstition Mountains.

By mid-August 1928, Howland had become known nationally because of Ernest Douglas’ articles. Howland’s fan mail increased at an unbelievable rate due to several magazine articles written about him and his search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. All of this publicity was in the pre-Adolph Ruth days. In October of 1928, the Fiction Writers of America held a convention in Mesa and they became very interested in stories about the Lost Dutchman Mine.

Howland and his wife sold out the Mesa Auto Paint Shop to E.B. “Collision” Willis on Dec. 6, 1928.

After selling his Mesa business, Howland and his wife returned to their cabin on the south side of Superstition Mountain. Howland made a claim in the early 1930s that he had found Spanish armor near a rock mass called the Spanish Graveyard east of the Quarter Circle U Ranch in Pinal County. Creditable authorities could never verify the Spanish crossbow dart and armor found by Howland.

Ray and Liz Howland continued their search for the Lost Dutchman Mine through out the 1930’s. Howland helped search for Adolph Ruth when he disappeared in the late spring of 1931. The Howlands created a fictitious foundation for an incredible story about lost gold in the Superstition Mountains. Landmark names such as Skeleton Ridge and the Spanish Graveyard on cryptic maps can be accredited to the Howlands. Today, Howland’s Spanish Graveyard is known as Castle Rock or Cathedral Rock. Ray and Liz Howland certainly left an impact on the mythology of this mountain wilderness. Years after Ray Howland’s death it was reported he purchased the Spanish artifacts he claimed to have found in the Superstition Mountain in New Mexico.

Howland’s fascination for the mountains turned into dreams and then just pure fiction and imagination. Yes, the Howlands did leave a legacy of myths that is certainly a part of the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area.