Dean M. Chriss
Superstition Mountains, Arizona, Springtime, Landscape Photograph by Dean M. Chriss

Superstition Mountains, Arizona, Springtime Sunset

(Click image to enlarge)

You have probably heard or the Superstition mountains. Most of their notoriety comes from the legend of the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine. According to the legend, a German immigrant named Jacob Waltz discovered a mother lode of gold in the Superstition Wilderness and revealed its location on his deathbed in Phoenix in 1891 to Julia Thomas, a boarding-house owner who had taken care of him for many years. Several mines have been claimed to be the actual mine that Waltz discovered, but none of those claims have been verified. Waltz was a miner at Vulture Mine, where he likely stole the gold and came up with the secret mine to explain his theft.

Some Apaches believe that the hole leading down into the lower world, or hell, is located in the Superstition Mountains. On one visit my wife and I were sitting in our vehicle in a roadside pull-off. I noticed a full sized panel van whizzing down the road and slowing abruptly as it passed our pull-off. A few minutes later it came back, obviously having made a U-turn. The van parked perhaps 50 feet (15m) from us. I didn't think much about it until the driver, a very old Apache woman, exited the van and came to our passenger window, where my wife was sitting. She spoke what I assumed was Apache, but with some English words like "kill" and "die" interspersed. I'm sure we had very puzzled looks on our faces. Then she asked in English, "If someone asked you to kill someone, would you do it?" We were pretty freaked out at this point, and before either of us could say anything she asked if I would come to help her fix her van, which seemed to be running fine when drove by turned around, and pulled into her parking spot. I immediately drove off and left her standing there.

Strange encounters notwithstanding, these mountains look like anything but an entrance to the underworld when they are surrounded by a sea of blooming brittlebush. The Superstition Mountains occupy one corner of the 160,200 acre (64831 ha) Superstition Wilderness. The mountain range has a maximum elevation of 6,266 ft (1,910 m) and prominence of 1,706 ft (520 m) at Mound Mountain in the far eastern section of the range.