Monday, May 26, 2014

Fire in the Sky

May 19, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A meteoroid is a chunk of space rock. If it burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere, it is a called a meteor; if a piece lands, it is a meteorite.
High up on the wall of this cliff in the Superstitions
you can see what might be an impact zone.
On the slope below there appears to be debris from an impact.
Around 1990, I began to hear stories about a meteor that impacted east of the First Water Trail Head. One witness told me he heard the explosion when the meteor hit the earth. He claimed to be near the impact zone. Also, he said he saw the flash from the impact. I trusted this man’s story, but he didn’t want to share the story publicly or reveal the exact location.

I heard about a meteoritic impact zone in the mountains at a certain location some two years later from another individual. He shared the

It certainly appeared something had hit high upon the cliff and brought down rocks and debris. I climbed up to the base of the cliff, but didn’t recognize anything that might be meteoritic. I didn’t find any meteorites. I took several photographs and was convinced this was not a meteorite impact area.

I would like to share some stories with you that I have heard many times and from different sources. I am not putting much value in the tales, however I believe some aspects of the stories are worth repeating.

Several years ago I was returning from a horseback trip into the Superstition Mountains. I had departed from First Water early that morning and rode east toward Garden Valley, Second Water, and Boulder Canyon. I was doing some exploring around the old Indian Paint mine and taking photographs of what I found.

It was a beautiful day and I just lost track of time. I packed up my camera, other equipment and started the ride out. I could see I would be riding after sunset and probably into darkness. I witnessed a celestial event while riding from the first parking lot to the second parking lot where my truck and horse trailer were parked. A very bright light streaked across the sky and appeared to impact somewhere in the northern portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Over the years I have made several trips into the mountains and have never found any clues associated with the meteor I observed crossing the sky west to east low on the horizon on that dark night. However, I have heard many stories about a meteorite impacting high up on the canyon wall in La Barge Canyon about the same time.

I have remained skeptical about contemporary meteor impacts in the Superstition Wilderness Area. About two years ago I ran into a man who claimed he had removed meteoritic material from the Superstition Wilderness Area. He claimed there were lots of small chrondrites (Stony meteorites) in a canyon east of the First Water Parking lot. He went so far to say he had even sold some of them. Because of the nature of his statements and his lack of credibility, I didn’t place much value in what he said. He did not wish to share his name or any personal information.

I continue to wonder if a meteor actually struck the Earth the night I was riding out of the mountains and if it was the one I saw. Often, it is stories like these that become legends.

As many of us know, there are many legends and tales about the Superstition Mountains. Meteorites are extremely valuable and demand a high price. There are several meteorite collectors in this country. I am not sure if it would be legal to remove meteoritic material from an impact site within the boundaries the Superstition Wilderness Area.

During the past eons of time there has certainly been meteors that have impacted the wilderness area. Finding these meteorites would require a specially trained-eye. The only hint that would help a novice searcher would be flow-marks on the meteorite. I doubt texture would prove to be significant in a field where lots of volcanic debris can be found.

The search for meteorites in the Superstition Wilderness Area is probably fool’s play, but one never knows for sure. Another man once said, “Your chances of finding meteorites in the Superstition Wilderness Area is much better than finding gold.”

That’s probably a good point.
location with me. My wife and I rode over to the alleged site. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Obie Stoker: Fool's Gold

May 12, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Obie and Olive Stoker (circa 1959) searched for
gold in the Superstition Wilderness.
Every time I ran into Obie Stoker,
he and Olive were “close to the real thing.”
The search for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine has attracted a variety of characters over the decades. None would be considered more atypical than Obie and Olive Stoker.

Obie was born in Hillsboro, Texas around 1898. He was drafted into the Army at the age of 45 in 1943. His war experience made him somewhat delusional and paranoid once in awhile. No doubt Obie was shell shocked, or at least that is what he said.

Obie and Olive made a striking pair of promoters who were always looking for potential investors in a variety of ventures. Basically, Obie and Olive Stoker were good people, but they loved to promote their dreams.

Obie became interested in the Lost Dutchman mine in the 1930’s after hearing so much about the infamous case involving the death of amateur explorer and treasure hunter Dr. Adolph Ruth in 1931. Obie believed that Ruth would have never ventured into these mountains during the summer months if he hadn’t been convinced there was a lost mine.

Obie reasoned this because “Ruth was a doctor he knew what he was doing.” Obie continued his search off and on for the Dutchman mine for almost five decades. When his beloved Olive died, Obie lost contact with the real world. He was so deeply hurt when he lost his beloved Olive he found it almost impossible to function. This is understandable when someone loses a mate.

Early one spring morning in 1959 before Olive’s death, I was riding out of the First Water Ranch. Barkley had asked me to check out the water at Second Water and to look for an old yellow bull he had in Boulder Canyon.

As I cut across the cactus garden toward Boulder Canyon from Second Water I ran in Obie Stoker and a friend. We chatted for quite awhile. Stoker knew I worked for Barkley and was quite friendly.  I ask him how he was doing at the mine. He said he was getting down to the real thing. He showed me excellent samples of iron pyrite. He then said, “You know this is ‘fool’s gold,’ but I am close to the real stuff.” Every time I ran into Obie Stoker, he and Olive were close to the real thing.

Obie worked with many different partners over the years. Most people avoided Obie like the plague because he was often very irrational. Sometime during the early 1970s, after Olive’s death, Obie returned to Florida. He was searching for a young woman to marry. He finally found a willing partner in Florida.

Bob Corbin and I ran into Obie Stoker’s partners Warren Koneman and Bruce Gillette several times during the early 1980s on the Second Water Trail.

Obie’s partners were working the Question Mark claim in Second Water Canyon. Koneman and Gillette were always heavily armed. They had a camp a little south of the tunnel and shaft they were working. According to Obie his partners tried to beat him out of his mining claim.

I don’t know how long this partnership lasted, but eventually Koneman and Gillette reduced the number of their expeditions into the Superstitions to work the old Hidden Mark.

Obie Stoker, like many Dutchman hunters, decided he would write a book. He had gathered a lot of correspondence from a variety of people interested in the Lost Dutchman mine. He wrote this material plus his experiences into a manuscript he planned to publish. Obie based most of his theories around the theory that an earthquake had covered the Lost Dutchman mine in the 1930s. Many people laughed at his claim. Actually, according to USGS geological reports, there was an earthquake in the Superstition Mountain in the 1930s.

Obie Stoker was a believer and he searched for the mine. He was also a promoter and constantly tried to raise money with his ideas about the location of the Lost Dutchman Mine.

Stoker won a new automobile during a contest in the 1950s and for a moment his name appeared in several newspaper and magazine articles. Obie was proud of this accidental achievement.

Obie and Olive Stoker, like many prospectors before them, believed in the tale of the infamous Lost Dutchman mine. Many times I sat on the porch of the Bluebird Mine and visited with Obie Stoker.  I listened to his stories. I couldn’t imagine why this man was so strongly convinced the Lost Dutchman Mine was located in Second Water Canyon. He often talked about the markers west of Second Water Mountain.  He claimed these ancient pictoglyphs on black basalt rock would lead him to the gold of Superstition Mountain. But the closest thing to gold that Stoker ever found was iron pyrite, “fool’s gold.”

Bob Corbin and I inspected Obie Stoker’s diggings in the 1980s. We found a few pieces of iron pyrite in the area. I am sure Obie knew the difference between iron pyrite and gold, and I’m sure the iron pyrite may have encouraged him to stake his Hidden Mark claim near Second Water Canyon.

The first time I visited the site was in 1955, when I worked for Barkley that summer.  It was a warm June day as I rode down the trail into Second Water checking on cattle. There was always a permanent supply of water at Second Water Spring. Obie Stoker always retrieved his water from this source, however a little further up stream from the main pool.  I was off my horse checking on a small calf when I ran into Stoker and a friend filling canteens with water.  We chatted briefly and talked about the area. Stoker eventually introduced himself and I told him I worked for William T. Barkley.  He told me he was prospecting in the area, but had no luck.  Stoker was certainly a man who walked in the footsteps of “Coronado’s children.” 

Each man chooses what he wants to pursue in life. Many a man has followed in the footsteps of “Coronado’s Children” so well described by Frank J. Dobie’s book of the same title written in 1930. Each man or woman must believe in his own destiny and dream. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Cave of 1,000 Eyes

May 5, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Prospectors have searched the Superstition Mountain region for pay dirt since the 1860s. Most of these efforts have proven futile.

Yes, a rich deposit of gold was found west of Superstition Mountain in the Gold Fields in 1893. The Mammoth Mine produced more than three million dollars in gold bullion. However, this has not always been the case. Many prospectors have found nothing and some have found only their tombstone while hunting for gold or treasure. The alleged discovery of a diamond mine in the area has added to the prospecting legacy of this mountainous region.

Tom Kollenborn on the trail to the “Cave Of A Thousand Eyes” in the Superstition Mountains.
The Mesa Journal-Tribune announced the discovery of a diamond mine in the Superstition Mountains of a “Kimberly” quality on March 22, 1935.

The article read as follows:

A Kimberly in the Superstitions! Joe Modock, a veteran prospector, came to Mesa this week with a sack of diamonds.  The mine, he said, is situated in a secret canyon deep in the Superstitions, where the geology is very different.

Modock cautiously displayed a handful of rough sparklers, the largest of which was the size of a thumbnail. Modock stated that he has had a hunch for years that the Superstitions contained diamonds – not gold. He said he once prospected for diamonds in Africa.
Skeptics withheld serious comment in the absences of an assayer’s report. Modock said he was going to Phoenix for fresh supplies and promised even more starling disclosures as the mine develops.
He refused to disclose the location of the mine.

Joe Modock’s attempt to scam the citizens of Mesa with his diamond mine story in 1935 was typical of such stories of the period.  Joe had discovered a large deposit of Calcite crystals and tried to pass them off as diamonds.  Also Joe Modock was not the first man to discover the “Cave of a Thousand Eyes” deep in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Whether or not Joe Modock was perpetuating a scam is not known for sure. However, if he didn’t know diamonds from Calcite crystals he couldn’t have been much of a prospector. If he did know the difference, he was perpetuating a scam.

Joe had discovered a large limestone cavern. He used his pick to chip off several small calcite crystals (CaCO3) and placed them in a sack. It is not known whether or not Joe Modock knew his so-called diamonds were calcite crystals or was he just ignorant about minerals. The Mesa Journal-Tribune made claims he was a veteran prospector.

Modock’s cave was actually discovered by Jose Perez, a Phoenix prospector, in July of 1916. Perez was searching for the Lost Dutchman M
ine in the eastern portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area. This was twenty-three years before the region become a wilderness.

An example of calcite crystals in a cave in California.
Perez found a large limestone cavern filled with stalagmites and stalactites. He explored the cave’s depth to some four hundred feet before giving up. Perez didn’t have sufficient light to safely explore the cave any further.  He found one wall of the cave covered with travertine drapery embedded with small calcite crystals. Modock chipped his calcite diamonds from this travertine drapery in 1935, some nineteen years later.

I visited the cave some years ago and you could still see the spot where Joe Modock found his so-called “diamond treasure.” When I climbed through the entrance of the cavern it was almost closed with loose debris and concealed well from the streambed below. I sincerely believed the beauty of this cavern needed to be protected from vandals so I carefully completed the closure of the opening by piling broken pieces of limestone over the entrance allowing small portals for the cave’s bat residents to fly in and out.  Modock and Perez ventured only a few hundred feet into the limestone cavern. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s this cave was explored by amateur spelunkers. The explorers climbed through about 1200 feet of tunnels and chambers before giving up because of water.

This large cavern has had several names over the years and some of them were certainly misnomers. Some claim the Native Americans called it the “Cave of a Thousand Eyes.” The source for this name is not difficult to visualize if you could imagine someone walking into this cave with a lighted torch and seeing the calcite crystals on the Travertine drapery.

Some claim the cave was first called “Moraga Cave” after a local rancher named Peter Moraga. It is said Moraga discovered the cave or one like it in 1890.

It is believed Modock thought he had discovered the Lost Dutchman Mine. I am in agreement that the Moraga Cave and this cave are not the same caves.  There are several small caves in the area, but extremely difficult to find and enter.

The Cave of a Thousand Eyes is just another one of those mysteries that abound within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. It is important that the location of this beautiful cavern remain secret because if rediscovered today it would certainly be damaged or destroyed by profiteers or vandals.   

Monday, May 5, 2014

Stone Corral... Or Fortress?

April 28, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There are several well-known stone structures in the Superstition Wilderness Area. Stone structures are more prominent in the western part of the wilderness than the eastern.

These structures are usually found on small valley flats or along deeply incised canyons. The two most prominent sites are located in La Barge Canyon and in West Boulder Canyon above its confluence with Old West Boulder Canyon and near Willow Springs. The site in La Barge Canyon is located below the confluence of Squaw Box Canyon. These two structures are mentioned in several of the stories about lost gold in the Superstition Mountain.

Some lost gold stories make reference to the stone structure in West Boulder Canyon as being a Mexican or Spanish fortress used to protect the miners against the hostile Apaches. The structure, as well as the one in La Barge Canyon, is constructed primarily of two-man stones. This means some of the stones used in the construction of the walls required two men to move and set them in place. This fact has convinced many gold seekers that these structures were not corrals, but old forts used for protection against the Apaches.

La Barge Canyon Corral located near Squaw Box Canyon. This corral has always been called a fortress for the Mexican and Spanish troopers to protect the miners working gold ore in these mountains.
 Both of these stone structures are located near permanent water sources. Often treasure hunters make the case that these fortresses were always located near good sources of water. These same treasure hunters argue the Mexicans and Spanish had troops to protect their miners while they worked the rich gold mines of the area. These same stories are told about the stone structures in La Barge, West Boulder, and Peters Canyons.

I will admit these structures are extremely large considering their location and setting. Ironically, these stone structures are not fortresses of any kind. There is no evidence in the area to support the theory that a group of soldiers once lived at any of these sites.

The dreamers of lost gold want you to believe there were Spanish or Mexican soldiers mounted on horseback protecting the miners that removed gold ore from these mountains. Please believe me, there was no gold ore, nor were there any soldiers protecting miners in these mountains. These stories are nothing but legends and myths.

When I worked for the old Quarter Circle U Ranch I talked to Bill Barkley several times about the site in West Boulder Canyon. He said the cattlemen before his father constructed these large stone corrals (circa 1907). Mexican laborers built these stone corrals. In the 1880’s labor and rock was far cheaper than barbed wire and posts. There was nothing in this country that was large enough to make posts from and, further more, it was too rough of country to pack such supplies into the area. Building corrals out of stone was far more practical.

I have never doubted these stone structures were corrals. This region was cattle range since the late 1870s. Actually, common sense explains the reason for the large stone corrals in such rugged country.

There is one exception to this statement. ‘Circle Stone’ lies southeast of the Reavis Ranch site. This large circular walled structure is composed of a stone and the structure predates most contemporary sites in the Superstition Wilderness Area. This stone structure is not a cattle corral. The structure is located on a knoll some 6,010 feet above sea level. Some studies indicate the structure may have been a celestial observatory used by the early inhabitant of the region (c. 800-1200 AD).

All of the stone structures in the Superstition Wilderness Area are cattle corrals used by the old timers with the exception of Circle Stone. By the time I was working in the Superstition Wilderness Area we packed in fence stays and barbed wire and constructed our own corrals.

Dreams of riches will always make the mind wander. This is usually the case for those who seek gold in these mountains. They believe so strongly in their quest for gold, even common sense will not prevail. When someone wants their version believed they go beyond the realm of common sense and live within the dream themselves. We have seen this many times here in Superstition Mountain country.