Monday, August 18, 2014

A Crowded Wilderness

August 11, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Looking down on Apache Junction from high in the Superstition Wilderness Area.
Since the creation of the Superstition Wilderness Area in 1939, Americans have enjoyed the beauty and solitude of this special portion of the Sonoran Desert. This wilderness is a land of great diversity in both fauna and flora. The animals range from the delicate hummingbird to the large black bear. The flora exhibits a wide range of species from the giant saguaro cactus to the stately ponderosa pine.

This wilderness was created to preserve a portion of the Sonoran Desert, in its natural state, for future generations of Americans to enjoy.  Those who conceived the idea of this wilderness wanted to preserve the region because they visualized the future growth of the Salt River Valley. This growth has had a dynamic impact on the Superstition Wilderness Area over the past four decades. Forest Service Managers have not been able to solve all problems associated with uncontrolled urban sprawl. 

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture set aside 124,120 acres as a wilderness area in 1939 there was quite an outcry. The area was first reclassified as primitive area permitting cattle raising, recreation and mining. This classification became the backbone of the multi-use or purpose concept. The cattle industry had the loudest voice because the mining interests realized there was little potential within the boundaries of the wilderness except for prospectors and treasure hunters with a lot of dreams. The region was eventually closed to mineral entry on December 31, 1983. The wilderness was increased in 1984 by approximately 35,640 acres preserving the region around Haunted Canyon. 

The original designation of the area as “road-less” had little impact on people because driving in such an area was very limited anyway. The managers of the wilderness allowed access corridors within the wilderness. One was the nine- mile Reavis Ranch Corridor and the other was the three and a half-mile Tortilla Ranch Corridor.

From 1939 through 1962, there was little opposition or concern by the public of the Superstition Primitive Area. Between 1960-1965 there was considerable growth in the use of off-road vehicles and outdoor recreation. This public interest in the outdoors and the increased population in the valley created management problems for those who managed public lands.

Outdoor recreation groups organized and began to provide input as to what public lands should be used for. This resulted in a better-defined multi-purpose plan for public lands, however it did not address primitive public lands such as the Superstition Primitive Area.

The United States Congress passed the National Wilderness Act in 1964. The purpose of the bill was to set aside and protect certain scenic and unique areas in the United States for future generations.  Since the passage of this act, the demand on the Superstition Wilderness Area by hikers, backpackers, outfitters, and horsemen for economic and recreational purposes has far exceeded any original planning.  The problems of overuse became immediately apparent. Trail erosion, fire rings, pollution, decrease in wildlife, plant damage and mining all had an impact on future plans. The original management plan was soon obsolete. The impact of people on the wilderness has been reduced by a constant revision of plans and regulations.  The Superstition Wilderness Area, because of its close proximity to a rapidly expanding metropolitan area, has in reality become an urban wilderness for weekenders. During the week this region is quiet and peaceful, but look out on the weekends.   

Contrary to the philosophy of some, the wilderness has become an outdoor museum to history and legend, as well as a scenic wonderland of gigantic cliffs, towering spires, and deep canyons.  To preserve this unique character and solitude some very tough decisions will have to be made in the near future to control access. 

The Department of Agriculture has implemented a parking fee system at both First Water and Peralta Trailheads. The fee of four dollars a day is one way of controlling or reducing use. For this fee structure to succeed, limited parking will have to be enforced which will eventually lead to reservations similar to the Grand Canyon’s restrictions. We all know too many people loving a place to death, eventually leads to the strictest of regulations and control. Eventually the trailhead parking fees were lifted by the Department of Agriculture.

As a young man working on the Quarter Circle U Ranch just a little southeast of the Peralta Trailhead I recall a true and desolate desert frontier.  Huge herds of Javelina roamed the desert. I saw herds that numbered between thirty and forty.  Mule deer were so numerous they visited our windmill site daily.  There were even a few prospectors living in the hills. Hikers were virtually unknown in the 1950s. There were a few horses and riders, but they were few and far between. It was a different time, cattle roamed the range and we just about had the place to ourselves. 

Future planners must recognize the desperate need there is for open space, parks and green belts as they continue to cover the desert with houses.  The City of Apache Junction and Pinal County supervisors have an obligation to their citizens to preserve some of this desert for future generations. If the building of communities continue in this desert at a fast pace we will soon run out of water and probably decent infrastructure for the citizens of this county. The future of such places as the Superstition Wilderness Area lies in our hands.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Cowboy

August 4, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Billy Harding Martin Jr. has been a cowboy all
his life. He was inducted into the National Cowboy
Hall in Oklahoma City in 1990. When ask by Sam
Elliot, actor and cowboy star, to say a few words. Martin
just said, “I have been a cowboy all my life and it is the
only thing I know.” I believe his acceptance speech
didn’t last thirty seconds.
A national holiday that recollects the “Day of the Cowboy” is somewhat interesting and unique. The cattle industry was a wild and rough business to be involved with in the early days of 1850 through 1930. These eighty years of cattle ranching, roundups, trail drives, rodeos and even motion pictures played a role in shaping our image of the American cowboy.  All these roles helped formed that cowboy image so personified by many of us. When we think of cowboys we think of cattle, horses, the open range, a ranch house, corrals, windmills, Stetson hats, bandannas, chaps, spurs, boots, lariats, saddles and the like. Today we mill around within an imaginary image of the “Old West” many us believe still exist to some degree.

I can only speak from my experiences as to what cowboys are really like.

When I was a young man I dreamed of being a cowboy based on the images portrayed on the silver screen at the old Rex Theater in Hayden, Arizona. I knew cowboys were good, honest and respectable men. They always defeated the bad guy and won the heart of the ladies. Hollywood had created the perfect image of the American Cowboy in my mind. This cowboy persona accompanied me throughout my life.

My image of the American cowboy was shattered when I accepted a job on the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the mid 1950s. I expected the cowboys to be a hero in all aspects, however I soon found out this was not case. Real cowboys were only human—they were not the demigods I thought they were. The real cowboys I met around Globe, San Carlos, Tonto Basin and Apache Junction were of a different breed. Most of them were rowdy, wild and often careless. They drank far too much alcohol, cussed too much and were often not too dependable. Some of the best cowboys I ever saw were Apaches on the San Carlos Reservation east of Globe. Floyd Stone, owner and operator of the Tortilla Allotment, hired Apache cowboys to work his ranch. Most were really good cowboys and knew how to work wild cattle. Elmer Pope, an Apache cowboy could rope a wild cow on the run in the roughest country east of Superstition Mountain. Stone always had a problem keeping his San Carlos cowboys sober.

Cowboys such as John A. Bacon, Bernard Hughes, Charlie Weeks, George Cline, Billy Garlinghouse, Slim Ellison, William A. Barkley, Billy Martin Sr., Billy Martin Jr., Jimmy Heron, Frank Herron, Duane Reese, Wheeler Reece, Bill Bohme, Royce Johnson, Jack Reeder and many more were real cowboys in our area that have left the legacy of the cowboy and cattle ranching in central Arizona.  They were all good men.

First and most important, a good cowboy has to be honest and dependable. These are the star attributes of a cowboy’s character because they were often left in charge of corralled animals that needed to be fed and watered daily. By all means not all cowboys are good cowboys. Any rancher can testify to that statement. Most cowboys are hard workers and they also play hard. Most of them love cowboy or country music. They would rather talk about cattle, horses, saddles, horse trailers or pickup trucks. Now your old time cowboys wouldn’t be caught dead listening to some music we call Country-Western today.   As a young man I dreamed of someday owning my own cattle spread. Of course it was nothing but a dream. However, I did work on one of the true legendary cattle outfits. The old Quarter Circle U Ranch belonged to William A. Barkley and William Thomas Barkley. I worked for the Barkleys in the twilight years of this legendary Arizona cattle ranch. This was during the late 1950s. To this day, I cherish those couple of years I spent becoming what I am today. Life on that ranch certainly shaped my character, but also strengthened the values I had learned from my mother and father. More than fifty years ago I sit astride a wild ranch pony and chased wild cattle across the mountains and desert east of Apache Junction. In those early days there was not much in Apache Junction but a filling station, and some permanent residents and a few desert dwellers that lived in mobile homes. To find the old Quarter Circle U Ranch you had to drive out Highway 60 some nine miles and turn east toward Don’s Camp. After driving another eight miles you arrived at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. This ranch was really isolated and had no communications with the outside world.  The old ranch had no electricity and little running water.  Conditions were very primitive, but I learned to cope with my new environment. My parents thought I was insane working in such an isolated place making little or no money. I could never convince them I had found my calling. I wanted nothing more than be a cowboy. My dad had wanted me to go to college and make a career for myself. I suppose I was a disappointment when all I could talk about was the Quarter Circle U Ranch and the cattle I cared for.

Like all good things my cowboy career ended one day when I was severely injured by a large Brahma-mixed bull.  I lay in a hospital bed for several weeks. I found a new direction in life. I realized my father and mother were correct and I eventually returned to college and embarked upon a new career with the life of a cowboy always in the back of my mind.

Now friends, that is why I continue to this day wearing my cowboy hat, western shirts and jeans. Deep down in my soul I am still that young cowboy that worked on the Quarter U Ranch so many decades ago. The “Day of the Cowboy” honors this magnificent persona of the American West.

Those of you that would really like to read about a real cowboy I recommend the following book titled Cowboy Sign by Duane Reece. Duane has cowboyed all his life and also spent twenty years as a rodeo hand. His book should be on every cowboy and cowgirl’s shelf or in his or her saddlebags. You can find out information about Duane’s book by calling 928-812-0300 or dropping a card to

Kaycee Reece-Stratton
4840 Longhorn Lane
Winkelman, AZ 85192

Monday, August 4, 2014

Trip to Twin Buttes

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

The Coke Ovens (above) with the North Butte on the north side of the Gila River in the background. It was the South Butte that allegedly had the Spanish markings on it.
 The search for lost gold and treasure in the Superstition Mountains has guided many treasure hunters down to an area along the Gila River near the Twin Buttes, appropriately named North Butte and South Butte. The Gila River flows between the two buttes. The Southern Pacific Railroad also has a line that runs along the course of the Gila River in this area. Many treasure hunters believe the Twin Butte area is the starting point for the Peralta Stone Maps. Of course, others totally disagree. Another interesting historical site is located east of the buttes—the Coke Ovens. They are located across the river one and a quarter miles west of the old Cochran town site along the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Coke Ovens were constructed sometime during the 1870’s to fire mesquite and make coke out of it for smelting ore. However, the ovens were never used for this purpose.

Cochran was a small mining camp located fifteen miles east of Florence, Arizona along the Gila River. The town was established in 1905. John S. Cochran was appointed postmaster on January 3, 1905. The post office was discontinued on January 15, 1915. The town at its peak had an approximate population of one hundred residents. The town included a general store and boarding house.

Treasure hunters and authors have written books about the possibilities of the area connecting with the Peralta Stone Maps and lost gold in the Superstition Mountains. These individuals are convinced there are Spanish markings on or near Twin Buttes that prove that this is the beginning area of the Peralta Stone Map Trail. The intriguing marker is the “heart” on South Butte. This marker has been known for many years and has been considered a fake by most historians. Probably more gold was mined along the Gila River than from the Superstition Mountains.

Over the years I have made many trips down to the Coke Ovens and the surrounding area along the Gila River. This past weekend end we departed from Price Road and Highway 79 about 8 a.m. for a trip to the Coke Ovens. We had three jeeps and two ATVs. Roger Barrientos, SSAR, led this trip. Driving through Box Canyon was a delightful experience of beauty and four wheeling. We soon arrived at the intersection of the Cottonwood Canyon Road and the Martinez Canyon Road. At this point you turn right. Suddenly the quality of the road deteriorates considerably. Just beyond the Martinez Canyon Trail turnoff we passed a stock tank and climbed over a very rough section of rock. This rock step was probably a three or four foot climb of 45 degrees or more. This particular portion of the road required some skill and caution. Around the bend and through a saddle we came across a 2000 White Jeep Wrangler that had rolled down the mountainside. Whoever lost this vehicle had tried to retrieve it. Four or five Saguaro cactus were knocked down trying to get the Jeep up a steep slope or were lost when the jeep rolled down into the canyon. It is going to be a major retrieval problem before that Jeep Wrangler is removed from this site. We continued our trip one rock ledge after another until, some three hours later, we arrived at the Coke Ovens. I believe we covered twelve miles in those three hours.

We enjoyed looking at the Coke Ovens and then planned our return trip to Highway 79 and Price Road. The Coke Ovens are a very interesting place to visit, but I must advise you the road is in extremely bad condition. However, for the experienced four-wheeler with lockers and a lift kit it is just a fun trip. Experienced four-wheelers will take recovery equipment in case they become high centered or stuck. Personally I don’t recommend this trip for the novice or inexperienced. Secondly, I wouldn’t make this trip without the company of other vehicles. Finally, I would plan carefully on taking the necessary supplies if you are caught out over night.

For more information on the Coke Oven trip check Google on the Internet. Type in Cochran, Pinal Co., Arizona and you should get additional information about the trip to the Coke Ovens. The Coke Ovens are privately owned. James Copeman of Apache Junction purchased the Coke Ovens many years ago and planned to make a destination resort out of the site. Access to the area denied him the opportunity to succeed at the project he had planned. I am not sure who owns the Coke Ovens presently.

The road to the Coke Ovens on the Gila River is never maintained, and each year the road becomes more inaccessible. The trip the Coke Ovens is a unique Arizona backcountry experience that requires some planning. I would recommend making this trip with somebody that knows the route and conditions.

The search for the Dutchman’s gold has taken prospectors and treasure hunters to many other parts of the state. Clues continue to be found and another “wild goose” chase begins.