This week’s Travel Tuesday is themed “local legends.” There are so many here in the desert, but I think one of the most famous in my immediate area is the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.
The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is, according to local legend, a very rich gold mine hidden in the Superstition Mountains, just east of Phoenix, Arizona. The mine is named after a German immigrant, Jacob Waltz, who supposedly discovered it in the 19th century. People have been searching for the mine since (at least) the late 1890s. The Lost Dutchman is perhaps one of the most famous lost mines in the US and thousands of people still brave the mountains in search of the treasure, sometimes to their own peril.
There are many variations to the story behind this legend, but they all seem to suggest that Waltz was mortally injured and either found with gold in his saddle bags or was found just in time to pass on the knowledge of the mine. Some stories suggest that the mine isn’t a true gold mine but is rather a stash of gold put there by Waltz. There have been several allegedly mysterious deaths or encounters in the Superstitions, while others have simply disappeared never to be heard from again. According to many versions of the tale, the mine is either cursed or protected by guardians who wish to keep the mine’s location a secret.
In 1977, 12 acres abutting the Tonto National Forest were set aside for the Lost Dutchman State Park. While hiking and camping are popular activities for the park, serious gold prospecting is not allowed.
Of all the locations near Phoenix, I have to say that the Superstition Mountains both intrigue and scare me in equal measure. I mean they are named the Superstitions after all! In addition to the Lost Dutchman Mine, some Apaches believe that the mountains contain a hole leading down into the lower world (aka Hell!!). Winds blowing from this hole are supposed to be the cause of severe dust storms in the area. It is told that early settlers felt that the native’s stories were all just “superstitions,” hence the name, but here too there are several tales of purported explanation. Either way, as if the name weren’t enough, the area is both unforgiving and absolutely breathtaking. Temperatures can easily reach 120 degrees (F) in the summer and snow can often be seen on the highest peaks in the winter. It was once noted that everything that survives out there either sticks, stings, or eats meat. I have found that to be a very apt description.
I’ve had the good fortune to drive through the mountains on several occasions and will occasionally be lured out that way for a hike. There are peaks, valleys, glyphs, and all manner of wild beings to be seen. I just stick to the more well-beaten paths. (smile) Sadly, the deaths and disappearances mentioned in conjunction with the mine aren’t all just made-up stories – several people do go missing and/or are found dead in the mountains. The conditions are ephemeral and it’s pretty easy to get lost if you stray from the trail. We went up into the Superstitions during one of the recent “super moons” to escape the city lights and I must say, there is a vibe to that place that is amplified by moonlight. Myth, legend, or just superstition, the feeling is real.