Courtesy of Tom Kollenborn and the Superstition Mountain Historical
Arizona's Superstition Mountain has long been the source
of stories and tales about lost gold. Legends of the Dutchman's Lost
Gold Mine, Jesuit treasure, Peralta gold and numerous other lost gold
mine stories still attract men and women from far and near alike to
this rugged mountain range east of Apache Junction.
Tales of Indian history add to the mountain's lore.
These stories are centuries old. The Pima's called Superstition Mountain
Ka-Katak-Tami meaning "The Crooked Top Mountain." From the towering
summit of Superstition Mountain one can see the vastness of this rugged
mountain range to the east . The mountain serves as a dividing line
between rural and urban Arizona. As the population of the Salt River
Valley grows the lights of Phoenix continue to advance on the realm
of the Dutchman's Lost Gold Mine and the Apache Thunder God.
This giant monolith, Superstition Mountain, rises to
the height of 3,000 feet above the surrounding desert floor and dominates
the eastern fringe of the Salt River Valley. The Superstition Wilderness
Area, of which Superstition Mountain is part, contains some 242 square
miles or 159,780 acres of Arizona's rugged desert mountain terrain.
Mountain peaks tower 6,000 feet above sea level and deep canyon dissect
this vast wilderness region.
The region includes a wide-range of fauna and flora
that are native to the Sonoran Desert life zone. Plants range from the
giant Saguaro cactus to the stately Ponderosa pine. Mule deer, javelinas,
mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, a variety of birds, reptiles and amphibians
live in this fragile desert eco-system. The diversity of living things
in this region astonishes the visitor.
Old-timers will tell you everything that survives in
this desert wilderness either sticks, stings, bites or eats meat. This
is an age old description about survival in such a harsh environment.
This is a land were life is totally dependent on the availability of
water. The desert is a place where water will appear one day and vanish
the next day. Temperatures on the desert floor can exceed 125 degrees
F in the summer months and can drop well below freezing during the winter
months. Snow is not uncommon to the high desert mountains during the
This land of towering spires and deep canyons was formed
by volcanic upheaval some 29 million years ago during the tertiary period
of geologic time. Superstition Mountain was formed during a tectonic
maelstrom which resulted in a massive caldera. The caldera was almost
seven miles in diameter. After the lava cooled, magma pushed the center
of the caldera upward forming a mass of igneous rock. The mass was slowly
eroded for millions of years by running water and wind forming the mountain
we see today. Superstition Mountain in the distant past was a thousand
feet higher than it is today. Uplift, subsidence, resurgence and erosion
have all played a role in shaping Superstition Mountain. Yes, this mountain
was born of fire.
What is the origin of the name Superstition Mountain?
The best answer to this question centers around the early farmers of
the Salt River Valley who grew and cut hay for the Army at Fort McDowell
during the late 1860's. These farmers constantly heard stories from
the Pima Indians how they feared this mountain. The farmers thought
the Pimas were superstitious about the mountain hence the name Superstition
Some authors and writers would lead you to believe
the Spanish named Superstition Mountain. Sims Ely, author of The Lost
Dutchman Mine, stated in the opening chapter of his classic book on
the Lost Dutchman Mine that the Spanish named Superstition Mountain
Sierra de espuma meaning a "mountain of foam." The origin of this name
appears to be a forest service map drawn by L.P. Landon in 1918. Landon
named a small butte southwest of Superstition Mountain Monte de Espuma.
It is true, the first European visitors to this area
were Spanish. Fray Marcos de Niza was the first European to see Superstition
Mountain in 1539. He observed the mountain from the Gila River during
his visit to the region almost five hundred years ago. He did not explore
the rugged mountain range or record it in his journal.
Sierra Supersticiones appeared on military field sketch
maps of the region as early as May of 1866. This was during the Rancheria
Campaign lead by Brevet Lt. John D. Walker's 1st Arizona Volunteers
and U.S. Army Infantry from Fort McDowell under the command of Lt. Col.
Clarence E. Bennett.. The first United States War Department maps of
the region made reference to the Superstition Mountains as the Salt
River Mountains. The first time Superstition Mountain appeared on official
military maps was in 1870.