Kollenborn: Superstition Wilderness Area FAQs

I taught a class here in Apache Junction about the history, geology, fauna, flora and legend of the Superstition Wilderness Area for more than twenty-five years. These are the twenty most commonly asked questions about the area. For more information about the Superstition Wilderness Area, check out the city of Apache Junction Library and the…

I taught a class here in Apache Junction about the history, geology, fauna, flora and legend of the Superstition Wilderness Area for more than twenty-five years. These are the twenty most commonly asked questions about the area. For more information about the Superstition Wilderness Area, check out the city of Apache Junction Library and the Superstition Mountain Museum. -TK

  1. How did Superstition Mountain get its name? The best answer to this question centers on the early farmers of the Salt River Valley, according to most historians. The farmers grew and cut hay for the Army at Fort McDowell in the late 1860’s. These farmers constantly heard stories from the Pimas how they feared Superstition Mountain. The farmer thought the Pimas were superstitious about the mountain; hence the name Superstition Mountain. Early military sketch maps used in reports to the commander of Fort McDowell referred to the Salt River Mountains (Superstition Mountain) as Sierra de Supersticiones and the Salt River Mountains.
  1. Is there a Dutchman’s Lost Gold Mine? Most Arizona historians believe there is little evidence to suggest the existence of a rich gold mine in the Superstition Wilderness Area. One can never forget the old adage, “Gold is where you find it.” Hundreds have searched for the old Dutchman’s mine over the past century, and it still remains lost. Geologists, for the most part will tell you there is no gold in the Superstition Wilderness Area.
  1. Who was the Dutchman? Jacob Waltz indeed existed and prospected the mountains of Arizona from 1863-1891. Waltz made several trips into the Superstition Mountains, according to early pioneers of Mesa and Tempe. Waltz was born in Germany in 1810 and died in Phoenix, Arizona Territory, October 25, 1891. Waltz had gold claims in Yavapai County and worked gold claims in California. He also homesteaded 160 acres of land along the north bank of the Salt River in Phoenix. Much of the legend about this old German immigrant resulted from the gold ore cache found beneath his deathbed and the stories written by Peirpont Constable Bicknell, as told to him by Julia Thomas, prior to the turn of the century.
  1. How do I find Peralta Trailhead? Drive southeast from Apache Junction on Highway 60 toward Florence Junction. Peralta Road is approximately 2.4 miles east of King’s Ranch Road. Turn east on Peralta Road, and drive 8.0 miles to the Peralta Trailhead. This is a dirt road and is often not improved any. A hike up Peralta Trail provides a spectacular view of Weaver’s Needle. This is a very strenuous 1.75 mile hike. Remember this is a wilderness, so take water along.
  1. How do I find First Water Trailhead? Drive northeast of Apache Junction on State Route 88, the Apache Trail, 4.9 miles. Turn to your right onto the First Water Road. This road is dirt and can be very rough. It is 2.5 miles to the trailhead. There are good hiking trails in the area.
  1. Where is the Lost Dutchman State Park? The Lost Dutchman State Park is located 4.7 miles northeast of Apache Junction, Arizona, on State Route 88 (Apache Trail). The entrance to the park is on the right hand side of the road, traveling northeast from Apache Junction. The various campsites and day-use sites have spectacular views of the northwestern façade of Superstition Mountain. The park now has over-night hookups for water and electricity. For Information call: 480-982-4485
  1. How did Superstition Mountain form? Superstition Mountain, according to geologist Dr. Michael Sheridan, Arizona State University, was formed from volcanic activity between 17-24 million years ago. The mountain was once a part of a large caldera that resurged, forming a massive mountain that was eroded to its present shape after millions and millions of years of erosion. The rocks of Superstition Mountain are primarily volcanic in origin. The mountain is formed from alternating layers of ash and basalt.
  1. How old is Superstition Mountain? Geologists estimate Superstition Mountain to be between 15 million and 29 million years old. The black basalt around Black Top Mesa and Yellow Peak are the most recent formations, being about 3 million years old.
  1. Do Native Americans live in the Superstitions? Native Americans may occasionally visit the fringe regions of Superstition Wilderness Area today; however, none live in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The last Native Americans to occupy a small part of the Superstitions were the Apaches and Pimas during the construction of the Apache Trail from 1903-1905.
  1. Are there any roads into the Superstition Wilderness? Roads are prohibited in a national wilderness area by law. Today only one road actually penetrates the wilderness. This road is the Tortilla Ranch access corridor. The forest service plans on withdrawing this access corridor sometime in the future.
  1. Are there any working gold mines in the Superstitions? There are no working (profitable) gold mines operating within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. The only gold mines that ever existed in the immediate area were the mines associated with the Superstition Mining District, mines such as the Mammoth, Bull Dog and Black Queen, just to the west of Superstition Mountain proper. Visit the Goldfield Ghost Town and see the nostalgic remains of old mining equipment and hear the stories about mining in area.
  1. What is a wilderness area? A wilderness is a piece of public land set aside in its natural state and preserved for future generations of Americans to see and experience. The Superstition Wilderness Area encompasses some 159,780 acres of land in the Tonto National Forest. The region includes part of three Arizona counties, Gila, Maricopa and Pinal.
  1. Where can I see Weaver’s Needle from the highway? Weaver’s Needle can be seen from both State Route 88 (Apache Trail) and U.S. Highway 60. Approximately 7.0 miles northeast of Apache Junction at a new vista point is the best view of the “needle” from a paved highway.
  1. Are permits required to visit the Superstition Wilderness? The Superstition Wilderness Area does not require a permit to visit. First Water and Peralta are popular trail heads to visit.
  1. What agency regulates the Superstition Wilderness Area? The Tonto National Forest Ranger District, under the supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture.
  1. What is the easiest way to see the Superstition Wilderness? The quickest and easiest way to see the Superstition Wilderness is by helicopter, but this method is very expensive. The cheapest method is hiking the enormous trail system of the wilderness. There are more than 140 miles of improved system trails in the Superstition Wilderness Area. To use the trail system, you must be prepared to do a lot of hiking or horseback riding. The best time of the year to hike the wilderness is between November and April.
  1. How many miles of hiking trails are there in the Superstitions? There are 140 miles of improved system trails in the Superstition Wilderness Area and approximately 100 more miles of unimproved trails that do not appear on maps. Trails that do not appear on forest service maps are not considered system trails and are not maintained in any manner.
  1. How high is Superstition Mountain above sea level? The highest point on Superstition Mountain above sea level is 5,074 feet. This is Southeast Superstition Peak. Summit 5,024 is the second highest point on Superstition Mountain. This point is directly above Lost Dutchman State Park. The highest point in the wilderness is Mound Mountain at 6,242 feet above sea level.
  1. What is the difference between Superstition Mountain and the Superstition Wilderness Area? Superstition Mountain is one specific geographical location (landmark) within the Superstition Wilderness Area, immediately east of Apache Junction. The Superstition Wilderness Area is a region of some 242 square miles or 159,780 acres containing many lesser mountains and some even higher mountains than Superstition Mountain.
  1. Where can I get information on the Superstition Wilderness Area? The Mesa Ranger District has excellent maps of the Superstition Wilderness Area: Mesa Ranger District; 5140 East Ingram; Mesa, Arizona 85205; 480-610-3300

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