Waltzing in the Desert
Some History: I can remember my first visit to Arizona in the mid-80's and being introduced to the history and legends of the Superstition Mountains during a business trip break to check out the Apache Trail. I purchased Tom Kollenborn's book "Superstition Mountain - A Ride through Time" as a souvenir from that first visit and remember devouring it on the plane ride home. The book still remains in our home library as a reference for Superstition gold and other lore.
The most prominent legend has to include Jacob Waltz (aka "the Dutchman" - actually the "Deutsch Man" in reference to his German heritage), and the mysterious source of the gold he used to pay the bills. When Jacob Waltz made his way into Phoenix during the 1870's, picking up various supplies, he always paid promptly with gold. He'd make his way back to the Superstition Mountains to an undisclosed location. So where did his gold come from?
Prior to Jacob Waltz's arrival to the Superstitions, it was rumored that the Peralta family of northern Mexico had developed a rich gold mine in these mountains. According to legend, an Apache ambush in the 1840's ended the family's last expedition with only a single Peralta escaping the slaughter. Jacob Waltz purportedly located the mine through the aid of the Peralta descendant. Waltz and his partner, Jacob Weiser, worked in the mine and allegedly hid one or more caches of gold in the Superstitions. Most stories place the gold in the vicinity of Weaver's Needle. Waltz's partner died under suspicious circumstances.
Jacob Waltz moved to Phoenix and died in 1891, at the age of 83. $15,000 of gold was found under his bed after he died. He supposedly described the mine's location to Julia Thomas, a neighbor who took care of him prior to his death. Neither she nor dozens of other seekers in the years that followed were able to find the "Lost Dutchman Mine." Subsequent searchers have sometimes met with foul play or even death, contributing to the mystery, superstition, and legend that surrounds these mountains.
In 1912, Carl Silverlocke and Carl Malm found an old Spanish saddle bag filled with $18,000 worth of smelted gold near the site of the Massacre Grounds. Many people look to this as evidence that the legends of lost Superstition gold are true. Many maps have surfaced over the years , only to perpetuate the legend...
There is no shortage of information today continuing the legend of the Superstitions. Information may be found through searching the HAZ Forum and in popular Dutchman books.
The Hike: The Lost Dutchman State Park was founded in 1977 to act as a buffer between urban sprawl and the Superstition Mountains. It has a trail system that crosses into Tonto National Forest and in some instances, the Superstition Wilderness Area. This loop hike combines the five most prominent hiking segments into a single excursion. Although many of the hiking segments have been previously described on HAZ, this popular loop has remained un-posted.
Pay the day-use fee at the Visitor Center and proceed to either the Cholla or Saguaro day-use parking areas. I'll describe this hike as a counter-clockwise loop starting from the Saguaro parking area at the Discovery TH located near the restrooms.
The Discovery Trail heads south from the day-use area towards the campgrounds and the Siphon Draw TH. There are interpretive signs along this trail providing information about flora and fauna native to the area. There are strategically placed bird feeders and water ponds to attract wildlife. We spotted the "blunt" end of a coyote as we approached attesting to their effectiveness. This trail undulates into a couple of washes and passes the campground amphitheater just before it connects with the Siphon Draw TH.
Siphon Draw Trail #53 offers classic views of the Superstition Mountains and the distinctive Flatiron Peak. You will soon cross the park boundary heading into the Tonto National Forest. The trail follows the old 4WD track leading to Palmer Mine. About 1 mile from the Discovery TH, you will come to the intersection with Jacob's Crosscut Trail #58. Continue along Siphon Draw Trail #53 another half mile if you wish to view the abandoned Palmer Mine.
Otherwise, continue the loop by taking Jacob's Crosscut Trail #58 in a northeast direction in and out of a wash joining up on the other side to Prospector's View Trail #57. You hike along Jacob's Crosscut Trail #58 for only about 1/10th of a mile.
Prospector's View Trail #57 will begin a steady ascent upwards towards the surrounding cliffs of the Superstition Mountains and the distinctive Praying Hands rock feature. As you reach a prominent view point near some boulders, take advantage of the park bench to rest and savor the sights. You've now hiked about 1.5 miles from the Discovery TH. The city of Phoenix lies to the west and Four Peaks to the east. Every now and then a steam whistle can be heard emanating from the tourist train at Goldfield.
Close to the park bench lays the intersection with Treasure Loop Trail #56. Continue east about - miles until you see the off-trail route continuing upwards to the Praying Hands. The Treasure Loop Trail #56 makes a 90 degree bend here, heading downwards towards the Lost Dutchman State Park boundary and the Cholla parking area.
Summary: The Lost Dutchman State Park trail system offers many choices to the hiker. This is a popular loop hike combines the five most prominent hiking segments into a single excursion.
Discovery Trail: Connects the campground and day use areas. Trail features information signs, a wildlife pond, bird feeder and viewing bench.
Siphon Draw Trail #53: 4 miles round trip, a very scenic hike, this trail winds up into a canyon known as Siphon Draw. It is possible to hike up the Flatiron (5.8 miles roundtrip), although it is not a designated, maintained trail all the way. It's advised that only experienced hikers in good shape attempt to hike to the top, as the climb is steep and difficult to follow. Allow at least five hours to the Flatiron and back.
Palmer Mine Off-Trail: Off-trail hiking to an abandoned mine.
Jacob's Crosscut Trail #58: Trail runs 0.8 miles along the base of the mountain, rated easy. It connects Treasure Loop Trail with Prospector's View Trail, and continues 4.5 miles past the park area along the base of the Superstitions.
Prospector's View Trail #57: Length 0.7 miles, rated moderate. It connects Siphon Draw Trail with Treasure Loop Trail also connects with Jacob's Crosscut Trail.
Treasure Loop Trail #56: Length 2.4 miles round trip, rated moderate, elevation change of 500 feet. It terminates at either picnic area.
Praying Hands Off-Trail: Off-trail hiking to the base of a distinctive rock outcrop.
This loop hike can also serve as a good introduction to the mysterious Superstition Mountains and its abundant legends. I've brought many first time visitors to Arizona to this park and will continue to do so. Just remember not to let the truth stand in the way of a good story... Enjoy!
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.