Well there I was, spending the last partial week camping with Mom & Dad at Lost Dutchman, an Arizona State Park near Phoenix. Say what you want about Phoenix but there is plenty of cool things to do in the area.
Just east of Phoenix is the Superstition Mountain range. More commonly referred to as the “Superstitions these mountains cover approximately 160,000 acres of desolate, rugged terrain. These unique mountains rise steeply above the flat desert to a high point of 5,024 feet, and are characterized by sheer-sided, jagged, volcanic peaks and ridges separated by boulder-filled canyons, all covered by the majestic saguaro cactus at low elevations, with other cacti and brush higher up. The Superstitions are now protected as a federal wilderness area and an Arizona State Park.
Early settlers named the hills on account of the many myths and stories told by the local Pima/Apache Indians about the mountains, and tales such as the fabled Lost Dutchman gold mine.
One of the most famous lost treasure tales of all time, the Lost Dutchman mine is not only allegedly rich in gold, but is also said to have a curse upon it, leading to a number of strange deaths, as well as people who mysteriously go “missing” when they attempt to locate the old mine. This lost mine is thought to be located somewhere near Weaver’s Needle, the main landmark of the Superstition Mountains, even though the area has been diligently search over the years by thousands of treasure hunters. For more than 120 years, the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine has been told over and over, growing in proportions to such an extent that some claim the entire legend is nothing but a myth. But for thousands of others, the mine and its legends are extremely real, hidden somewhere in the jagged peaks of the Superstitions.
As mentioned above, Lost Dutchman State Park is located at the foot of the Superstitions and is a great place to make camp for a visit to the Phoenix area. The campground has a number of sites with water and electric that are very popular during the snowbird season each year. And why not? The views from the campsites are marvelous and there are ample opportunities for hiking right from your site up into the Superstition Wilderness. Cory and I did some great hikes on the trails starting in the park and heading up into the wilderness for exploration. Although we did not find the famous Lost Dutchman’s gold the hikes were great exercise and the scenery was awesome. If you are visiting the park I highly recommend the Treasure Loop Trail and the Jacob’s Crosscut Trail. Campsites fill up fast here during the busy season so if you are planning a visit make sure to make your reservations early, Arizona State Parks take reservations up to a year in advance so we already made reservations for next year!
“Not all treasure is silver and gold mate” Captain Jack Sparrow
Beginning right at the entrance to Lost Dutchman State Park is the historic Apache Trail. A journey along the Apache Trail gives the explorer access to different regions that offer a variety of desert experiences. President Theodore Roosevelt, once said:
“the Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have. To me, it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful.”
President Roosevelt visited the region to view the large dam named after him, which is found at the end of the route at Roosevelt Lake. Faced with the floods and droughts that had plagued the Salado Indians, early Phoenix farmers pressed the federal government to build the dam that launched the “replumbing” of the West. The Mesa-Roosevelt road, as it was once called, was built from 1903-1905 by contractors vying for the bids on the dams planned for the region. When the Roosevelt Dam was completed in 1911, it was the largest stone dam in the world. To help boost local business, it was eventually decided to rename the road Apache Trail. Although in sections it follows ancient Native American routes, the name was strictly for the tourists. It is a great day trip but beware some of the road is dirt and a high clearance vehicle is certainly helpful.
Ending in Globe our trip along the Apache Trail provided an opportunity to visit Tonto National Monument.
This national monument in Roosevelt overlooks Roosevelt Lake and preserves 700 year old cliff dwellings left from the Salado people. It is a bit of an uphill hike (on a paved trail) to see the lower cliff dwelling but worth the hike and the volunteers that provide the interpretation are excellent.
The park also provides guided tours to the upper cliff dwelling but we were there too late in the day to take advantage of this once a day activity.
If you are in the area it is certainly worth a visit to the Superstition Mountain Museum.
The museum is the realization of a dream shared by several individuals who formed the Superstition Mountain Historical Society, Inc. in 1980. Their mission statement pretty much sums it up and a visit to this site rewards you with both an indoor and outdoor experience.
“Collect and preserve the history, legends and lore of Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, to support research, education and publication involving the region, and to develop a historical museum and research library devoted to these endeavors.” (Mission Statement)
Their collection of historical items and displays on the Lost Dutchman are very interesting and will ignite the treasure hunter in most people.
One (and there are many) of the many good things about being on the road is visiting with old and new friends all over the country. Being near Phoenix offered a couple of opportunities to do just this.
Calder and LaVoyce have been friends of the family for many years. Looking back to one of our epic RV trips where they joined us on our crazy adventure. Since that time Calder and LaVoyce retired after traveling the country by RV to a very nice suburb of Phoenix that just happened to be near our campground at Lost Dutchman (okay, it wasn’t just an accident!). Dinner with friends is always a good time and we shared a great meal with these folks both at their home and at our campground.
“Treasure your relationships, not your possessions” Anthony J. D’Angelo
Being back in Arizona also gave me a opportunity to meet up with my old partner from Arizona State Parks. While my three weeks working for that agency were challenging, meeting other great parks people was the biggest perk to the job.
Brent and I enjoyed catching up and an awesome hike at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve operated by the City of Scottsdale. The hike to Inspiration Point afforded great views looking back toward the city as well as a good workout and time to catch up with a good friend. There are a remarkable number of great hiking areas around the Phoenix area and all over Arizona for that matter.
A significant portion of the land area of Arizona – over 40% – is public land. Yes, land owned by you and I as citizens of the USA. These include national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, wilderness areas and land managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land management). It seems as though far too many of these and other public lands are under attack. This is not a new issue, dozens of bills have been introduced that roll back protections for our public lands. In addition, legislation continues to be explored requiring the federal government turn over millions of acres of these public lands to the states control.
If these proposals succeed our lands will be used in whatever way the new owners (state or private) wants to use them. This could mean maximizing profits through resource extraction and exploitation rather than managing for the long term benefit and use of the public (you and I).
For now, I encourage everyone to get out, recreate in whatever form you enjoy. Hike, bike, paddle, off-road drive or ride, fly, run or crawl just get out and enjoy these wonderful places we call our public lands.
“Life is an adventure. I can only wonder what treasure awaits at the top of the path.” Jonathian Lockwood Huie