Haywood's Superstitions Trek

The Period — 1947 to 1955

by Carl Haywood

By the time I ventured into the Superstition Mountains in the '60s, I had been around prospecting and mining for several years. My grandfather had done some prospecting for promising asbestos deposits as early as the late '40s.

In the '50s, my father got bitten by the mining bug and was involved in the uranium boom that was spreading across the plateau country surrounding the Four Corners area. He and his partner staked out several claims in the Sierra Ancha Mountains north of Roosevelt Lake not far from Tonto Basin.

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That's me on the right standing with my Dad and his partner
as they examine the latest samples taken from the tunnel behind us. c. 1955

I was lucky enough on several occasions to get to tag along. I loved the excitement involved in doing the annual assessment work on the claims—especially when they were doing some blasting. The warning by the powder monkey that a shot was about to go off was clearly understood—Fire in the hole! We'd clear out of the immediate danger zone and wait for the fuse to burn its way to the powder. I was reminded several times not to hide under a tree. Rather, we stood in an open area where we could clearly see the sky so we could watch for raining rocks that could hurt us.

I never lost my interest in mining and geology, taking as many courses in college as I could work into my schedule at NAU while working on my degree in forestry. I eventually married a geologist and for more than 20 years we sold educational rock, mineral and fossil collections on the internet to customers around the world. We sold this company, www.rocksandminerals.com, a few years ago and it is still in operation.

In 1955, the year the picture above was taken, my dad took me to see the movie Lust for Gold in the nearby town of Globe. It was about the Lost Dutchman's Mine. Even though the tale had almost nothing to do with facts, it launched my imagination. That's when my interest in the Superstition Mountains was kindled—it has never burned out.

The Year — 1962

The second day on the trail, we followed La Barge Creek from the point where it joins Boulder Creek to a point less than a mile below Squaw Creek then cut to the south another half mile to the Three Red Hills. That's a part of the story you'll have to read in the book.

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Leaving the Red Hills, we turned south for a half-mile or so until we came to the Bull Pass Trail. Crossing Bull Pass at the north end of Black Top Mesa, we headed down into Boulder Canyon. It was late afternoon when we arrived near the Bull Pass and Boulder Canyon intersection. We were low on water and had found none despite a couple of places where our research had shown it would likely be available.

The route we traveled is shown on the following Google image. La Barge Canyon and Boulder Canyon run parallel to each other and are located only a short distance apart divided by a high, jagged, rocky ridge that looms more than 300 feet above the bottoms. The trail where we crossed from La Barge Canyon to Boulder Canyon was less than a mile below the mouth of Squaw Creek.

Figuring there would be water somewhere up East Boulder Canyon toward Weavers Needle, Bob and I agreed to set up camp and fix supper while Mike and Ken went to look for water. Our camp was at the mouth of East Boulder Canyon just to the left of the center of the photo below about two miles north of Weavers Needle.

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Bull Pass Trail from the north end of Black Top Mesa
(photo courtesy of HikeArizona.com by wallyfrack)

Mike and Ken set out toward the mouth of East Boulder Canyon, bounded on the west by Palomino Mountain and on the east by Black Top Mesa. Meanwhile, Bob and I gathered firewood, unpacked some of our gear and groceries and started a cooking fire.

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Looking southeast into the mouth of East Boulder Canyon as viewed from the Black Mesa Trail.
(photo courtesy of HikeArizona.com by Al_HikesAZ)

It was getting late. Another hour or two and it would be dark. A stew had been simmering over the coals of our fire for some time and we were beginning to worry about our friends. We deliberated about whether or not to go looking for the two but decided to give them another hour. That would leave us at least and hour of daylight to look for them.

Half an hour later Mike came loping into camp. Ken, sucking air, was a hundred yards behind. Mike stood for a few minutes, breathing deeply to catch his breath. Ken, hands on his knees was bent over gasping for air but did not let that interfere with his excitement to tell us where they had been.

"You'll never believe what we ran across up in the canyon," he gasped. "There's a miners' camp up by Palomino Rock—five or six men and a woman."

Mike, always calm and collected, had a smile on his face as he waited with Bob and me to hear Ken's rendition of what had transpired halfway up East Boulder Canyon.

"They invited us to come get you guys and to bring you back to their camp to spend the night." He said between gasps. "C'mon, let's go!"

Of course there could be only one decision—we'd take the miners up on their invitation. We suggested Mike and Ken have some stew and relax for a few minutes before we did anything. As they ate, Ken managed to calm down considerably as he gobbled down the stew while Bob and I listened to Mike's take on the encounter between bites.

Less than half an hour later we were on our way up the East Boulder Canyon trail—now called the Dutchman Trail. It was rough going. Half a mile from the mouth of the canyon, we came to a place where the steep sides of the canyon squeezed the trail into a narrow passage where it crossed a huge rock outcrop as shown in this Google Earth image

By the time we reached the spot where we had to climb over the rock, there was absolutely no view beyond the huge boulders of the trail ahead. Ken was in the lead, followed by Mike and Bob. I brought up the rear. Head down, watching where I stepped, I was suddenly aware of activity and looked up quickly to see what was going on. I noticed my three companions standing bunched together, eyes looking to their right. Mine followed theirs.

There about ten yards in front of us stood five men positioned along a raggedly formed defensive line with guns pointed our way—fingers on the triggers! To this day I still remember the rush I felt at that moment.

That was our first encounter with men whose souls burned with the lust that can consume treasure hunters when they are seeking their El Dorado, confident they will find it and willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to do so.

The camp was situated on a small flat just off the trail directly beneath Palomino Rock. The layout of the site can be seen in my book which I took with my state-of-the-art Kodak Instamatic 100 camera in 1962. As Bob, Mike, Ken and I would later learn, that campsite had been carefully selected for good reason. A few months later, two men from the Burns Camp paid us a visit at ASU and things turned bizarre—so much so that despite an invitation to revisit the people in the camp, we never went back to that place again.

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East Boulder Trail where it crossed the rock outcrop.

They were dressed in western garb, wide-brimmed cowboy hats shaded their eyes, boots protected their legs from cactus or biting critters that might be lurking along the trail. It was obvious from their clothing and unshaved faces they had been here for a while.

Fifty yards from the rock was a camp centered around a crude main shelter constructed of canvas and plastic tarps. In front of it stood a stout, middle-aged women—Ma Burns. A smaller canvas tent was located just beyond the main shelter. A hand lettered sign let strangers know where they were. It read, Burns Camp—population five plus one burro. This would be our home for a few days.

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Bare ground in the lower left was where the Burns Camp was located.
(photo courtesy of HikeArizona.com by Kel1969)

The East Boulder Canyon trail still crosses the rock outcropping but the remnants of the Burns Camp have long since been erased from the landscape. Only patches of bare ground visible in the lower left of the above photo remain as evidence of where the Burns Camp was pitched. Unless they've read my book, few, if any, hikers today have even a clue about what went on here fifty years ago.

Finally, this last photo taken from Aylor's Arch will put it all in perspective for those hiking the trail and/or climbing to the top of Palomino Mountain for a close-up look at the arch. In this photo Weavers Needle is visible in the upper right and the East Boulder Canyon trail can be seen winding through the center. Palomino Rock is clearly visible in the lower center of the photo.

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View of Weavers Needle and East Boulder Canyon taken from the Aylor's Arch area.
(photo courtesy of HikeArizona.com by snakemarks)

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Last updated: 9/26/2020