The Thrill of Searching for Gold and Fire Agates

Figure 1. Western edge of Superstition mountains.

The Superstitions.

The Superstitions are where the Lost Dutchman’s Goldmine is located, which is still the object of search parties. The mountains rise up from the plain like a fortress, and look impenetrable from the western side.

My first encounter was 30 years ago when I first visited the goldfield theme park, located at the foot of the mountains. A grizzled old prospector told me the story. Jacob Waltz died in 1891 and on his deathbed revealed to a couple of his caregivers clues to the gold. One clue was two red hills nearby, and another was the shadow of Weaver’s needle, a stunning spire of volcanic rock that rises from the lowly hills at its base. A box under Waltz’s bed contained several nuggets.

The prospector said in the last hundred years many people had searched for the Lost Dutchman’s gold, and several men had died mysteriously, some allegedly murdered.

A marvelous book about the search for the Lost Dutchman Gold is called The Killer Mountains by Curt Gentry.
I asked about hikes that went into the Superstition mountains. The prospector recommended two: the Siphon Draw trail and the Peralta trail. Next time I came to Phoenix I took the Siphon Draw trail, which is at the western end of the mountain. The pics here are from a hike Kim, my step-daughter, and I took this week along this trail.

The vegetation, including many types of cactus, were green and so unusual in their natural forms. From the giant Saguaro cactus that grows only one inch a year to the spiny cholla cactus. The trail was steep and we had left too late to make it to the dry waterfall, which is the siphon draw.

Figure 2. Flatiron (center) viewed from Siphon Draw trail.

We passed a group of eight women and one man. They said they had started at 7:30 am to climb to the Flatiron – a prominent cliff shaped like a clothing iron. I was astonished because I had hiked to the flatiron with Mary Ann when I was married, maybe 30 years ago. Back then there was no trail from the Siphon Draw up to the flatiron, and we had to scrub-bash our way up there. The leader of the group, a silver-haired lady, said there was still no trail and that it was a huge challenge.

I pointed out the Flatiron to Kim, who seemed suitably awestruck with our conquest all those years ago.

I have poked about looking for gold near the foot of Weaver’s Needle, in the interior of Superstition mountains, but never found anything.

A great book for hiking in the Superstitions is called Hiker’s Guide to the Superstition Wilderness, 1995, by Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart.

Figure 3. Saddle mountain 60 miles west of Phoenix, near town of Tonopah.

Fire agates from Saddle Mountain.
Agates are funny-shaped rocks caused by intense heat and pressure that often arises during volcanic events. The shapes can be geometric patterns that are pleasing to the eye, or random twists and turns that remind us of tremendous tortuous forces that can act within the earth.

Figure 4. Sample of white agates, peeled shrimp at top.



.One white agate I found looked like a peeled shrimp. Others had loops and bends that fascinated me.

Sometimes, when the heat is very intense, the white agate rock is burned to a red color. These fire agates are rare in North America – and found mainly in Arizona and Mexico. Kim and I found the mountain with some help from her rock-hounder friends, and we weren’t disappointed.

Figure 5. Sample of fire agates from Saddle mountain.


Figure 6. A few botryoidal agates from Saddle mountain.

Occasionally the rocks melt into small bubbles and these are called botryoidals. When these have a different color, such as white or yellow and red, they can look spectacular.







During this trip to Phoenix, we weren’t able to hike into the Superstitions from the back side, where Jacob Waltz carried his shovel. Instead, we searched for treasure, not gold but fire agates, and met with success.

However, Saddle mountain is huge, and we will return to look for botryoidals of fire agates that could be worth as much as $1,000 a carat. Ha!

Disclaimer. I’m a rookie rock-hounder, and some of my descriptors may be a little inaccurate. Please feel free to correct me.

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Karen Larre
Karen Larre
2 years ago

Looks like you had an incredible time!

Don Compton
Don Compton
2 years ago

Ian and Kim…looks like you had a very enjoyable and successful hike finding those gold and fire agates. Sorry you didn’t find real gold!!!

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