The Superstition Mountains: Hiking near the gold legends.
WHATS IN THIS BLOG:
• The killer mountains.
• The Peralta gold legend.
• Peralta Canyon hike.
THE KILLER MOUNTAINS. The forecast called for rain, but i didn’t believe it. It rarely rains in Phoenix, Arizona. In fact, it was February 2018 and it hadn’t rained for 3 months. I drove east, past Apache Junction, and circumvented the Superstition mountains, rising like a terrible black menace from the plain. The magma that was forced up thousands of feet resulted in a huge block of basalt that has few natural stream outlets. The steep rocky walls are forbidding barriers to outsiders, except at a few trailheads.
The Apaches believed gods inhabited the rocky valleys and turreted hilltops, making rumbling noises when a thunderstorm struck in the summer monsoons. A book called The Killer Mountains recites several murders that have occurred there while searching for the Lost Dutchman’s fabled goldmine. But that’s another story about lost gold (click HERE).
THE PERALTA LEGEND.
I followed a dirt road around the south side of the mountain range and parked at the Peralta trailhead. The Peraltas were a mining family from Mexico. One story is that the Peralta family was making one last trip to the Superstitions in 1848 to recover gold. Members of the Apache tribe gathered and began a running fight with the Mexican miners.
The last of the Mexicans to die were killed in the area marked on maps as the Massacre Grounds. Several Mexicans escaped but their mules were killed or scattered. The Apaches captured some mules, cut loose the bags of gold ore and left it, but took the mules to their camp. Two prospectors found $18,000 worth of gold ore in 1912 (worth maybe 10 times that today) at the Massacre Grounds. Others have searched for the lost Peralta gold, but no finds have been made public. I’ve never hiked into the Massacre Grounds, but it’s on my list!
PERALTA CANYON HIKE.
It’s a 5-mile hike, well-maintained, up to the Fremont saddle and back to the car park, with an elevation change of 1,370 feet. It’s a popular hike, on a moderate trail, with forests of saguaro cacti and intriguing rock shapes along the way. Palo Verde trees dot the canyon floor, remarkable because the bark in their twigs and branches and trunks does the photosynthesis work. Only a third is done by the leaves.
At the top of the Fremont saddle is a spectacular view of Weavers Needle, which was near his mine according to the Dutchman, Jacob Waltz, on his deathbed.
After lunch, as I started down it began to rain lightly. The moisture made the rocks shine, and emblazoned the red coloration of volcanic jasper, a semi-precious gemstone.
I stopped before passing a group of 6 hikers going up. “Just to let you know….it’s snowing up at the top.”
Silence. Then the last male hiker, who had a Texas accent, said, “Is it really?”
I was flabbergasted that someone would believe me. So I started to sing, “I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona…..” They all laughed.
As I came down, I was passed by a cheerful young man, about 30, carrying a baby in his arms. He wore only tennis shoes. I thought this was a cute scene until I realized that if he lost his footing, he had no free hands to catch his fall – and the baby could crash on the rocks.
I was happy to make it back to the car with my legs intact after 5 miles of rocky terrain. It was the first real test of my hip replacement that was done a year ago.
Near the bottom of the trail I tried to identify a gap in the cliffs where Bryan, my grandson, and I escaped a dangerous situation about 15 years ago. From the top at the saddle, we detoured sideways to Geronimo’s cave, where the famous Indian fighter had holed up. We decided to take a short-cut down, which required some bum-sliding on slickrock, to a plateau below. Then all we had to do was climb from the plateau down to the Peralta trail which we knew was hidden behind rocks and cactus below.
But we were blocked by a line of cliffs. It was later in the day and the responsibility to get a 10-year old down to the trail and back to Meme who was waiting at the car, weighed heavily. I became worried. Bryan and I prayed together and hurried along the cliff-face before we finally found a gap in the cliffs. In the gathering darkness we plunged down a steep incline obstacled by huge boulders and by cactus thorns when we weren’t boulder-hopping. We got to the car in the dark, and found Meme crying. All other cars had left the parking area, and the last hiker said he hadn’t seen an old gray nomad and a young red-headed boy. You can read about this story in more detail, as well as other challenging hikes, in the book Hiking Toward Heaven.
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The Gray Nomad ….. Help someone to hope.
The steps of a righteous person are ordered by the Lord, and he delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand. [Book of Psalms, chapter 37]
Hi Ian, and thanks for this very interesting and informative blog. I liked it. Did you find any gold? I did when I hiked this trail, lots of it………. Oh yes, I also have some ocean front property to sell, it is in Arizona, ha ha.
Ha! I know better: I don’t think you’ve hiked in the Superstitions, right? I don’t know how you missed them with all the hiking you’ve done, and all your driving past Phoenix.
I have written stories about the lost Dutchman mine. I was researching the Knights of the Golden Circle and their mission of disbursing the gold held by the Confederacy when it was obvious that they were going to lose the war. They placed over 100 treasure caches around the north American Continent with the Phoenix site being one of them.
The Phoenix cache was removed by the KGC after the Dutchman’s death due to the controversy surrounding the speculation of how rich the mine must be that he could bring back gold concentrate while being gone for such a short period of time. The reality was that the concentrate was placed there for his use, but he bragged about the riches when he was drinking. When he died over $80,000 worth of gold concentrate was found under his bed.
Bill, I found your comment fascinating. I had never heard of the connection with the US Civil War. And I knew only that they found nuggets of gold under The Dutchman’s bed when he died, not gold concentrate.