Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

Strange secrets lie hidden in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.

Superstition Mountain Museum
To further understand and appreciate the Superstition Mountains area, its legend, history, and intrigue we recently toured the 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did a lone miner really discover a fortune in lost gold in this rugged region?

And what strange force caused dozens of adventurers seeking the mine to vanish without a trace never to be seen again?

For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction.

The early inhabitants of the area included the Salado, Hohokam, and Apache Indians. Following came the Spanish conquistadors, the first of which was Francisco Vasquez de Coronado who came north from Mexico in 1540 seeking the legendary “Seven Golden Cities of Cibola”.

When the Spaniards searched the mountain for gold, they began to vanish mysteriously. The bodies that were found were mutilated with their heads cut off. Since the terrified survivors refused to return to the mountain, Coronado named the series of peaks, Monte Superstition.

The mountain became a legendary spot to all who followed and was regarded by many as an evil place.

We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, and other displays of authentic relics of this era.
We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, jail, and other displays of authentic relics of this era. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

American trappers and adventurers migrated to the area; cattlemen and farmers soon followed. Later, the U.S. Cavalry was sent west to establish forts to protect the growing population.

Decades later, miners began searching for what was touted as the richest gold mine in the world. This mine was made famous by Jacob Waltz, known as “the Dutchman”, who took the secret of “his mine” to the grave in 1891.

Treasure hunters continue to scour the mountains searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine, but now share the region with campers, hikers, backpackers, and horseback riders in what is now the Superstition Wilderness Area.

To further understand and appreciate the area, its legend, history, and intrigue we recently toured the 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum.

Located east of Lost Dutchman State Park, the museum collects, preserves, and displays the artifacts and history of the Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction, and the surrounding area.

We traversed the nature trails that crisscross the area surrounding the museum buildings, all located at the base of the West Wall of the beautiful  Superstition Mountain.

We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, and other displays of authentic relics of this era.

No western movie set is complete without a stagecoach and driver
No western movie set is complete without a stagecoach and driver. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Museums in their own right, the Elvis Memorial Chapel and the Audie Murphy Barn were moved to the site, piece by piece, nail by nail, and reconstructed following the second fire in 2004 (first fire was in 1969) which destroyed the Apacheland Movie Ranch.

Western motion pictures and television were filmed at Apacheland Movie Ranch over a 45 year period. Movies filmed included Charro, which starred Elvis Presley, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Arizona Raiders ,The Haunted, The Gambler II, and Blind Justice. Television series included Have Gun Will Travel and Wanted Dead or Alive.

A movie memorabilia museum showing movies that were filmed at Apacheland, the Elvis Memorial Chapel also serves, as it has since it was first constructed, as a wedding chapel. Contact the museum for reservations (SEE Details below)

Twenty eight days were required for five men, all volunteers, to disassemble and move the 20 Stamp Ore Crusher from Albuquerque to the museum site. This mill was state of the art technology for recovering gold in the 1800s.

Another major building spared in both fires has long been called the Rifleman’s Barn since it was located where the TV series, The Rifleman, was produced. The barn also figured prominently in dozens of western films shot at this location.

It was moved in literally hundreds of pieces to the museum’s grounds and reconstructed almost entirely of its original materials. Its loft serves as storage area while the ground level displays wagons, buggies, stage coaches, and other vehicles representing the Old West.

For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction.
For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to watch your step as you traverse the trails because there are rattlesnakes (yes, we saw one) and other varmints.

Indoors, the museum has many books, documents, artifacts, and maps regarding the Lost Dutchman and his gold.

Details

Superstition Mountain Museum

Location: On Apache Trail (Highway 88)3½ miles northeast of Apache Junction

Address: 4087 N. Apache Trail (Highway 88), Apache Junction, AZ 85119

Phone: (480) 983-4888

Hours: Open daily 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Admission: $5.00; seniors 55 and over, $4.00

Website: www.superstitionmountainmuseum.org

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

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Lost Dutchman State Park: Adopt-A-Cactus

Last winter I posted three articles on Lost Dutchman, an Arizona State Park named after Jacob Waltz, the Dutchman, who reportedly found a gold mine in the Superstitions in the 1870s. According to legend, the gold is still there somewhere.

For generations, treasure hunters have been scouring the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction for some trace of the Lost Dutchman’s gold.

Nothing so uniquely represents Arizona like the Saguaro cactus. Equally as unique as these cacti, is the ability to share this state treasure with family and friends anywhere in the world through the Adopt-A-Cactus program.

“A year and a half ago, I began a great journey volunteering for the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park,” volunteer Patricia Carter wrote in a recent Arizona State Park Newsletter.

“My journey started when I first moved to Arizona back in the year 1998,” Carter continued. “I was living in West Mesa and really was mesmerized when discovering the Superstition Mountains. I just had a feeling that someday I would be a part of those mountains somehow. I remember first hiking at the Superstition Mountains and felt the earth rumbling beneath me. There is something so spiritual about these mountains.

“While hiking at Lost Dutchman State Park we came across a man working on the trail and we just talked to him for a bit. He stated he really had to get the trail in shape for the park was in danger of closing by a certain month. He also stated that he was a volunteer.

“My friend and I went inside the office after our hike and there was another volunteer working behind the desk and I asked him the same question. He said yes and he gave me an education as to why and what happened. He said if I wanted to get involved I could volunteer. He gave me the name of the Friends Organization which would be where I would want to volunteer.

“The Friends Organization puts on events to raise money to keep the park opened. From that day on I have a deep passion for this volunteer group. We have put on events, raise money for the park.

“Every Sunday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm I get the opportunity to greet visitors as they drive in and collect the fee of only $7.00 to hike in the park. Campers come to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. The people are just incredible! I get to meet and sometimes for a brief moment get to dip in the lives of people from not just Arizona but from all parts of the country and the world!

“All the volunteers are so friendly and genuine. I can’t say enough of how being a volunteer for this organization has enriched my life. Being in nature is my favorite thing to do and the Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park fulfills that deep passion.

“I have taken on the responsibility of heading up the Adopt-A-Cactus Program. This is a great way to raise money to keep the park open and running.”

Details

Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park

The Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park is a non-profit organization devoted to the benefit of Lost Dutchman State Park.

Website: friendsoflostdutchman.org

Adopt-A-Cactus Program

Mitzi Rinehart and Micah Goldberg of Friends of the Lost Dutchman attended a Canyon Vista Hiking Club meeting to accept a $700 cash donation for a senior saguaro within the Lost Dutchman park. Coleen Ehresmann of the Canyon Vistas Hiking Club members presented the donation to Micah and Mitzi. (Source: friendsoflostdutchman.org)

Adoptacactus.org was established to help sustain and preserve these statuesque monuments to the Southwest and the protected areas that house them; like Lost Dutchman State Park.

At the base of the famed Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park is home to thousands of magnificent cacti; proceeds from this program will directly ensure the park’s sustainability for future generations.

Adopting a Saguaro is easy! Simply choose the type and size of Saguaro you would like to adopt, click “Adopt Me”, fill out the required mailing and payment information, and you will receive an Official Adoptacactus.com Adoption certificate, picture of your adopted saguaro with GPS coordinates, and thank you letter showing your tax deductible amount from the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park (FLDSP). Since FLDSP is a 501c3 Organization, 100% of your adoption amount is tax deductible.

The adoption fees are based on the size of the cactus and how long you want the adoption to last.

Period of adoption are one year, five years, and twenty years.

Website: adoptacactus.org

Worth Pondering…
A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up house?

—Jodi Picoult

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Lost Dutchman State Park: Mixture of Mountains & Mystery

During the past winter I posted two articles on Lost Dutchman, an Arizona State Park named after Jacob Waltz, the Dutchman, who reportedly found a gold mine in the Superstitions in the 1870s. According to legend, the gold is still there somewhere.

The proximity of the Superstition Wilderness Area makes the park an ideal base for hikers and horse riders. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For generations, treasure hunters have been scouring the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction for some trace of the Lost Dutchman’s gold.

Wildflowers are yellow, but they might as well be gold at Lost Dutchman State Park near Apache Junction. And gold, whether it’s the Lost Dutchman’s or any other kind, is something the entire Arizona State Parks system could use with the state legislature raiding $3.5 million from gate receipts to help reduce the budget shortfall.

Because Mother Nature has a mind of her own, Arizona’s wildflower season varies from year to year. With few wildflowers this spring following a dry winter, attendance dropped in March by nearly 6,000 visitors from a year earlier, when an unusually wet winter left a bountiful yellow blanket on the slopes of the Superstitions.

Park manager, Tom Fisher said the park was profitable until the wildflowers failed to materialize, but those profits disappeared.

State Parks spokeswoman, Ellen Bilbrey, said Lost Dutchman’s revenues are up by a miniscule 1.36 percent from a year ago despite a 14.3 percent drop in attendance. The revenues increased mainly due to higher gate and camping fees.

Delays in completing the campground electric upgrade project, promoted as a means of increasing profitability, has been another major setback. The $415,000 project, financed mostly with federal grants, went out to bid late, and construction during the prime winter months forced the park to turn away potential customers, with more than half the spaces unavailable until mid-February.

The Superstitions have been a source of mystery and legend since early times. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After several months of construction, the electric and water hookup sites are now available at Lost Dutchman. All sites are still on a first come first served basis with a reservation system expected later in 2011. Reservations are now available on-line at nine Arizona State Parks for a $5 non-refundable fee.

Photo Tips

Going the Distance

To capture the greatest depth of field, focus one-third of the way into your image—the hyperfocal distance. When the lens is focused at that distance, the depth of field extends from half the hyperfocal distance to infinity. To be more precise, use a depth of field calculator.

Let There Be Light

Photography is all about capturing light. The best photographers are able to take advantage of dramatic lighting opportunities brought about by dynamic weather conditions, giving their work an added dimension. As they say: Luck favors the well prepared.

Details

Lost Dutchman State Park

Location: 5 miles north of Apache Junction, off of AZ 88 (Apache Trail)

Park Entrance Fees: $7.00/vehicle

Camping Fees: $25.00, water and 50/30/20 amp electric service; $15.00, non-hookup

Information: (480) 982-4485

Adopt-a-Cactus

Adopt a Saguaro Cactus. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing so uniquely represents Arizona like the Saguaro cactus. Equally as unique as these cacti, is the ability to share this state treasure with family and friends anywhere in the world through the adoptacactus.org program.

Adoptacactus.org was established to help sustain and preserve these statuesque monuments to the Southwest and the protected areas that house them; like Lost Dutchman State Park.

At the base of the famed Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park is home to thousands of magnificent cacti; proceeds from this program will directly ensure the park’s sustainability for future generations.

Adopting a Saguaro is easy! Simply choose the type and size of Saguaro you would like to adopt, click “Adopt Me”, fill out the required mailing and payment information, and you will receive an Official Adoptacactus.com Adoption certificate, picture of your adopted saguaro with GPS coordinates, and thank you letter showing your tax deductible amount from the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park (FLDSP). Since FLDSP is a 501c3 Organization, 100% of your adoption amount is tax deductible.

The adoption fees are based on the size of the cactus and how long you want the adoption to last.

Period of adoption are one year, five years, and twenty years.

Worth Pondering…
A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up house?

—Jodi Picoult

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Lost Dutchman State Park, a Scenic Gem

Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert in central Arizona at the base of the Superstition Mountains. The park is named for the “Lost Dutchman,” Jacob Waltz, a German prospector who supposedly knew the location of a fabulously rich gold mine in the mountains.

The proximity of the Superstition Wilderness Area makes the park an ideal base for hikers and horse riders. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For generations, treasure hunters have been scouring the Superstition Mountains for some trace of the Lost Dutchman’s gold.

Mystery and Legend

The Superstition Mountains have been a source of mystery and legend since early times. The area is dotted with ancient cliff dwellings and caves, many showing signs of former habitation by a number of different Native American groups, up until the 1800s.

Even the name is inspired by Pima Indian legends. During the 1840s, the Peralta family of northern Mexico supposedly developed a rich gold mine in the Superstitions. According to legend, an Apache ambush ended the family’s last expedition, and the gold remained in the area. In the 1870s, Jacob Waltz (“the Dutchman”) was said to have located the mine through the aid of the Peralta descendant. Waltz and his partner, Jacob Weiser, worked in the mine and allegedly hid one or more caches of gold in the Superstitions. After Waltz’s death in 1891, several people attempted to seek out the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, all without success.

Later searchers have sometimes met with foul play or even death, contributing to the superstition and legend of these mountains. The legend of the “lost mine” has been fueled by a number of people who were supposed to have known the mine’s location or even worked it. Maps have surfaced over the years, only to become lost or misplaced.

Hiking

The proximity of the Superstition Wilderness Area makes the park an ideal base for hikers and horse riders.

Five trails, from easy to strenuous, lead through the Sonoran Desert. You can hike to the top of the mountains, to the Flatiron, at 4,861 feet, but the trail is not maintained near the end.

Use caution when hiking. Those planning to use the longer trails should carry a topographic

Lost Dutchman State Park could be a goldmine for Arizona. It has beautiful trails and is just minutes away from Apache Junction, Canyon Lake, and Goldfield Ghost Town. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

map. Each person should carry at least one gallon of drinking water per day. Remember summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.

Treasure Loop Trail: 2.4 miles round trip, rated moderate, elevation change of 500 feet, trail terminates at either picnic area.

Prospector’s View Trail: 0.7 miles, rated moderate, connects Siphon Draw Trail with Treasure Loop Trail also connects with Jacob’s Crosscut Trail.

Jacob’s Crosscut Trail: 0.8 miles along the base of the mountain, rated easy, connects Treasure Loop Trail with Prospector’s View Trail, and continues 4.5 miles past the park area along the base of the Superstitions.

Siphon Draw Trail: 3.2 miles round trip, very scenic hike, trail winds up into a canyon known as Siphon Draw. It is possible to hike up the Flatiron, although it is not a designated, maintained trail all the way. It’s advised that only experienced hikers in good shape attempt to hike to the top, as the climb is steep and difficult to follow. Allow at least five hours to the Flatiron and back.

Discovery Trail: Connects campground and day use areas, features information signs, a wildlife pond, bird feeder, and viewing bench.

Wildflowers

The Superstitions have been a source of mystery and legend since early times. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park has practically become synonymous with wildflower watching. Prime times are March and April.

Mexican goldpoppies, golden bursts of brittlebushes, mustard evening primroses, lupines, and countless other brightly colored spring petals pave the picture-perfect slopes of the Superstition Mountains.

The especially scenic wildflower vistas along the Jacob’s Crosscut, Siphon Draw, mango-colored fiddleneck, and Discovery trails are worth their weight in blooming bullion and may well be the gold that’s in them thar hills?

Because Mother Nature has a mind of her own, Arizona’s wildflower season varies from year to year.

Birding

Common birds are Costa’s hummingbird, gilded flicker, Gila and ladder-backed woodpeckers, cactus and rock wrens, phainopepla, verdin, black-tailed gnatcatcher, Gambel’s quail, house finch, long-billed thrasher, and Harris and red-tailed hawks.

Campground Construction Update

Sites 16-32 and 41-58 (which were closed for construction) are open again for tents or RVs at $15 per night on a first come-first served basis; these sites have water hookups only.

Location: 5 miles north of Apache Junction, off of AZ 88 (Apache Trail)

Park Entrance Fees: $7.00/vehicle

Information: (480) 982-4485

Worth Pondering…
The Amen of nature is always a flower.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

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You’ll find Gold in the Superstitions

Who says there’s no gold in them thar hills?

Lost Dutchman State Park, 2,000 feet in elevation, sits at the base of the Superstition Mountains. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park could be a goldmine for Arizona. It has beautiful trails and is just minutes away from Apache Junction, Canyon Lake, and Goldfield Ghost Town.

Delays in a campground construction project at Lost Dutchman State Park are costing the state of Arizona as much as $380 a day in lost revenue. But these short-term losses are expected to turn into long-term profits when electricity and water become available at campsites, reports the Arizona Republic.

Higher camping fees are expected to make the park financially self-sustaining, removing it from any potential park closure list.

According to the report, campsites and new bathrooms and showers are expected to be finished this spring.

Although attendance is down as the park struggles with the false perception that facilities were closed a year ago, revenues are rising because of increases in admission and camping charges.

Lost Dutchman was one of 13 parks scheduled to close last year, even though it lost only $9,545 during the 2008-09 fiscal year and has an estimated $4.1 million impact on Apache Junction’s economy.

A pair of House Finch keep watch over their Sonoran home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman has collected $82,211 in revenues during the 2010-11 fiscal year, compared with $70,648 in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Visitation is slightly down, 22,237 this year compared with 23,772 the previous year.

A motorcycle ride and donations from benefactors raised $24,000 to keep the park open during the summer for hiking. Similar community efforts around the state raised more than $500,000 to keep other parks from closing.

After the park’s continued operation was ensured, focus shifted toward the $415,000 campground improvement project to boost the park’s revenues.

For a variety of reasons, the project was set back—bids didn’t go out until October, and construction didn’t start until November. Now, 38 out of the 72 camping sites remain closed as construction progresses.

The project is funded by federal grants and Heritage Fund money that was set aside before the Legislature diverted profits from Lottery ticket sales into the general fund.

Hug a Saguaro

Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum with the Superstitutions in the distance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fans of Lost Dutchman State Park will soon have an opportunity to hug a saguaro. The Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park is launching an “Adopt a Cactus” http://www.friendsoflostdutchman.org/ fundraiser. One hundred saguaros have been photographed and their locations tracked with global positioning system coordinates.

Details are still being worked out and the sponsorships should be available in late March or April.

The saguaros are on the Treasure Loop, near the Cholla picnic area.

The sponsorships probably would cost from $75 to $100 per saguaro, with older saguaros costing more because they are more intricate.

Worth Pondering…
Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

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