Monday, March 31, 2014

The Mountain Road

March 24, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Apache Trail has been the site for many motion pictures over the years. The vast, rugged isolation has made it a prime location for the movie industry beginning early in the 1920s. Stars such as Tim Holt, Tom Mix and others made some of their early films in the area.

The film industry returned to Arizona in the summer of 1959 to film Mountain Road starring James Stewart, Lisa Lu, and Glenn Corbett. Most of the filming was done along the Salt River Project’s Horse Mesa Dam road. Filming began on June 12, 1959, when temperatures often reached 110º F in the afternoon.

The Mountain Road’ starred James Stewart and Lisa Lu, shown here in a scene filmed in the Superstition Mountains. The film also starred Glenn Corbett and Harry Morgan (later of television’s M.A.S.H. fame).

The film company’s advance work crews had come in to build a full size Chinese village, temple, shrine, and several other sets that were used in the month-long scheduled filming. Much of the filming was done along the rugged and beautiful Apache Trail. This was possible in June because there was very little traffic on the road at that time of the year. The users of the "Trail" in those days were only die-hard fisherman, cattlemen, and adventurers.

William Goetz was the producer of the film. He liked working with James Stewart. In this particular film he introduced a beautiful Chinese actress by the name of Lisa Lu to American motion pictures. The movie also starred Harry Morgan, who later achieved fame portraying Colonel Henry Potter on televison’s M.A.S.H.

Goetz was the producer of several outstanding motion pictures such as Song Of Bernadette, The Glenn Miller Story, Winchester ‘73, Magnificent Obsession and many other great films.

The director of The Mountain Road was Daniel Mann, who had directed such hits as Come Back Little Sheba, The Rose Tattoo, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and Teahouse of the August Moon. Mann was known for assembling the best production technicians in the movie business for his films. The group use Phoenix as their headquarters and traveled back and forth to the film location by automobiles and helicopter.

James Stewart starred as Major Baldwin who was the head of an eight-man demolition team charged with destroying bridges, roads and villages in the path of the oncoming Japanese army as it marched from Liuchow to Kweiyang in 1944 during World War II. William Goetz had worked with James Stewart on several previous motion pictures that were blockbusters such as Winchester ‘73 and the Glenn Miller Story.

The preparation of the filming site required a very large construction crew and several pieces of heavy equipment. More than a hundred men worked at the site with a fleet of bulldozers and earth moving equipment. The building of the Chinese village was an enormous construction project. The crew had to remodel bridges to look like old Chinese wooden bridges, which had to be destroyed in the film and rebuilt. More than $10,000 was spent revamping private roads belonging to Salt River Project to build turnarounds that would accommodate the movie company’s heavy rolling stock. A big part of the building project was blasting a 1,000-foot strip of road through solid rock where the Chinese village was located.

The film’s technical advisors included Brig. Gen. Frank Dorn, U.S. Army, retired, who served for twelve years with the American and Chinese armies during the Eastern Theater of World War II. The Chinese advisor was Wan Fau Hsuch. The demolition and explosive expert was Sgt. David Lamb, U.S. Army, assigned to the film project by the U.S. Army.

The completion of this film under such isolated and severe summer weather conditions was quite an accomplishment for Hollywood. The stars, production people, technicians, and workers were not accustomed to the extreme temperatures of the Sonoran Desert.

I recall the production of this film very well. We had just completed the roundup at the Quarter Circle U Ranch, and I was driving over to the Tortilla Ranch to help out Floyd Stone with his roundup. Barkley often helped Stone with his spring roundup and vice-versa. It was a hot day as I drove along the road toward the Tortilla Ranch turnoff. Near Stone’s shipping corrals on the Apache Trail I ran in to the film company setting up for a shoot. I told them I was headed into the Tortilla Ranch and would be there for a few days. This was my exposure to the film Mountain Road. No, I didn’t get to meet James Stewart or any of the stars of the movie.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Last Prospector

March 17, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Time often becomes suspended between fantasy and reality in the minds of those who search for gold in the rugged mountains east of Apache Junction. This myriad of canyons and towering spires has captured the imagination of men and women for more than a century.

Years ago, two men read the June 14, 1964, issue of Life magazine and saw an article about the Dutchman’s Lost Mine and the Peralta Stone Maps. A photograph in this article showed a man looking over the edge of a rock with the brim of his hat pulled down to cover his face. According to the article, the man had discovered the last few clues needed to locate the infamous lost mine. It was this article that would send these two men on a search for the rest of their lives. One man would become a notorious promoter of a lost mine, and the other would become an unknown hermit.

Hikers, prospectors, horsemen and outfitters often passed an old man hiking in and out of the Superstitions between 1965-1993. This man avoided contact and stayed by himself, only speaking when spoken to. Some of the outfitters, well known to the area, called him "Spook" because of his peculiar habit of avoiding people.

Spook’s name was Edwin Buckwitz. He was born on July 6, 1924, on a South Dakota wheat farm near McLaughlin. He was the middle child in a family of seven. He was very shy and a true introvert. Most of Edwin’s life was spent avoiding contact with people. He preferred to be alone.

After graduation from high school he joined the Army Air Corps. Edwin served in the 15th Army Air Corps stationed in Italy during World War II. He was a waist gunner on a B-24 Liberator and flew many missions over Germany.

Edwin once told his brother, Sam Buckwitz, about the time he took off his flight jacket on a low-level mission over Germany and hung it next to the waist gun aperture. When the flight was over he found the jacket filled with bullet holes. The one story Edwin told his brother I am sure played a dramatic role in shaping Edwin’s life after the war.

Edwin told the following tragic story which involved the loss of his crew and aircraft. Edwin was grounded one day and as he watched his fellow crew-members take off in an overloaded bomber. He saw the plane stall, then crash. The entire crew, including his friends and his buddies. died in a split second.

After Edwin’s short, but dangerous military career, he attended school to become an electrical engineer. Upon graduation, he worked for McDonnell-Douglas in the mid-1950’s. He did drafting work on the A-3D bomber and the F-5D fighter escort planes. He worked for almost two decades on the West Coast.

At the age of 45, Edwin Buckwitz fulfilled his life’s dream. He wanted to get away from people and traffic congestion. Working in the Los Angeles area would make anyone want to run away to the hills.

Edwin resigned his job, and traveled to Arizona. He had read about the Superstitions in 1964 Life magazine article and decided that was the place for him. When he arrived here, he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to searching for the Peralta Mines. This he did.

Many years ago, Edwin told me about the anxiety he felt the day he stood at First Water Trailhead in 1965 and planned his first solo trip into the Superstition Mountains. He didn’t know whether he could find water or not. He had never lived in the outdoors before. He wasn’t even familiar with the wildlife of the Sonoran Desert.

He wondered how he would survive in these rugged mountains with little protection from the weather and the animals. He was convinced most animals were harmless, but at the time he feared rattlesnakes, not knowing anything about them. He finally made up his mind not to worry about broken bones, rattlesnakes, lions or the desert heat. He sincerely believed anything was better than the traffic congestion of Southern California.

He finally made up his mind he was here to find the gold of Superstition Mountain and to seek the peace and solitude of this magnificent mountain range.

Edwin lived in East Boulder and Needle Canyons for twenty years. He searched the area with total dedication believing he would find his gold. Edwin had an unshakable faith in the existence of the Peralta Mines. The last time I talked with him, he revealed no traces of the young man who had gone to war, had once studied electrical engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit and at Northrop University in Inglewood, California.

His skin was coarse and tanned like leather from years of exposure to the hot desert sun. His body was slender from decades of walking in the Superstitions and his hair was gray with age. I must admit I watched Edwin grow old and he loved every minute of his isolation in the mountains.

Edwin Buckwitz, seated at left with Tom Kollenborn, was a tall slender man who hiked along the Apache Trail and First Water Road between 1965-1993. He had a backpack with a cardboard box on it and he always wore a cap. Many long-time residents of Apache Junction may remember him.
Edwin lived almost 28 years in the outdoors and survived with the minimum of conveniences. His amenities included a plastic tarp, an old bedroll, a backpack, a cardboard box, a pot, a pan, a canteen, and the Bible.

He carried all he owned on his back for almost three decades. I passed Edwin Buckwitz on the trail many times between 1966-1986 before I actually met him.

Edwin hiked from his camp in Needle Canyon to Apache Junction twice a month, a distance of fifteen miles one way for more than twenty-five years. The only treasure he found was the peace and solitude of the mountains, not its gold.

Life in the Superstition Mountains for Edwin had not been easy. His paradise had become his master. I was in awe of his interaction with wildlife when I visited his camp. He would be reading the Bible and birds would land on his shoulder and other animals would wander through his camp. He certainly was at peace with his God and the environment.

Actually Edwin paid an exacting price for his privacy and isolation from his fellow human beings. It is ironic that such man who shunned society died near a busy intersection along the Apache Trail in March of 1993. He accepted no social pensions of any kind. He arrived in Apache Junction with almost hundred thousand dollars in 1965 and when he died he willed almost a quarter of million dollars to religious radio evangelist in Kentucky.

Staff Sgt. Edwin Bluckwitz was buried with full military honors in the Phoenix Veterans Cemetery at 2:30 p.m. on March 26, 1993.

Taps were finally sounded for this man who lived through hell high over Germany during World War II, but found his ultimate peace on earth in the Superstition Mountains.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Coatimundis in the Superstitions

March 10, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Recently, while driving along Highway 260 to Workman Creek, we spotted a strange looking solitary mammal crossing the road with a long erect tail. This was near Rose Creek Divide. The animal was brown with a white and brownish face. It had a long pointed snout. We recognized it as a coatimundi.

We were surprised to see
a coatimundi this far north in Arizona. After a little research and a few questions I found that coatimundi have been spotted in many parts of the Central Mountain region of Arizona. We have also heard of a few coatimundi sightings in the Superstition Wilderness Area by horseman and hikers. A hundred years ago coatimundis were not commonly reported in Arizona.

The coatimundi (Nasua Narica) that is common to Arizona is an omnivore similar to a raccoon. The raccoon, ringtail cat and coatimundi all belong to the Procyonid family. They have a long turned-up snout and a very long tail. The long snout is white near the tip. They also have white on their face near the eyes. Coatimundis have dark feet, small ears, and a long thin tail. The tail is about two feet long on adult males with six or seven strips.

The mammal has an insatiable appetite for fruit, grubs, small animals, lizards, and amphibians. They usually travel in large groups of 6 to 24 animals. These groups are known as "bands." The bands usually carry their tails erect and are always chattering. The mammal has a brown coat and grows to 30-35 inches long and 8-12 inches high at the shoulders. They can weight between 10-30 pounds. Males are almost double the size of females. The coati mate in early spring and have a litter of 4-6 pups, as their young are called. Their gestation period is about eleven weeks. The female raises, feeds, and educates the young. The females usually choose a rocky den in a brushy area near water.

When you see just one coatimundi it is usually a solitary male. The females and offspring that form "bands" don’t allow males in the group except during mating time in the spring. The males live a solitary life for the most part.

Coatimundis are generally diurnal, meaning they spend most of their time searching for food. They are very fond of fruit. They like the fruit of the Manzanita and other similar plants. The Coati will also eat the fruit of the Prickly Pear cactus. The coatimundi does very well in the desert woodlands north of the U.S.- Mexican border.

Most states allow coatimundis as pets, however Arizona does not. Arizona regulations consider the mammals wildlife. Therefore the laws of Arizona prohibit the possession of live coatimundis. However, coatimundi can be hunted year-round in some parts Arizona. The bag limit is one animal.

The coatimundis have often been sighted around the Superstition Wilderness Area. I have seen them in Queen Valley and behind Whitlow Dam on Queen Creek. They have been reported in Haunted Canyon and along West Pinto Creek. A few months ago a friend reported seeing a small band of coatimundis in La Barge Canyon. The coatimundi have also been reported in Fish Creek Canyon and down toward the Salt River.

These interesting mammals are being seen more frequently every year around in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bull Dog's Gold

March 3, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The first time I addressed this story was in a column for the Apache Signal in 1985, and it was with several theories and considerable speculation. The Dutchman’s Lost Mine has long been one of the most talked about lost gold mine stories in the American Southwest. The discussion of the mine and its location continued to attract considerable attention, and one of the more interesting theories about the Dutchman’s mine involves the Bulldog Mine about one mile east of the famed Mammoth Mine in the Goldfield Mining District.
This is the Bull Dog incline and you can see the
shaft in the background. The area was covered in
2003 to protect the public from a very dangerous site. 

The idea of the Bulldog mine being the Dutchman’s lost mine is nothing new. There has always been significant information that might induce researchers to hypothesize that the Bulldog Mine may have been the Dutchman’s lost mine. The Bulldog claims were filed on November 11, 1892, some twelve and a half months after the death of Jacob Waltz in Phoenix on October 25, 1891.

Julia Thomas, Waltz’s caregiver prior to his death, may have been given pertinent information by the old man as to the location of his mine. She and two young men, Hermann and Rhinehart Petrasch, made a search for Waltz’s mine during August and September of 1892. They came up empty-handed after several weeks of searching in the rugged mountains. Historians believed during this prospecting trip this small band of prospectors walked over the rich gold fields near the Mammoth Mine on their way to the First Water area.

Thomas’ trip was noted in the Arizona Gazette, as the "Queer Quest" on September 4, 1892. When Thomas left Phoenix she was convinced she could find Waltz’s mine with the main clue given to her by Waltz. Her instructions included, "Look for the mine back from the NW end of Superstition Mountain and look for a pointed peak." Thomas totally misinterpreted this clue Waltz supposedly had given her.

There are many reasons to believe the early miners from the Prescott area found the gold fields of Superstition Mountain during the winter of 1864. Prospectors working the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott, would explore the lower desert country, south toward the Salt River, during the cold winter months. It was during the winter of 1864 a small party of prospectors left the Bradshaws for the confluence of the Salt and Verde Rivers. This group split into three or four smaller parties to pan the tributaries of two rivers. The following is the experience of two of these early Arizona pioneers.

Frank Binkley and John P. Montgomery rode into a small valley separating Superstition Mountain and the Orohai Mountains. We called them the Goldfield Mountains today. They camped on a knoll overlooking a very brushy valley. The next morning the partners began to wander around the valley searching for outcrops of quartz or mineralization that would favor good mining conditions. From their camp they could see the towering facade of Superstition Mountain and a dog-faced mountain to their backs. The dog-faced mountain would later become known as Bull Dog Mountain or Peak.

The second day out, while prospecting near their camp, Binkley and Montgomery discovered a quartz ledge worthy of examination. The ledge exhibited what appeared to be free milling gold at every exposed point. They immediately horned a sample to prove their suspicions. On the surface the vein appeared to be about eighteen inches wide. The strike of the vein was more or less north to south. The dip appeared to be about eighty per cent. As the two men continued to work the ledge of free milling gold it became more abundant. These preliminary efforts produced encouraging results and convinced the men they had probably found a rich bonanza.

The Apaches discovered the prospectors at daybreak on their fourth day in the valley. A band of hostiles numbering a dozen or more were playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with the prospectors. The Apache could have easily massacred the two prospectors if the men hadn’t spotted the Indians and sought shelter among the rocks atop Bull Dog Peak. By noon, resistance appeared hopeless, but the two men continued to fight for their lives. They were running low on powder, ball and water. Binkley and Montgomery kept the Apaches at bay until nightfall. Darkness was their only hope of escape. In the dark of night both men made their way back to the banks of the Salt River. Once at the river’s edge they swam across to the north bank and safety. Binkley and Montgomery walked down toward the confluence of the Salt and Verde rivers. Friendly Pimas found them and guided them to safety.

Both Binkley and Montgomery believed they had found a promising prospect near the Superstition Mountains, but neither man planned to return soon because of the hostile Apaches.

The rich outcrop found by these two men in 1864 was undoubtedly the Bulldog Mine. Could this be the same outcrop Waltz worked between 1868-1888? Waltz was in the Prescott area and surely heard about Binkley and Montgomery’s discovery. Some story tellers believe Waltz was in the party that discovered the Bull Dog outcrop.

Waltz talked about his mine being an eighteen-inch vein at the top of a hill, near a brushy draw and a pointed peak. There are three red hills north of the Bulldog Mine. Even the message Thomas obtained from Waltz stated, "Look for the mine back from the northwest end of Superstition Mountain and look for a pointed peak." This story dates back to the early days of the Mammoth Mine operation at Goldfield.

Until recently, the Bulldog Mine remained one of the historical gold mining sites in Apache Junction area dating back to the 1890’s. Recently, in April of 2003, the entire site of the old Bulldog Mine was completely obliterated by heavy machinery. Nothing remains today of the old gold mining site. The legacy of this historical gold mining site has been buried for all time.

We understand the necessity of covering this old mine shaft because it was a hazard to public safety and a legal liability to those who worked the gravel pit. Abandoned gold mines often attract careless people. Therefore this closure was necessary for the safety of the general public.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Snakebite Weather Approaches

February 24, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

This year we are experiencing an extremely warm February and Rattlesnakes are out and moving about. Several sightings have been reported. I observed a three-three foot Western Diamondback Rattlesnake on the Loop Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park a couple of days ago. I watched five or six people walk by this snake without seeing him. The snake was basking in the warm rays of the morning sun.

Caption: Rattlesnakes are known to come out of hibernation if temperatures warm up to 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

Reptiles, meaning most cold-blooded animals, become very active when temperatures rise into the eighties. Reptiles come out of hibernation and begin their search for food. I have lived in the Sonoran Desert for the past seventy years and I have encountered hundreds of rattlesnakes. If the truth were known, most of us who walk or hike in the desert will pass by ten snakes for every one we see. Under most conditions a rattlesnake is very difficult to spot unless it is disturbed and moves. Rattlesnakes generally rattle before they move, but not always.

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. Believe me, I don’t usually get that close to look! This pupil trait is common to poisonous snakes in the Sonoran Desert. All rattlesnakes will have a pit organ near the nostril orifice.

Rattlesnakes come in a variety of colors and patterns. Most rattlesnakes 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 Diamondback rattler’s rings are very pronounced and stand out. 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), meaning they lack an appropriate physiological mechanism for maintaining body temperature. All cold-blooded animals are at the mercy of their environment. The air and ground temperatures will dramatically affect all reptiles in their environment. This condition directly affects their daily rhythm of activity in their habitat.

There are six species of rattlesnakes in our area. They include the Western Diamondback (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 highly developed mechanism for injecting venom, making them very successful predators in the desert. A rattlesnake’s diet is composed of small rodents 85% of the time.

Reptiles, including rattlesnakes, like cool shady spots during the spring, summer and fall months. During the winter month’s rattlesnakes generally go underground and hibernate. They usually choose caves and 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 temperature warm up to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The functioning temperature for a rattlesnake is 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit and it effective temperature is 82 to 96 Degrees Fahrenheit. Direct exposure to heat or sunlight in elevated temperatures will kill a rattlesnake in 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 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 are generally bitten ½ hour before sundown and up to two hours after sundown. It is estimated 72% of all bites occur during this period.

There are some interesting facts about rattlesnakes. The oldest known rattlesnake in captivity was 30 years and 7 months. This snake was a Western Diamond Back (Crotalus atrox). The largest rattlesnake officially recorded was an Eastern Diamond Back (Crotalus adamatus) at 7 feet 4 inches. 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 these are snakes that were measured after death and their skin had been stretched. The average distance a rattlesnake can strike and effectively inject venom is approximately one-third of its body length.

Some eighty per cent 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 Center and other medical resources reported 121 Crotalus envenomizations for the year 1991. This statistic quadrupled in 2003. Statistics again almost quadrupled for 2005. These numbers continue to increase each year as our population continues to grow and more people head for the outdoors.

How do you know a rattlesnake has actually bitten you and if the reptile injected 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. 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 venom injected 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 the puncture wounds after three to six hours. Every snakebite victim should be treated for shock. Shock is a greater threat to the victim’s survival then the actual venom of the snake.

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, calm and reassure the victim. Decrease the movement of the limb and 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’t 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 can prevent snakebite. Again, watch where you put your hands, feet and where you sit. As urbanization continues in Arizona, the threat if snakebite is always a reality. Small children have become the tragic victims of snakebite in recent years because of little or no supervision.

I have tried to be as thorough as I can with accurate information about rattlesnakes in Arizona. It is important to note, the better understanding we have of reptiles, the better chance we have of not becoming a victim of snakebite.

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. This book is a physician’s desk reference for snake venom poisoning.

For information call Arizona Poison Control System 1-800-362-0101. (The state legislature may not be funding the Arizona Poison Control Center because of budget cuts this year.)

For snake removal in Apache Junction call Apache Junction Fire District - 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.