APACHE JUNCTION, Arizona — As we rode the trail up the side of First Water Canyon, in the Superstition Mountains of central Arizona we never lost sight of a huge vertical rock they call Weaver’s Needle.
It’s the most conspicuous landmark in the mountains and it comes up again and again in the stories of the Lost Dutchman mine and the treasure of the thunder gods.
I wondered idly if the “Old Dutchman” himself — actually a German prospector called Jacob Waltz — had maybe used this very trail on his way back from the mine, his pack mule’s saddlebags full of gold.
Waltz supposedly said on his deathbed that his mine — which he never led anyone to — was worth at least $100 million, and that was in 1891 dollars.
No wonder thousands of hopefuls have scoured the mountains in the years since, all wanting a share of the wealth reportedly hidden in the place the Native Americans call Thunder Gods Mountain.
Some have spent their lives searching. Many have given up in frustration. Dozens have disappeared in these forbidding canyons.
And not a few have been murdered, slain, some think, because someone has indeed found the gold and will kill anyone else who gets too close to it.
My guide on my one-day treasure hunt — in truth a jaunt to research the legend and to get the feel of the area — was Ron Feldman, who makes a living escorting tourists and gold-seekers on one-, two- or three-day pack trips into the Superstition Mountains from his OK Corral Stables in Apache Junction.
Feldman won’t say if he believes there’s a lost mine here, but he has more experience than most in treasure hunting. He has already discovered one lost mine, the Adams Diggings, the most notorious in Arizona after the Lost Dutchman. Feldman found it in 1989, but “it was played out,” he says.
Before dying, the Old Dutchman is supposed to have given directions to his mine, and various interpretations of these have come down through the years. Many revolve around Weaver’s Needle and here we were, around noon, literally in its shadow.
So I asked Feldman about one of Waltz’s alleged directions — that the gold lies “where the shadow of the tip of the needle falls at 4 in the afternoon.”
Nonsense, he said. For one thing the shadow falls in a different place every day.
We pressed on toward a bluff called Geronimo’s Head, climbing a canyon wall. Every so often we’d come on old diggings, all the stuff of broken dreams.
At one point we came in sight of Window Rock, a squarish hole in a jagged wall of rock. Feldman scoffs at the story that the noon sun shining through it would show the entrance to the mine. Again, he pointed out, the sun shines on a different spot every day.
Finally we returned to OK Corral Stables. I had come back with a wealth of lore and legend, but no richer in gold. The Lost Dutchman mine, if it exists, still awaits someone else.
For more information on OK Corral Stables tours visit its website at okcorrals.com.
For information on the Lost Dutchman Mine visit the Superstition Mountain Museum at superstitionmountainmuseum.org.
For information on travel in Arizona go to the Arizona Office of Tourism website at www.arizonaguide.com.