Monday, February 16, 2015

The Falls Along Fish Creek

February 9, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I would guess the water was falling between 700-900 feet.
The highest fall was absolutely spectacular.
When there is rain in our area the desert changes dramatically, and this week’s column is about some spectacular scenery along the old Apache Trail during the recent rains.

Some residents claim they had 3/4 – 1.5 inches of precipitation between the night of Thursday, January 29, and Saturday morning, January 31, 2015. It rained steady all day Friday and into the night. It was this steady rainfall that convinced us to drive up to Fish Canyon and check out the waterfalls.

We were also aware of a couple of things that might happen with this much moisture. One thing was loose rocks tumbling down on the roadway making it somewhat hazardous for driving. Secondly, I was concerned about Tortilla Creek near Tortilla Flat. Last year Tortilla Creek ran bank to bank and you couldn’t cross it for a couple of days.

When Sharon, my wife, said, “Lets go see the falls along Fish Creek Hill,” I thought she was joking. I thought about it and said the potential for problems was very real on such an adventure. She reminded me, “We would have never done anything if that were the case.”

I prepared our truck for a trip up the Apache Trail. We departed Apache Junction at 3:30 p.m. The rain never ceased during our four- hour trip to Fish Creek. This turned out to be quite an adventure for a seventy-six year-old couple.

My only real concern was Tortilla Creek. If the creek flooded we would be stuck on the other side. If this happened there were a couple alternatives. First, we could drive through to SR 188 and on to Globe if Three Mile Canyon was not flooding. We also could rent a room at Apache Lake if they had any available. We were also prepared to camp. We had plenty of bedding, a gas stove, a light, and food. We have never left home without being prepared for any emergency.

As we crossed Tortilla Creek, some seventeen miles from Apache Junction, I suggested we turn around and go back. It had rained constantly on us since we left the house. Sharon insisted we go on to Fish Creek. I warned her that Tortilla Creek could easily run bank to bank and nobody would be able to cross it. Sharon insisted she wanted to see the falls. 

From Tortilla Creek down to the Fish Creek Bridge was another eight miles or so. My wife has been through a lot in the last four months and I wasn’t going to say no. She said she wanted to see the falls flowing for all the “pink” ribbons out there.

As we started down the grade on SR88 from Inspiration Point some large rocks had fallen down on to the road. I stopped once and removed a very large one that I couldn’t straddle with the truck. As we slowly drove around this sharp bend the falls came into view.

There were three large falls we saw clearly, however there are several smaller ones. I would guess the water was falling between 700-900 feet. The highest fall of the three was absolutely spectacular. At this particular point in time I would compare these falls with some of the high falls in California or Colorado. We have seen these falls flow before but nothing like on Friday evening, January 30, 2015. We have traveled this road for more than fifty years and have never witness such a sight.

We had Fish Creek to ourselves. We saw one vehicle after the end of the pavement some six miles east of Tortilla Flat and that was about 4 p.m.

Sharon was thrilled with the spectacular waterfalls and I was worried about getting back across Tortilla Creek. She wasn’t too anxious to leave such beauty. This spectacular beauty is seldom witnessed in our arid state. I warned Sharon several times we had to return and finally she relented. About 5:15 p.m. we began our return trip back to Apache Junction. After dinner we returned home to view our photos and video.

My advice is don’t do this trip under the conditions we did, but on the other hand almost everything in life comes at a risk. Sharon’s desire to see the falls outweighed my caution and concern for the conditions. We have driven up to Fish Creek many times over the years when it has rained and there were no falls of this magnitude.

We fulfilled an adventure of a lifetime and didn’t have to leave the Apache Trail to do it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

John D. Wilburn: A Legacy

February 2, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

John Wilburn explaining the amalgam retort to a friend at the Bluebird Curio Shop in 2014.
 Many visitors and prospectors found John D. Wilburn to be an authority on gold mining and prospecting in the Goldfield area. The Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar veranda became known far and wide as John D. Wilburn’s home base of operation. Interested parties soon learned Wilburn was usually available ar

 As a young man of eighteen, John left home and joined the Army. He was raised in Kansas, but born in Oklahoma on February 12, 1945. There were several children in the family. John spent three years in the military and most of the time was in Germany.

Germany was cold like Kansas and John did not like it. His plans were simple.  When he was discharged from the Army he planned on going to the Southwest and look for gold. He had no intentions of living where it was cold, especially a place like in Kansas. Wilburn arrived in Apache Junction early in 1967. He loved the mild weather of the winter months, but when summer came, John grew to hate the extreme heat of summer with temperatures sometimes exceeding 112°F. It was then he decided to summer in the cool country where he could search for gold. First it was the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott, then the American River in Northern California near Downyville and finally in Nevada near Carson City and the legendary Comstock Lode.

John became a “snowbird” following mild climate wherever it led him.

Wilburn showed up on the porch of the Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar in 1967. Ray and Lou Alice Ruiz had just purchased the property. Ray and Lou planned on building a business out of this stop along the Apache Trail.

John became a common fixture “so to speak” around the place. He helped to earn his room and board during the winter months doing odd jobs at the Bluebird. Shortly after arriving he met Sharon and Tom Kollenborn who often spent time looking for gold specimens over at the old Black Queen and Mammoth mine sites.

John was curious about the area and asked to be shown were the Kollenborns were finding their little gold specimens.  It wasn’t long before John staked out claims near the old Black Queen and began to promote its supposedly rich nature. Wilburn eventually sold his claims and bought gold with the money and put it in the bank.

It wasn’t long before John was working gold claims in the Bradshaw Mountains. He then turned his attention to Northern California during the summer months. It was in Downyville he made a large gold strike. His discovery was featured in the National Geographic Magazine. Wilburn’s name became a “buzz word” among gold prospectors after his discovery at Downyville along the American River.

Wilburn published his first book on the Lost Dutchman Mine in 1975 titled “The Riddle of the Lost Dutchman Mine.” This book was followed by several other publications on mining and the geology of the Goldfields. 

From 1998-2009 Wilburn migrated north to Reno, Nevada, near the old Comstock Lode area to run a gold panning operation for tourists.

John never married or had a family. He was a loner and bachelor. Prospectors and the curious came from around the country to talk to John about his gold discovery in California that appeared in the National Geographic. Also John made a presentation in my “Prospecting Class” at Central Arizona College and the students loved his presentation.

John was very knowledgeable when it came to Geology. He told me he studied geology in college for a couple of years in Kansas. He understood geology and could explain it quite well. His only problem was trying to make it fit what he believed to be the geological history of a given area. This was the area where he and I would often clash.

John even challenged Dr. Michael Sheridan, a professor of geology at Arizona State University, about the origin of the Superstition Mountains and its basic geology. Sheridan had worked on the geologic history for many years doing mineral surveys in the area. He had carefully studied the geology of the Mammoth Mines and the Superstition eruptive fields through research and land surveys. Dr. Sheridan was an internationally recognized Geologist with impressive credentials.

John Wilburn was basically a self-educated geologist and very knowledgeable about the mining district where Goldfield was located. He had his own opinions about the geological sequences of the Superstition Mountain area and didn’t mind telling you so.

Again, John never talked to people about geology; he talked at them about only his opinion and research. He cared little about their knowledge or opinion. This went on for years and he enjoyed the position he was in. He immensely enjoyed people coming to him to talk about the geology of the area. Over the years he became a somewhat iconic figure at the old Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar.

John began suffering from dementia around 2010 and it become quite severe by 2013. In the end he had a very difficult time with his short-term memory.

He remained at the Bluebird until late December of 2014 when his brothers Dan and Tim Wilburn came to Arizona to take him back to Kansas to be cared for.

John’s legacy will be his knowledge and opinions about the mining district that encompassed the many gold mines in the Goldfield area. He will become legendary in the future because of his knowledge about this historic gold mining district and the several books he wrote.

His pulpit on this Southwestern historical stage was the veranda of the Bluebird Mine, Curio and Snack Shop for more than forty-five years. He was also a guest several times in college classrooms.

John D. Wilburn was a man of his time and fit a very special mold different then most of us. He was somewhat paranoid about somebody taking what was his. However, he was never threatening to anyone in any matter. He just might have marched to a different drummer. 

John’s final days where spent trying to convince his circle of friends that he had invented a special retort for reducing amalgam to mercury and gold.
ound the area throughout the winter months. As soon the weather warmed, John was gone for the mountains. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Passing of a Singing Cowboy

January 26, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Terry Ireland, 1941 - 2014
Terry Ireland riding in the high country north of the Reavis Ranch c. mid-1980’s.
Sometimes I use the term cowboy quite loosely. We all know the definition of a cowboy. He is a man or woman (cowgirl) who tends to the needs of cattle on a range. Actually this is a simple definition. Some cowboys live from paycheck to paycheck and are usually looking for a job. Other cowboys are in such demand they spend their entire life with one brand. Cattlemen who own ranches are also cowboys and care for their stock in the same manner. They all deal with the same problems, such as the elements, care of their cattle and their ranges.

 We also have another couple of categories, such as the singing cowboys and the silver screen cowboys who were legends on the motion picture screen. These men were often the heroes of youngsters living in large metropolitan areas. Often these young people dreamed about being a cowboy in the West someday, working on a real cattle ranch. These silver screen cowboys often guided these individuals westward.

Only a few of them made it to the West to fulfill their dreams. Over the years I have known a few of these individuals and most of them were very talented men or women. This is the story of such an individual.

Terry Ireland was born in Rochester, New York on November 3, 1941. He moved west with his family, his wife, Mary, and daughter, Bridgett, in 1969. Terry first settled his family near Stanfield, Arizona, and almost immediately acquired horses to help fulfill his dream to be a cowboy.

Terry was very talented in many ways. He was a highly experienced tool and die machinist. He found employment at Garrett Manufacturing at the airport in Phoenix. Terry began his horsemanship in the Table Top Mountain country south of Stanfield. Eventually he moved to Apache Junction and settled on the forest boundary with five acres and wide-open spaces to the north. He had found his western dream “the West and the Cowboy.” Terry also had another exceptional talent and that was singing cowboy songs and playing his vintage old Gibson guitar.

I first met Bridget, Terry’s daughter, about 1978. She was attending Apache Junction Junior High School as a student. She was in one of my classes. I had some parents who where trying to find a home for a pet skunk and Bridget fell in love with the skunk named Lupe Du Pew.

The skunk was on loan to me and in the next day or so Bridget brought her parents to school to meet Lupe Du Pew. How could they disappoint their beautiful daughter? They let her have him and his cage. This began my friendship with Terry Ireland.

Terry loved his horses, his dogs, and his family. He was certainly a good provider.  Terry was also community minded and joined the Apache Junction Search and Rescue horse posse in its very early days. He was involved in several searches for missing people over the years. Terry was in the saddle as much as he could be. He had excellent horse property in Apache Junction along the Tonto National Forest fence. He had all of the Goldfield Mountains as his backyard and could ride out his door and ride almost indefinitely before seeing another house. He had found the West he was looking for.

Soon Terry was playing his guitar at our college cookouts at First Water and other places. Sometimes we had thirty-five to forty guests from the college classes. Early in 1978, I started doing multi-media slide shows for my college classes and this eventually led to other shows.

In 1980, we did a “Legends of the Superstitions” at the Superstition Mountain Elementary School for an audience of more than four hundred. Terry Ireland, Jay Mitchell, Rick Nelson and Jim Swanson played in the band. They did a great job and helped draw a large crowd.

Terry Ireland played a lot of music for years with Jay Mitchell, Rick Nelson and Jim Swanson. Terry and Jim Swanson continued playing for years together because both of them loved the guitar and cowboy music so much. Terry was a well-known resident, guitar player, and a veteran of many horseback trips into the Superstition Mountains. I enjoyed a memorable trip with Terry, Mary and Bridget to the old Reavis Ranch in the mid 1980s.

Terry Ireland passed away at the age of 73 on December 23, 2014, in Apache Junction from natural causes. Terry had found the West, the horses and the cowboys he had dreamed about as a youth. He was finally a part of the American West.

We all know Terry is riding his horse in those green pastures above and beyond that “great divide.” The “Master” in the sky has his hand on his lead rope.