Monday, May 30, 2016

Wildlife and Wilderness

May 23, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Prior to the turn of the 20th Century, Bighorn sheep and the Desert antelope could be found in and around the Superstition Mountain region. The Desert Bighorn sheep were recently reintroduced to the wilderness, but the Desert antelope are now extinct. It is not difficult to visualize giant rams bounding up and down the rugged cliff faces of Superstition Mountain and Desert antelope running in the flatlands south and west of the mountain.

The native Bighorn sheep became extinct in the 1930s with the last Bighorns being poached near Apache Springs (Hieroglyphic Springs). The last Desert antelope were reportedly killed in the area around 1903. The old stage coaches running from Goldfield to Florence between 1893-1898 report large herds of antelopes on the desert plains southeast of Superstition Mountain in the early spring of each year.
Desert Bighorn on the northern edge of the Superstition
Wilderness Area c. 2014.
Photo by Tom Kollenborn, © 2014.

These two species were driven from their natural habitat by three major causes. First there was uncontrolled hunting. This was prior to regulations involving wildlife. This led to the decimation of local populations of Bighorn Sheep and Desert Antelope.  The introduction of domesticated animals prior to the turn of the 20th Century destroyed many of the natural ecosystems. Then there was the encroachment of civilization or urbanization. Meat hunters decimated the remaining animal populations with long-range modern firearms and what they didn’t destroy, was futher decimated by overgrazing.

As urbanization marched eastward from Phoenix and urban thrill poachers added to the final kill. The Superstition Wilderness Area was filled with Jackrabbits, Coyotes, Bobcats, Desert Mule deer, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Lions, Black Bear, Red-Tailed Hawks, Harris Hawks and a variety of other animals shortly after the turn of the 20th century.

It was the middle of 1920s when game and range management practices arrived in the desert east of Mesa. The survival of some species appeared to be possible in the early 1930s. The poaching and hunting of wild animals was controlled somewhat during the ‘30s and ‘40s. The impact of game management didn’t really take hold in the region until after World War II. The implementation of game and range management techniques helped to provide sufficient browse for wildlife and domesticated stock.

Controlled hunting of the Desert Mule deer, Whitetail deer and Peccary insured a future for game hunting in the Superstition Wilderness Area and Central Arizona. Conflicts arose between wildlife managers and the grazing of domesticated livestock. Over the following years many of these conflicts were resolved. Without game and range management the future of wildlife in the wilderness was dismal at best.

The Peccary (Javelina) is common to the Sonoran Desert uplands where Prickly Pear cactus can be found in abundance. The Peccary, weighing between 35-45 pounds is one of the most sought after game animals in the region. Each February thousands of hunters take to the field in search of these small elusive animals. The Tortilla Ranch area is an excellent area to spot Peccary.

The remaining large mammals of the Superstition Wilderness are the Black bear and the Mountain lion. The Mountain lion ranges throughout the wilderness, but is primarily found in the eastern half of the region and is rarely seen by humans. The Mountain lion numbers have been reduced considerably during the past three decades. However, during the past decade it appears the Mountain lion is making a comeback in the area. The last Mexican Jaguar (El Tigre) was killed near the Reavis Ranch around 1913. The Black bear creates a considerable amount of controversy when a count is mentioned.  Some claim the Black bear is extinct from the entire Superstition Wilderness region.  However, several sightings have been made as recent as 2008. Keith Ferland, my neighbor, and I spotted a Black bear in the lower pasture of the old Reavis Ranch in October of 2000. Hunters and trackers have reported bear signs and sightings in the Reavis Ranch valley quite often in recent years. The number of hikers and horseman who travel the trails of the Superstition Wilderness certainly impact the population of these two animals. Their numbers appear to have stabilized. Cattlemen have always tried to decimate the lion population because they prey on young cattle and game.

The Coyote was one animal that continued to survive despite the sophisticated efforts by man to eradicate it. The animal has adapted well to its environment whether it’s in the city or the wilderness.  Its numbers continue to increase as man encroaches upon it range.

The Coyote was God’s dog to some Native Americans. The cattlemen consider the Coyote a ruthless killer of young calves and sheep, and to the environmentalist he is salvation from plague-infested rodents which man has never been able to control. So in any event the Coyote has numerous friends and enemies. There are many pros and cons about their future control. The total eradication of Coyotes endanger the human population to some degree.

The Coyotes’ lonely call still rings through the canyons and from the high ridges of the Superstition Mountains on a moonlight night announcing a change on this dynamic planet’s motion. Man’s constant seduction of his natural environment could someday lead to his own demise on this planet.

The future of wildlife hunting and the preservation of the Superstition Wilderness Area may come into conflict. The wilderness may someday become a wildlife preserve. The massive urban growth to the west is a threat to the environment of the wilderness and has created a dramatic impact on the future of the Superstition Wilderness. Planners and managers are trying to address these future problems today.

The Superstition Wilderness with its archaeological treasure trove, trail system, isolation, tranquility and its wildlife lies threatened in the path of this urban onslaught. No other American wilderness area lies in such a position. Thousands of valley residents seeking recreational use of the land will cause severe damage unless we implement education, strict regulations and laws to control the use of the area.  The public land belongs to all of us and no special interest group should control its use. Most developers and a lot of politicians prefer irrigated golf course as open space in Arizona today instead of wilderness.

The wildlife and beauty of this wilderness is extremely important to future of our beautiful state. The preservation of wildlife is also part of this formula as well as the many archeological sites in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Monday, May 23, 2016

No Article This Week

May 16, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There was no Kollenborn's Chronicles article posted this week due to the AJ News Graduation Edition.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The O.K. Corral

September 24, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many of our readers have heard of the O.K. Corral. However, your recollections will probably conjure up memories of Tombstone and the Earps. Well, Apache Junction has its own O.K. Corral. As matter of fact Apache Junction has had an O.K. Corral since 1968.

Ron Feldman traveled west in the mid 1960s to search for gold and lost treasure. During this search he found the old West was still alive. He set out to become a part of this tradition. The establishment of the O.K. Corral in Apache Junction was part of Ron’s dream.

The O.K. Corral’s Ron Feldman leads a group of riders through the desert near the base of the Superstition Mountains.
 The first time I recall Ron Feldman in the Apache Junction area was around 1967-68. Ron was using a burro named “Phoenix” to do his packing while he searched for the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains. Occasionally he would pack a customer into the Superstition Mountains for few dollars to help cover his expenses.

His wife, Jayne, told me how Ron got into the stable business. According to Jayne, Ron was boarding his burro at DeWitt’s Riding Stable in Mesa for twenty-five dollars a month. Ron decided to buy an acre and a quarter of land that had been advertised for twenty-five dollars down and twenty-five dollars month. Ron figured his boarding bill would pay for the land. Sometime later another person offered him some horses he could rent hoping the rentals would pay for the horses feed bill and make him a little money.

Ron was born in Buffalo, New York, on March 27, 1944. He eventually moved to California. While in California he became interested in the Dutchman’s Lost Mine and the Lost Adam’s Diggings. The first chance he got he headed for Arizona to search for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine and the Adam’s Lost Diggings. Both stories had intrigued Ron, and he continues to search for lost mines today.

When he first arrived in Arizona Ron found some work with Robert Simpson Jacobs (Crazy Jake). Ron will tell you those days working with Robert Jacobs educated him about the mountains, its characters and their environment. Ron always considered Jacobs the man with the golden tongue. Jacob could talk just about anyone out of anything. This was Ron’s introduction to treasure hunting in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona and he learned a valuable lesson about salesmanship.

Ron soon realized he needed some type of gainful employment to survive in the Apache Junction area. This is when he decided to start his own pack outfit. Ron started the O.K. Corral in 1968 with a shoestring budget and a dream. He implemented his idea with the burro named Phoenix.

At this time Ron began packing customers into the Superstition Wilderness Area with his burro. Ron struggled for years building his business. While striving to build his business he met a beautiful and charming lady name Jayne. He gave her horseback riding lessons and they soon fell in love and were married on July 4, 1973.

The office for the OK Corral was out of the cab of Ron’s pickup. His truck office was followed by a travel trailer, then finally a small board shack near his corrals. The OK Corral began to grow and Jayne soon was Ron’s business partner, wife and the mother of his two fine sons Jesse and Joshua. Together this family has built a fine business on values of good entrepreneurship, integrity and honesty.

The OK Corral caters primarily to Dutch Hunters and hourly riders. Ron and his two sons continue the search for gold or treasure when time permits. Both Jesse and Josh were part of recent reality show that searched for gold and rubies in the far north of Greenland.

Land became an issue in the late 1970’s and Ron purchased Desert Dolly’s property that was next door to his own. This gave Ron 2.5 acres to expand his business. As the years progressed Ron and Jayne developed their business into a very productive and profitable company. The Feldmans included hayrides, wagon rides, cookouts, Mineral & gift shop, pack trips, trailer park for horse people and lectures about their business.

Ron Feldman has always been a natural born salesman and storyteller. He could easily sell refrigerators to Eskimos.

Ron penned his first book titled Crooked Mountain written in 2000. He wrote his next book, Deep Fault in 2005. His books have experienced very good reception from the reading public. Feldman is the type of man that controls his own destiny. Today Ron enjoys a very successful family business with his wife, Jayne and two sons, Jesse and Joshua.

Ron has lived a life of adventure most of us only dream about. There is always just one more adventure down the trail or over the hill. These adventures are what keep Ron’s heart young and strong. Ron is a very fortunate man to have a wife and two sons that support him one hundred per cent in his quest for that lost gold.

The OK Corral caters primarily to Dutch Hunters and hourly riders. Ron and his two sons continue the search for gold or treasure when time permits. You might say, “Today’s memories are yesterday’s adventures” when talking about Ron Feldman or his two sons.

Today, if you visit the O.K. Corral Pack Outfit and Stables in Apache Junction, you will find it located just off the Apache Trail north of Goldfield Ghost Town. At the O.K. Corral you will probably meet one or both of Ron and Jayne’s tall, handsome wrangler sons, Jesse or Josh. Ron has retired from running the horse business and his son’s Jesse and Josh who now operate the stables. There is also a good chance you will see or talk to Ron or Jayne. Ron now runs his rock shop out of the new business location at the Mammoth Mine. They are both always up front at their business. Ron came to Arizona looking for gold, but found a life that he loved and a wonderful family.

The OK Corral made a big move this past October, 2015. The business is now located on the Apache Trail (State Route 88) just north of the Bluebird Mine. The corral and rock shop are located at the old Mammoth Mine claim and site, truly a historical setting along the Apache Trail. The Mammoth Mine was the biggest gold producer in the region in the 1890’s.

Today, when you ride out of the OK Corral you are riding out of the pages of Arizona Territorial history, The view from the all-new OK Corral is absolute awesome and stunning. Superstition Mountain towers over their new business location just off the Apache Trail.

The Feldmans have done a fantastic job preparing this new site that required almost six months to complete. Stop by the new O.K. Corral and say “Hi” and see a part of Arizona Territorial history that is still alive.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Desert Wildfires

April 25, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The beauty of the Sonoran Desert in the spring of the year is magnificent. But the abundant growth of desert plants creates a great fire danger as they dry out due to the late spring and early summer heat. Longer and hotter days add to this volatile mixture.

As spring turns to summer, the dry tinder increases the fire danger in the Apache Junction area. The amount of precipitation we receive in April will determine the level fire danger for late spring and early summer. A lot of the new growth will begin to dry out because of the lack of precipitation in the spring. A dry desert with lots of tinder can burst into wildfires in the late spring and the early summer months prior to the monsoons.

The wild fire risk increases dramatically as more and more people move in to the arid deserts of the Southwest that are unaccustomed to the explosive nature of wildfires. I have often heard people say, “Well there is nothing here to burn on this desert!”

An Apache Junction firefighter battles a wildfire blaze as it sweeps toward the mountain. AJ News file photo.
 Most wildfires result from either lightning or human carelessness. The numerous lightning-caused wild fires usually do not occur until the summer monsoons in early or mid July, and most fires prior to the monsoons are usually human caused. It is usually a carelessly tossed cigarette or an abandoned campfire that causes these fires. The careless tossing of a burning cigarette from a moving car causes numerous fires in Arizona each years.

As we move into the summer, families are beginning their vacations and outdoor activities. These activities include backyard cookouts, camping, and other outdoor activities. Any of these enjoyable activities can lead to disaster if we are careless with fire.

I have witnessed many major wild fires in our area during the past sixty-five years. The first real wild fire I recall occurred in July of 1949.  This fire raged out of control east of Reavis Ranch for several days before it was brought under control. Another wild fire broke out west of Roosevelt Lake in the Pinyon Mountain area in 1959, and burned several thousand acres of the Tonto National Forest before it was contained. Lightning caused those fires.

A fire broke out south of the Reavis Ranch in 1966, destroying much of the Ponderosa pine in the area. This fire was known as the Iron Mountain burn and was attributed to a campfire. The forest service planted drought-resistant grass in the area to prevent soil erosion in the area. This grass has become the climax vegetation in the area and has become a fire hazard in itself.

A large wildfire raged in Needle Canyon in 1969 destroying several thousand acres of desert landscape. An abandoned campfire was the likely cause of that wild fire. It’s believed by some the fire was caused by an old prospector who lived in Needle Canyon at the time.

I witnessed one of the most dramatic wild fires observed in this area on the slopes of Superstition Mountain in July of 1979. This fire raged across the slopes of Superstition Mountain with a fifty-foot wall of flame engulfing everything in its path. This fire was caused when high winds blew over a charcoal grill in somebody’s yard near the base of the mountain. One careless neighbor endangered hundreds of lives and millions of dollars worth of property as the fire spread over the mountain within an hour.  The smoke was so thick, Superstition Mountain was not visible from State Route 88 (Apache Trail).

If it had not been for the courage of slurry bomber pilots many homes would have been lost on the slope of Superstition Mountain on that day and lives could have hung in the balance. Heroic efforts made by members of the Apache Junction Fire District prevented disaster on the slopes of the mountain that summer. There just wasn’t enough water to fight a fire of this magnitude.

On July 4, 1983, a major fire raged on the eastern side of Superstition Mountain destroying several thousand acres.  This fire eventually burned its self out.

Needle Canyon was struck with another wildfire in March of 1984. This fire burned up the northeastern side of Bluff Springs Mountain and eventually burned itself out also. These fires were more than likely caused by abandoned campfires.

There was a large wildfire in the area of Massacre Grounds and along the northwestern slopes of Superstition Mountain in April of 1984. This fire was contained and in some areas burned its self out.  Several other man-made fires occurred in the wilderness or around Superstition Mountain from 1984 to 1994.

The next big fire to strike the region was the Geronimo blaze near the Gold Canyon developed area. This fire started around June 11, 1995 and was fought for three days. A hundred and twenty firefighters had it under control by June 13, 1995. This fire destroyed twenty-three hundred acres and  threatened several homes near Gold Canyon. This particular fire produced huge columns of smoke that could be seen from the Phoenix’s skyscrapers.

The past few years have been quiet except for the ‘Lone Fire’ on Four Peaks near the end of April 1996. The Lone Fire destroyed almost sixty-two thousand acres of the Tonto National Forest. To put this figure in perspective, that would be more than one third of the Superstition Wilderness Area. This was one of the most devastating fires on public land in Arizona during the past twenty-five years.

As many of you know, the Lone Fire was before the Rodeo-Chediski fire up on the Mogollon Rim in 2002 which consumed over 400,000 acres of public land and several hundred homes.

The Superstition Wilderness experiences some kind of wild fire almost each summer. On several occasions the wilderness has been closed for several months during the summer months to camping and hiking because of fire danger during extremely dry late spring and summer conditions.

This historical accounting of wild fire in our area gives you some idea of what a potential fire hazard the desert can be between late April and mid July. Precipitation is often a double-edged sword. Rain always brings relief to a dry desert region reducing fire danger, but it always produces an abundant growth of brush that can cause more fires.  Precipitation also causes severe erosion in areas that have been burned and denuded of vegetation. This in turn destroys our watershed that is a major source of the water for Salt River Valley.

As the dry season approaches this summer, the fire danger will escalate, bringing dangerous conditions to our area once again. The State of Arizona has been suffering a severe drought for the past ten years. These conditions may continue to prevail for another decade or so. There is plenty of tinder and dead-fall to burn on the desert. Once the high temperatures dry out the tinder, it is like gasoline. The conditions for wild fires on the desert are dramatically increased when the region dries out.

How you take care of fire and open flames at all times is extremely important and your caution will protect us all.  Smoking should be confined to automobiles or buildings during extreme fire conditions. The fighting of a raging wall of fire on this desert puts each and every firefighter’s life on the line and also risks the lives and property others.

Everyone should have a reasonable firebreak around their home, especially if they live on a large lot containing a lot of dry tinder. I would like to encourage everyone to be extremely careful with matches, cigarettes, outdoor cooking and any other use of open flames or sparks. Fire safety in the desert is something we all can practice at all times.

For more information about fire safety around your home during this critical period please call the Superstition Mountain Fire and Medical District at 480-982-4440. They are the professionals who can answer your questions.