Monday, June 30, 2014

Arizona's Monsoons

June 23, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

According to legend the great “Thunder God”
roars during the summer months in Arizona.
According to legend and myth the great “Thunder God” roars during the summer months in Arizona. Many of us do not find this hard to believe if we have experienced a severe and violent thunderstorm in the Apache Junction-Gold Canyon area during the summer monsoon season. The lightning, thunder and winds will convince the non-believer these storms can be dangerous and violent. Our summer monsoons are just around the corner. They usually began in early July.

During the summer months most of the storms over central Arizona and the eastern portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area result from warm moist air flowing in from the Gulf of Mexico and sometimes from the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). As this air mass moves across Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico it is dried out some. Mountains force the warm moist air upward forming clouds that eventually release their moisture as they rise. This is known as “orographic life.”

These massive anvil-shaped thunderhead clouds that form over Superstition Mountain from July to September normally combine both orographic lift and convectional activity together. Convectional storm clouds result from the rapidly rising and expanding warm moist air and the rapidly falling cold moist air. It is during this convectional activity that lightning is generated. The uneven heating of the earth’s surface causes convectional activity in the atmosphere.

Lightning can be caused by the attraction of unlike electrical charges within a large storm cell. The rapid movement of ice and water molecules, going up and down in a thunderhead cell, creates friction that results in enormous amounts of static electricity being produced. A single lightning discharge can produce about 30 million volts at 125,000 amperes. A discharge can occur in less than 1/10 of a second. The results of a lightning strike can be horrific.

The rapid rising and falling of warm and cold moist air also creates violent bursts of energy. This type of storm activity can result in microbursts. A microburst can develop winds that momentarily reach up to 200 mph. As the clouds build and combine they form massive anvil-shaped thunderheads called Cumulonimbus clouds.

These clouds are massive static generators dispersing lightning and creating violent winds. These summer storms can be extremely dangerous and violent.

These giant thunderheads dominate the sky above Superstition Mountain during the monsoon season and the lightning produced by these storms over the Mountain can be spectacular.

According to most sources, the safest place during a lightning storm is in a non-grounded automobile. Don’t make yourself part of a lightning rod during an electrical storm by standing by a lone tree or on a high point. The use of your telephone during an electrical storm could be your last conversation, depending on the circumstances of a lightning strike. The same is true when connecting to the Internet during a violent lightning storm or thunderstorm.

Standing near or in a swimming pool is asking to meet your maker. Boating on a lake during an electrical storm is certainly risky behavior. This kind of activity could certainly reduce your chance of living to old age. Common sense needs to prevail during severe thunder and lightning storms.

Most Arizona monsoon storms are associated with two other dangerous conditions. They are flash floods and dust storms. A thunderstorm can dump three to ten inches of rain over a small area in an hour and create a massive flash flood. A flash flood near Payson, Arizona in the 1970’s claimed the lives of twenty-two campers along Christopher Creek. Many years ago I witnessed a four-foot wall of water roaring down Queen Creek claiming trucks, horse trailers and horses. This flash flood resulted from a thunderstorm in the mountains no one saw coming.

Huge dust clouds are often associated with Monsoons storms in the desert. Local weather reporters often refer to our dust storms as Haboobs.  Actually, Egyptian dust storms that blow in from the deserts of North Africa are known as Haboobs.

Dust storms are extremely dangerous to vehicular traffic along our state’s highways. Extreme caution should be taken when dust storms are encountered. It is recommended that motorist pull as far off the highway as possible and turn off your lights. While waiting a dust storm to blow over don’t rest your foot on the brake pedal. Your taillights or brake lights might attract drivers in the storm who might think they are following you.

If you’ve ever witnessed a violent electrical storm over Superstition Mountain it is not difficult to see why the early Native Americans held this mountain in such awe. We can partially explain the phenomena today with modern science, but the early Native Americans could only look to their religious shaman for an explanation. It certainly was their “Thunder God” with all it fury.

We, as late arrivals, should also respect the awesome power of these primitive peoples’ “Thunder God.” 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Thank You, Mr. Basha

June 16, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I first met Eddie Basha in Chandler, Arizona, when my father and I shopped at his father’s grocery store. This was sometime in the late 1940s.

I shouldn’t say I actually met him, but I talked with him briefly exiting the store. He was younger than I and he was busy at the time.

The next time I had any involvement with Mr. Basha was at his corporate offices on Ocotillo Road in Chandler in 1971. I was then scoutmaster for Troop 559 in Mesa. We were planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. I asked Eddie for some help with groceries for the boys. He generously complied with enough groceries to feed seventeen hungry boys, ranging in ages between 13 and 17, for two weeks. Again, in June of 1972, I ask him for help with food supplies for the same troop when they planned their Grand Canyon “Rim to Rim” hike. Mr. Basha was there again to assist me in this important endeavor. Seventeen young men earned their Grand Canyon Council Rim to Rim patch. This was certainly an accomplishment for these young men that they would never forget and an experience that would live with them for the rest of their lives. 

It was August of 1973 when I began teaching at Apache Junction Jr. High School. Early in 1974 we formed the Apache Junction Jr. High School Hiking Club. The hiking club spent many weekends hiking the trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Early in May of 1974 the hiking club planned a trip to the Colorado Rockies. Again, I called on Eddie Basha for assistance. He provided groceries for 24 young boys and girls for a two week expedition to the Colorado Rockies.

We spent most of our time hiking in the San Juan Mountains and visiting historical locations in southwestern Colorado. I required each of my students to keep a journal of their experiences. To this day I have heard from students who still have those journals and talk about that trip.  It was a fantastic experience for my students and we had Eddie Basha to thank for it.

The next time I asked for help from Mr. Basha I invited him to be our guest speaker at the Apache Junction Unified School District’s Community School “Thank You Banquet” in 1984. At the time he was a member of the Arizona State Board of Education. He graciously accepted the invitation and made a fine presentation to about five hundred citizens of our school district. He talked about what a fine resource our young people were and they were our responsibility to educate. We, as citizens of this school district, held their future in our hands.

Mr. Basha loved to impersonate people. He would call me and disguise his voice and say I am so and so. Once he had me hooked on his impersonation of some important person, he would then laugh and say “Hello brother, how are you doing?”

One time he called me and said he was the Governor’s assistant and that I was needed for a meeting at the Governor’s Office. I immediately laughed this one off, however in the next breath he said we were meeting with the Governor on the 15th of the month and he wasn’t joking. We indeed met with Governor Rose Mofford.

Another time I told Eddie about an old friend of ours named Billy Martin Jr. I told him we should all get together and get him nominated and inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Eddie said we would have to form a committee and meet once a month until the job was done. He said he was far too busy to chair such a committee so he assigned me the task. He said he would get a couple of friends and I could get a couple of friends. Eddie asked Norman Saba, Bill Workman and Sonny Felix. I ask Marvin Smith and Billy Early. We had our committee and we worked for three years to get Billy Martin Jr. inducted in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in March of 1990. Movie star great Sam Elliot introduced Billy Martin Jr. the night of his award in Oklahoma City.

Over the years I called on Eddie Basha many other times. One of the most traumatic times was when my nephew, Benjamin Farr, age 16, was at the University of Arizona Medical Center awaiting a heart transplant. This was in the fall of 1991. His mother told me her son’s dream was to meet Phoenix Suns basketball star Cedric Cerbolles. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew how much Ben loved the Phoenix Suns basketball team. I called Eddie Basha and ask him if he could help me with such a request. He and his office took on this enormous and challenging task. Eddie contacted the Phoenix Suns owner and presented the problem to him. It wasn’t long before Eddie’s secretary called me and said I needed to have somebody at the Tucson International Airport to pick up Cedric and drive him to the University of Arizona Medical Center. I called on an old friend and principal of mine, Dr. Phillip Corkill, who was the Assistant Superintendent of Flowing Wells School District in Tucson at the time. He assured me he would meet Basha’s airplane and take Cedric to see Benjamin. Cedric gave Ben a Suns basketball and autographed it. Sadly Ben died three days after Cedric’s visit still waiting for a heart. Eddie’s office staff mourned the news of Ben Farr’s death when he didn’t get his heart in time.  Phil Corkill told me this was one of the most gratifying experiences of his life to see a brave young man receive his dream. Since then, Eddie Basha has always been a special part of our family and our prayers.

Eddie Basha was always there for me and my various requests over the years. Shortly after my grand daughter died in 1997 he called me late one evening to express his sincere sympathy. Something I never expected, but I wasn’t shocked either. His words are still a comfort to my wife and me.

Eddie Basha is more then just a corporate grocery store owner. He is a true humanitarian who cared about people.  His work and donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital speak highly of his character and his dedication to helping children. His stores often hire special handicapped young people giving them an opportunity to succeed. He has been a very generous person over the years when it involves assisting children in need.

You might ask me what Eddie Basha has to do with the Superstition Mountains. Surprisingly, he was very knowledgeable about the area. He just happened to be a friend of the Martins who have worked cattle in the Superstition Mountain for three generations. Eddie even knew some of the characters that prospected the Superstition Wilderness Area and heard their stories. He helped my Apache Junction High School Hiking Club on many occasions; therefore I feel he truly was a citizen of our community. I am not sure I am quoting Mr. Basha exactly, but he said something like this once, “Children are this nation’s greatest resource and we must take the responsibility to educate and care for them as citizens.” I am extremely proud to call him my friend.

 Eddie Basha Jr. was born on August 24, 1937 and passed away on March 26, 2013. Basha’s philosophy included many quotes. “Leadership is an opportunity to serve; not an invitation of self-importance”,  “Art is the signature of civilization”, “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character,” “We make a living by what we get; a life by what we give”, and “Act justly, love mercifully and walk humbly with God.” Yes, those foregoing words define the man Eddie Basha was.

Eddie’s memorial service at Grady Gammage Auditorium was a celebration of his life. The United States Marine Corps Color Guard paraded the colors. Not many people were aware that he served his country as a U.S. Marine.

Eddie Basha, Jr. 1937 — 2013.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Surviving the Sonoran Summer

June 9, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Summer is here and the temperatures are climbing. A review of some summer survival techniques is most appropriate. Each summer we read or hear about a tragic death resulting from dehydration, exhaustion or sunstroke occurring during the hot summer months in the Sonoran Desert. These summer deaths could be easily prevented with the proper preparation and training.

Living in the Sonoran Desert for more than sixty years doesn’t make me an expert on the topic of desert survival. However, I would like to pass on a few things I have learned. Veterans of many summer sojourns have died tragically because they took the desert for granted. The older we get, sometimes the more careless we become. The most basic rule of desert survival is to tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to return. This simple rule can save your life. 

 Now, if you insist on going into the desert during the summer months when temperatures exceed 120°F on the ground, you need to consider some other basic rules for survival. For each adult in your group you will need a minimum of one gallon of water per day to prevent dehydration. Yes, you can survive on a quart of water per day under ideal conditions. This means you are in the shade, off of the hot ground and not exerting yourself. Even under these ideal conditions a quart of water per twenty-four hour period will not prevent the onset of dehydration. A rule of thumb is always one gallon of water per day per person on any desert outing in the summertime.

When a family or group go trekking into the desert with their four-wheeler, sand buggy, ATV’s or family car they need to carry sufficient water for any emergency. Remember, if you are planning a three day trip into the desert and there are three adults in the group you need a minimum of nine gallons of drinking water. If you have a sufficient quantity of water your survival has been increased three-fold. Large quantities of water can be carried in a vehicle, but what about horsemen and hikers?

A hiker or horseman must know the sources of permanent water along the route chosen. I would like to believe a reasonable hiker or horsemen wouldn’t find themselves in a remote desert setting during the summer months, however, that is not the case. Each summer Search and Rescue pulls dehydrated hikers out of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some succumb to the elements of the summer heat.

The next thing one should consider is the method of travel under extreme desert conditions, whether it be by vehicle, horse back or foot. Surface temperatures can reach 180°F on a hot summer day. Temperatures three or four foot above the ground may be only 110°F depending on the color and texture of the surface.  Dark colored material will increase your body temperature by thirty to forty per cent on a hot day. White material makes the best clothing because it reflects the sun's rays and heat.

If you are hiking you also must protect your feet from extreme temperatures. Few people will attempt hiking in the desert during the heat of the day (1 p.m. until 4 p.m.). If one must hike in the desert during the summer months it is best to hike in the early morning, late evening or at night. Hiking or walking at night does have its disadvantages. The desert is a host to a variety of poisonous reptiles and insects.

Vehicle operators often go into the desert during the hot summer months not giving a second thought to the operating conditions for their vehicles. Something as simple as a flat tire, broken fuel line, dead battery,  or a punctured oil pan could lead to tragedy. A simple flat board might serve as a platform to jack up a stuck vehicle in the sand or to change a flat. Brush placed under a wheel to gain traction when stuck can save your life. A vehicle will do better in sand if you lower the air pressure in the tires.

Before the many deaths of illegal immigrants trying to cross the border between the United States and Mexico, more than 60% of the desert deaths resulted from vehicle becoming stuck in the sand or high centered on a rock. The remaining 40% of victims perished from the over extension of their physical capabilities.

Remember, survival begins immediately, not ten hours after you have become stranded and realize the consequences of your decisions. People have worked all day in the hot sun trying to free their vehicles then suddenly realize they are in a hopeless situation. Once panic controls a person’s actions, survival is dramatically reduced.

No situation is hopeless if proper preplanning has been undertaken. As soon as you know that you are in a dangerous situation there are three basic rules for survival. One, don’t let yourself panic, Two, stay where you are, and Three, try to signal for help. 

You can build a signal fire from desert brush for immediate signaling with smoke. Automotive tires make the best smoke signal. The tires will give off a dense black cloud of smoke that can be seen for miles. You can use your car mirrors to signal aircraft. One important rule is always keep a signal fire ready to ignite if you see an aircraft in your vicinity. The international signal for distress is three shots, three fires, or three of anything that can be recognized as distress signals.

Many times an individual will not panic until the second or third day. The only control for panic is self-confidence in the fact that you know how to survive this situation. Staying with your vehicle is very important. From the air, it is much easier to spot a car in the desert then a human being, and most searches are conducted from the air.

If you decide to leave your vehicle it is important that you leave some kind of signal letting rescuers know which direction you are traveling away from your vehicle. Sticks and rocks can serve as excellent markers if properly arranged to indicate direction.

The above suggestions are not guaranteed to save your life, but they will increase your chances of survival. If you choose to walk out, try to walk during the cooler hours of the morning or late evening. Walking after dark would be the best, but there are many hazards on the desert if you don’t have proper lighting. Cactus spines, venomous animals, mine shafts, and pits are just a few of the hazards you could come in contact with in the dark.

The Superstition Wilderness Area, and other desert regions of Arizona, have claimed hundreds of lives over the decades from dehydration, exhaustion, and sunstroke. Many illegal aliens die each summer trying to cross the border between the United States and Mexico. Often summer deaths on the desert exceed one hundred human beings. Yes, the desert can be extremely dangerous in the summer months. Please use care and preplanning before going off into the desert for a summer adventure.

Finally, I would like to leave you with a comment about leaving children or pets in a car in the summer. If the windows are rolled up they will suffer from heat stroke or die. Most people will break out your window to rescue a child or pet left in a hot car. Think about that when you are shopping in the summer, even in late evening. Don’t leave children or pets in a car.

Also don’t walk your pets across a hot parking lot. The temperature of asphalt in the summer can fry an egg— what do you suppose it will do to your pet?

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Bark Notes

June 2, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Old newspaper photo of James E. Bark
taken in Phoenix, c. 1900.
James E. Bark was born in New York in 1860 and became a prominent rancher and businessmen in Arizona Territory between 1890-1930. He first learned the printing business before he got involved in the cattle business. He arrived in Arizona around 1879 and soon became partners with Frank Criswell. He became the president of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association. Bark also was on the ballot for Sheriff of Maricopa County.

Jim Bark, as he was best known, was a man interested in lost gold mines and stories about them. He had gold mining claims up the Salt River near Box Canyon. This area was known as the Volcanic Mining District, and Bark and his partner found a little placer gold in the area, but nothing that proved significant. He also made a trip to Nome, Alaska searching for gold and ended up selling cattle to the Alaskans. Probably Bark’s greatest legacy were the “Bark Notes.”

Bark and Criswell acquired the old Marlar Ranch in Pinal County in the 1890s. He became friends with a man named Sims Ely shortly after, and Ely knew a lot of important people in those days and he introduced Jim Bark around. Ely actually thought a lot of Jim Bark and they became close friends. Both men prospected the Superstition Mountain together from his ranch in Pinal County just off the southeast end of Superstition Mountain near Willow Canyon. Today his old ranch is known as the Quarter Circle U Ranch and is owned and operated by Charles and Judy Backus.

When Jim Bark choose to talk about the Lost Dutchman gold mine people would listen. Bark was never convinced Jacob Waltz had a mine in the Superstition Mountains. He believed Waltz might have found a rich cache. Bark was a terrific storyteller. As late as 1936 he was still giving talks about the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. He gave his last public talk about the Lost Dutchman mine on December 9, 1936, for the Arizona Historical Society at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He was seventy-seven years old.

Bark moved to Pasadena, California in 1928, claiming his wife couldn’t take the heat in the valley. However, Jim Bark continued to return to Arizona to search for the elusive Lost Dutchman mine. His nephew, John Spangler, often accompanied him on these Arizona expeditions. Bark always had a story to tell those who were willing to listen.

Bark’s best-known story was the one about Jacob Waltz going into the Superstition Mountains and finding a cache of rich gold ore. Bark never believed Waltz had a gold mine. Bark was a contemporary of Jacob Waltz and many people have said he knew Jacob Waltz quite well. He always believed Waltz had found a rich Mexican cache hidden before 1847.

Bark was convinced the Mexicans had worked a rich gold deposit in the Goldfield area. When the Apaches struck and killed most of the mining party they packed up their high-grade ore and took it back into the mountains and hid it in a cave on the side of a cliff where the cache would be safe from detection. Bark searched a lot in Needle Canyon because he believed the cave was located on the west face of Bluff Springs Mountain. As a matter of fact, Bark was given credit for naming Bluff Spring Mountain. There has always been a discussion as to whether or not the mountain is named because of its bluffs or because of the buff color. Bark always said it should have been known as Buff Springs Mountain.

Bark spent several weeks of the later years of life with his nephew John Spangler searching for the cache. After Jim Bark’s death on November 8, 1938, Spangler returned to the Superstition Mountains many times to continue the search. It was at Charlebois Spring that Chuck Aylor allegedly copied the “Bark Notes” in secret from John Spangler after Bark’s death.

Spangler did not know Aylor copied the notes. Bark kept notes on all his exploration trips and always stated what he believed to be true and supporting information. Whether you agreed with Bark or not, his notes are one of the best examples of pioneer notes on the Lost Dutchman mine. Today these notes have been interpreted and re-written by different people for various reasons. Many of these pseudo-notes look nothing like the original “Bark Notes.”

Today it is difficult or maybe impossible to find an original set of the “Bark Notes”. I have in my collection four different versions of the Bark Notes, and I know where there are other versions. I am not convinced I have an original set of the “Bark Notes.”

Again, like many things associated with the Lost Dutchman mine, the “Bark Notes” are an enigma to many who have examined them.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Lost Dutchman Gold Route

May 26, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

This plaque was installed at the Lost Dutchman Monument on Sunday, October 22, 1961, by the Don’s Club of Arizona.
Not many people remember the dedication ceremony of the “Lost Dutchman Gold Route,” stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans passing through Apache Junction on Main Street.

Bill Creighton served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event. The media reported U.S. Highway 70 would be renamed “The Lost Dutchman Gold Route” running from Moorehead City, North Carolina to Los Angeles, California.

This all came about starting around 1955 when the “great flood” hit Apache Junction. Water flowed across U.S. Highway 60-70 about eighteen inches deep and much of Apache Junction was damaged by floodwaters.

After this flood, control dikes were built north of Apache Junction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, protecting Apache Junction from future flooding. Our streets still flood during downpours of rain, but not like prior to 1955 when water would run across U.S. Highway 60-70. This was long before the freeway south of Apache Junction opened in 1991.

After the “Great Apache Junction Flood,” serious development was proposed for the Apache Junction area. First, there was the development on the north side of the road that replaced the old Apache Junction Inn. A Texaco service station went up, then there was the Jones Steakhouse and Bar that became the Lucky Nugget (burned down about 1984).

Bayless put in a large grocery store and parking lot. Then in 1959 construction began on the Superstition Ho Hotel (later the Grand Hotel). Also work began on the Apacheland Movie Set by Superstition Mountain Enterprises. All of this was followed by other development along the Apache Trail or Main Street.

This all became reality through the effort of William “Bill” Creighton. He continued to promote projects such as Geronimo Field for major league baseball. For two years (1961-1962) the Houston Colt 45’s held their spring practice in Apache Junction as the community played host to some famous baseball players including Willie Mays and others.

Bill Creighton was convinced Apache Junction needed something to get it national and international recognition. He started promoting the idea of Highway 70 being named nationally the “Lost Dutchman Gold Route.” He encouraged governors along Highway 70 in various states to rename the route. He claimed the route was the trail of 49er gold miners going to California in search of gold.

Creighton’s campaign to change the name of Highway 70 was nationally successful and the task was finally accomplished in the summer of 1961. Creighton and his committee then began the task of organizing and transporting dignitaries from Europe and the United States to Apache Junction for a ceremony dedicating Highway 70 on Sunday, October 22, 1961.

When the highway was dedicated, Apache Junction had grown and changed considerably. It was no longer a sleepy desert hamlet, but had become a more vibrant community. The Apacheland Movie Studio was up and running, Superstition Ho Hotel was open, and the Bayless store was open for business. There where other businesses active in the area including the Yucca Café, Cobbs, Ribeye, Hacienda, Apache Junction Greyhound Park, Herb Jordan’s Chevron, and many more.

There were three large cast bronze plaques designating the Lost Dutchman Gold Route. One would be placed in Moorehead City, North Carolina, one in Los Angeles, California and one in Apache Junction. The plaques were put in place according to stories.

The one placed in Apache Junction was soon stolen. Ron Feldman and Tom Kollenborn recovered the plaque many years later.  Today this plaque can be found just north of the Dutchman’s Monument at the Focal Point Center in Apache Junction.

Believe it or not, there are individuals who still refer to Highway 70 as the “Lost Dutchman Gold Route.”

These characters have to be in their seventies because the dedication was fifty-three years ago.