A Gold Hunting Tradition in the Superstitions

A satirical newspaper from 1957 touts the discovery of the Lost Dutchman gold. | Brent Ruffner

By Brent Ruffner

The day started with a few ribs cooking over the fire and some Superstition Gold coffee.

Just before noon, the small group had had enough chitchat. Instead, they wanted to get off-road, to a new site where there was the promise of gold.

That site – just off the Peralta Trail in the Superstition Mountains — ended up being a hole where a mountain lion had apparently made its home. The area was covered in mountain lion scat.

The group of "Dutch hunters" was in the area early this month for the Dutch Hunter Rendezvous, an annual camping event where the public can pay homage and celebrate Jacob Waltz — a German man, now known as the "Dutchman," who supposedly found a $200 million gold mine in the Superstitions in the 1800s.

The trek, a few hours before the official event, seemed routine for most of the group, who head to the mountains for adventure. Members say you must look for indicators instead of walking by signs of what could be treasure.   

“You never know what you will find,” Dutch hunter Wayne Tuttle said. “[The site was] right around the corner from what everyone is familiar with, and no one knew it was there.”

Tuttle, a cast member on the History Channel show Legend of the Superstition Mountains, is a member of the event’s sponsor, the Don’s Club of Phoenix — founded in 1931 by Phoenix YMCA members who developed a love for the mountains. The once-exclusive club was made up of young professionals and businessmen.

Members routinely dressed in outfits of the early Spanish dons and doñas while camping. For $3, the group bused people in from Washington Street in Phoenix to the western side of the Superstitions — at least a few hours' ride in 1935.

Customers received a miner’s lunch and a Spanish dinner at base camp with “all the coffee you can drink” that day. The program also featured two hikes in the afternoon. At one time, Don’s Club events featured performances from Hopi dancers and demonstrations by Navajo weavers.

In 1946, its members made President Harry Truman an honorary member of the club. They presented him with a sombrero in a picture that helped promote the club by landing on the pages of newspapers across the country. 

During the Don’s Trek event, members lit up the night sky on most occasions. Until 2001, members would drop 1,600 pounds of burning charcoal off the ledges of the Dayside Cliffs – which were several hundred feet high — in a practice called Fire Falls followed by fireworks.

“Reading newspaper articles, you can tell how popular it was,” said Greg Davis, a Don’s member since the 1970s. “But times change.”

His uncle, Art Weber, was a physical education director for the YMCA in Phoenix and helped form the group.

Davis uses a 1,000-square-foot room to house decades of newspaper articles, books and collector’s items about the club and the Superstition Mountains. He has nine filing cabinets filled with records about his uncle’s club.

Tuttle, too, has helped keep tradition alive despite only a few families with children who attended this year’s event. Next year, the Rendezvous will celebrate its 15th year.

He remembers carrying a canteen full of Kool-Aid and a peanut butter sandwich when he was 8 years old. Afterward, he couldn’t wait to go back. “My whole mood changes when I’m in the mountains,” Tuttle said. “It’s a great feeling.”

Tuttle has passed on his love of the mountains to his oldest son, Trevor, 17, who regularly travels with Tuttle to film YouTube videos for their online show. A new episode of the show is posted on Facebook every other week.

Prospector Woody Wampler attended this year’s Rendezvous and wants to pass on his trade to younger generations. Wampler, who has been a prospector since 1970, said people often use bad practices when panning for gold. He said moving the gold pan in a fast, circular motion is a good way to cause the gold to fly out of the pan.

He offers classes for $50 per person at his Dewey-based business. “I want to pass on what I’ve learned,” Wampler said. “I don’t want it to go to the grave with me.”

The self-taught prospector said panning is a process where you want to work the layers of rock and minerals off by moving the pan in a gentle side-to-side motion. The goal is to separate the black sand from the gold once you’ve found an area in the dry Arizona creeks, he said — adding that most gold is found between 3 and 6 inches below the surface.

“[The gold] won’t be any deeper than the material moving down the creek,” Wampler said.  

Wampler said he regularly donates his time to local school districts to and businesses such as Mortimer Family Farms to ensure traditions aren’t lost.

Starting January 18, the Don’s Club will host its annual Discovery Camp for students in the Apache Junction Unified School District. Students are bused in to the base camp near the Peralta Trailhead every Friday for six weeks. There, instruction lasts from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Still, it’s challenging to garner the interest of young people.

“It would sure be nice to get some young people interested in the club,” Davis said. “There’s not many. It’s getting tough. There’s too much other stuff going on these days.”

But Wampler is confident younger generations can become interested in the art of prospecting and can develop a curiousity about the mountains: “Families that play together, stay together.”

For more information about the Dutch Hunter Rendezvous, visit the group's website.

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New Brochure Targets Fake Navajo Weavings

A detail of a rare Navajo weaving, circa 1860, is featured on the new brochure. | Courtesy of Indian Arts and Crafts Board

A new brochure produced by the federal government aims to help buyers of Navajo weavings tell an authentic weaving from an imitation version.

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Indian Arts and Crafts Board produced the brochure in collaboration with master Navajo weaver Joyce Begay-Foss. The brochure, titled How to Buy Authentic Navajo (Diné) Weavings, is available online or in hard copy form.

"For the Navajo people, weaving is not just an art form, but a direct connection to our environment and lifeways," Begay-Foss, a former IACB chairwoman, says in a news release. "Navajo weavers face competition from imported items. Unfortunately, some consumers prefer to buy a cheaper knock-off of a Native American-designed product."

The brochure is important, Begay adds, to educate consumers about the differences between imported knock-offs and genuine Navajo weavings.

"Whether you are in search of a treasured memory of your visit to Indian Country, or you are an avid collector of Indian art and craftwork, you want to know that a Navajo (Diné) textile is authentic," the brochure states. "Having some knowledge about Navajo weavings can help you get the most for your money."

You can download the brochure in PDF form from the IACB's website. If you'd rather have a hard copy, you can contact the IACB via email, at [email protected], or call 888-278-3253.

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Grand Canyon Association Now Is Grand Canyon Conservancy

The official nonprofit partner of Grand Canyon National Park has a new name that it says better reflects its mission of protecting and enhancing Arizona's best-known natural wonder.

Grand Canyon Association now has been renamed Grand Canyon Conservancy, the group announced in a press release early this month.

The nonprofit's CEO, Susan Schroeder, says the new name "is more closely aligned with our mission to inspire people to protect and enhance Grand Canyon National Park for present and future generations."

The change was timed to concide with the park's centennial celebrations in February 2019, GCC says.

The organization was founded as the Grand Canyon Natural History Association in 1932 but became Grand Canyon Association in 1994. It raises private funds, operates park retail shops and offers guided educational programs about the region's natural and cultural history.

"Grand Canyon Conservancy looks forward to the next 100 years," Schroeder says.

To learn more about the nonprofit, visit www.grandcanyon.org.

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Grand Canyon Ranger Wins Prestigious Award

One of the 76 entries left on a typewriter at the Grand Canyon's Plateau Point during the "Towers & Type" project.

A ranger at Grand Canyon National Park has been selected to receive a prestigious award for an innovative project at one of the park's remote viewpoints.

Elyssa Shalla is being honored with the Intermountain Region 2018 Freeman Tilden Award, the park announced in a news release last month. (Readers of Arizona Highways might remember Shalla from Now Performing, a profile by Nikki Buchanan in our February 2015 issue.)

The award honors a project Shalla created at Plateau Point, a vista accessed via a 6-mile hike from the Canyon's South Rim (via Indian Garden). For the project, "Towers & Type," Shalla set up a typewriter at Plateau Point and invited hikers to share their thoughts over a three-day period. As she explains on the project's website:

I was seventeen years old when I acquired this typewriter from the Iowa City Goodwill store. Its mustard accents, the crisp reflexes of its keys, and its sturdy traveling case were worth the five dollar price tag. Neglected in my parents’ basement, I rediscovered it a decade later, stashed it in the trunk of my car and drove it west to Grand Canyon National Park. A couple of years after that, it was packed down the Bright Angel Trail in the pannier of a mule named Cookie. In the final 48 hours of 2017 a new ribbon was installed and it was carried in a backpack from Indian Garden to the edge of the Tonto platform. ...

During three days of unseasonably warm weather, the typewriter was placed at Plateau Point with an invitation for visitors to reflect on their experience and type a note on the analog machine. A total of 76 entries were left behind.

Shalla now will represent the Park Service's Intermountain Region in the national Tilden Award competition. The national winner will be announced later this month.

At the time she was profiled by Arizona Highways, Shalla was a park ranger at Indian Garden. She now works for the Park Service's Division of Interpretation as a seasonal supervisor in the North Rim and Canyon District.

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Mainline Paving Begins on South Mountain Freeway

Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

The Arizona Department of Transportation has begun paving the main section of the new South Mountain Freeway stretch of Loop 202.

The pavement was laid down in late September in the Ahwatukee Foothills neighborhood of Phoenix, ADOT said in a news release.

Mainline paving is expected to continue until just prior to the opening of the 22-mile freeway, which could occur as early as late 2019, ADOT said. Following the paving, crews will add lighting, signs and landscaping.

Approximately 10 million cubic yards of earth is being hauled and compacted for the project, ADOT said, adding that such an amount is enough to fill the Arizona Cardinals' stadium 13 times.

The public can stay informed about the South Mountain Freeway project by visiting southmountainfreeway.com.

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Jeb Rosebrook: 1935-2018

Jeb Rosebrook

Jeb Rosebrook, an Arizona-based author and screenwriter whose work included numerous contributions to Arizona Highways, died in Scottsdale in late August. He was 83.

Rosebrook was born in 1935 in New York City, but at age 9, his parents sent him to a prep school (now known as the Orme School) in Mayer after he was diagnosed with asthma. Thus began his relationship with the Grand Canyon State — one that endured despite Rosebrook's successful Hollywood career, which included screenplays for The Black Hole, a science fiction film, and Junior Bonner, which was set in Prescott and starred Steve McQueen.

Rosebrook also wrote for TV's The Waltons and other programs. And in recent years, he published two novels and contributed to Arizona Highways and other publications. His son, Jeb Stuart Rosebrook, was on the magazine's staff as research editor in the 1990s and 2000s.

One of Rosebook's last contributions to the magazine came in June 2004, when he recounted a road trip he and his son took from Virginia to Arizona. In Rosebook's description of his son's affection for Arizona, his own love of the state is evident: "My son had taken one road to revisit the Virginia and Ohio roots of his family. But I knew the road he always wanted to take was the way we have now traveled, the road home to Arizona — in truth, the road home to his heart."

Rosebook is survived by his wife, son, daughter and grandchildren.

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Should North Rim's Season Be Expanded?

Gaelyn Olmsted | Grand Canyon North Rim

Tourism promoters near Grand Canyon National Park are touting the idea of stretching out the North Rim's operating season to allow more people to experience the remote section of the park.

As the Associated Press reported this month, the proposed change comes amid a downward trend in annual snowfall at the North Rim — which currently is open from May 15 to October 15. The 30-year average for snowfall at the North Rim is more than 11 feet a year, but snowfall has been declining over the past decade, according to the National Weather Service.

Tourism officials in Kane County, Utah, which is north of the North Rim, told the AP they'd like the area to be open year-round or most of the year so Kane County can promote itself as a "four-season destination." For now, they say they'd like to add a couple of weeks to both ends of the North Rim's current season.

Park officials told the AP that expanding the season would require hiring workers for longer stints, upgrading the North Rim's water system, weatherizing cabins and providing more snowplow resources.

A meeting is planned for October to discuss the idea of lengthening the North Rim season, but a Kane County official told the AP major changes are not expected for five to 10 years.

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SR 260 Expansion Set for Fall Completion

One of the new roundabouts on State Route 260 between Camp Verde and Cottonwood. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

PHOENIX – Work on the 9-mile State Route 260 widening project that will enhance travel and mobility between Camp Verde and Cottonwood is in the final stages leading up to completion this fall.

Currently, traffic is using one lane in each direction along the new alignment and using all seven roundabout intersections between Interstate 17 and Thousand Trails Road. Crews are finishing the curbs of roundabouts and installing permanent road signs along the project area.

Once the curbs and signs are complete, crews will add another layer of pavement to the highway. This process will take several weeks. After that, crews will lay the top layer of pavement known as friction course. They will then return a few weeks after that to lay down permanent striping.

In addition to the seven roundabout intersections, the widening project also features a multiuse path between Wilshire and Cherry Creek roads that was completed in May and a new bridge over Cherry Creek that was completed in January.

For more information on this $62 million project, visit azdot.gov/projects and click on North Central District.

Real-time highway conditions are available on ADOT’s Arizona Traveler Information site at az511.gov, by calling 511 and through ADOT’s Twitter feed, @ArizonaDOT. When a freeway closure or other major traffic event occurs, our free app available at ADOTAlerts.com will send critical information directly to app users in affected areas – where possible, in advance of alternate routes.

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ASU Makes Sierra Club 'Cool Schools' List

Tempe Town Lake is the centerpiece of the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, where Arizona State University's main campus is located. | Dana Smith Northey

The national magazine of the Sierra Club says Arizona's largest university is also one of the greenest colleges around.

Sierra magazine, in its annual "Cool Schools" ranking released late last month, ranked Arizona State University fifth in the country out of 269 schools that participated in the ranking of North America's greenest colleges and universities.

The organization says the schools ranked in the top 20 "have displayed a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues, and encouraging environmental responsibilities."

Researchers for the Sierra Club ranked the universities based on their commitment to high environmental standards, the group says.

The top spot on the list was a tie between the University of California-Irvine and Vermont's Green Mountain College. There were no other Arizona schools on the list, but others in the region included Colorado State University (fourth), California State University-Chico (ninth), Santa Clara University (13th) and Loyola Marymount University (19th).

You can view the full rankings and learn about each of the schools on the list on the Sierra Club's website.

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'The Thing' Opens Expanded Museum

The Thing | Via Facebook

If you've driven Interstate 10 in Southeastern Arizona, you've seen the billboards for "The Thing," the roadside attraction 17 miles east of Benson. Maybe you've even stopped to try to answer the question on those billboards: "What Is It?" (We're not exactly sure ourselves.)

Now, the attraction's operators have opened an expanded museum to give motorists more reasons to pull off the road.

Bowlin Travel Centers says the new 30,000-square-foot facility is more than three times as big as the previous museum, which was made up of several buildings. It also is climate-controlled and incorporates the site's Dairy Queen restaurant, an expanded retail space and more, the group says.

The new retail space offers handcrafted Indian jewelry, Southwestern merchandise and museum souvenirs.

"The Thing" dates to the late 1960s, when Thomas Binkley Prince built a tourist stop around his colleciton of oddities and unique items. It's since been the subject of numerous news stories, many of which attempt to identify what "The Thing" is. We won't bother. You'll just have to check it out for yourself.

For more information on "The Thing," visit www.bowlinsthething.com.

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