Where Superstitions Continue to Thrive: The Lost Dutchman Mine Has Never Been Found, but Arizona's Superstition Wilderness Yields Other Riches. (Travel.Recreation)

Article excerpt

Some are crude, a few lines scrawled on crumpled paper. Others are elaborate, with detailed elevations of peaks and rock formations. Yet, the maps, which hang at Goldfield Ghost Town's Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum, all have a commonality. They're marked with an X or an arrow as well as the transparent hope of finding the fabled Lost Dutchman gold mine.

For more than 100 years, men and women have wondered about this legendary mine within the dramatic volcanic spires and canyons of the Superstition Mountains, which lie some 40 miles east of Phoenix. The searchers have staked claims, lost their health, and even been murdered in pursuit of the elusive metal.

No significant amount of gold has ever been found within the 250 square miles of the surrounding wilderness area. But the Superstitions offer other rewards--in spiring vistas of mountains, canyons, lakes, and open desert; miles of hiking and equestrian trails: historic sites; and old copper-mining towns among them. And if you go in the spring after decent winter rains, the Midas touch is apparent in the wildflowers--Mexican gold poppies, indian paintbrush--carpeting the foothills.

Race for the Lost Dutchman Mine

Among the earliest humans to be lured by the Superstitions' charms were probably Hohokam and Salado people, who built pueblos and cliff dwellings as early as 1150. The first Spaniard to lay eyes on the mountains is said to have been Marcos de Niza, in 1539. By the 1800s, Anglo trappers as well as Mexican miners and ranchers began to drift through the mountains. The peaks retain names that Anglo settlers along the Gila and Salt Rivers took from stories of the Pima people.

During the 1860s, German immigrant Jacob Walt moved to the region to farm, mine and prospect According to legend, Waltz made regular treks deep into the mountains, returning to his Phoenix homestead with gold. In 1891, on his deathbed, he is said to have revealed the existence of his mystery mine. With that, the race was on for the Lost Dutchman Mine, as it was soon called.

Untamed wilderness

Even though the greater Phoenix metropolitan area has sprawled right up to the west face of the Superstitions, now part of the Tonto National Forest, the mountains remain as wild and untame as in Waltz's day

Nonetheless, there's plenty to do and see along the mountain range's edges, which can be accessed on paved or graded roads. For a good overview, spend a day on a loop drive. Head east out of Phoenix on U.S. 60. Once you get out of the urban landscape, you'll start seeing Forest Service roads that lead to the heads of popular trails on the western slopes of the mountains. Farther along, you'll drop into a canyon that's home to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

East of the arboretum, the road rises more, leaving desert behind for scrub oak and juniper terrain, with glimpses of pine-covered mountains in the distance. Along the way, you'll come to a string of mining towns. Superior, Miami, and Globe were settled in the late 1800s and boomed with massive copper mines. But by the 1970s, the market for copper had dropped; the communities have struggled to reinvent themselves since. Of the three, Globe has come the farthest, with a revitalized main street, arts center, archaeological park, and some of the best Mexican food in the state.

Near Globe, start heading back by going northwest on State 188, which winds you past the preserved cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument. You'll also see a series of large artificial lakes, created along the Salt River with the completion of the Roosevelt Dam in 1911.

As it heads back toward metro Phoenix, State 188 is called the Apache Trail. It's a half-paved, half-graded series of twists and turns that hug the spectacular northwestern edge of the Superstition Wilderness.

At the end of the Apache Trail, the Goldfield Ghost Town (a re-created 19th-century mining town) and the Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum allow you to unwind among historical displays and tidbits about the legend of the lost mine. …