There's also a bubbling sense of dread about the threatened closure of Lost Dutchman State Park, which could happen in June. Though the park is irrelevant to serious Dutchman hunters, who stick to the backcountry, and is a postage stamp-size plot in the gigantic Tonto National Forest, it's a major financial engine in Apache Junction.

Things look good, for now. The park's projected budget isn't really that red, the state seems willing to accept donations to keep the park open, and well-heeled snowbirds are donating money in droves.

The hardcore Dutchman hunters don't care either way. One compared the small state park to a "pimple on a dog's ass," as far as the hunt for Waltz's gold is concerned.

Steve Jakubowski, an assistant park manager, says the park isn't the focus of anyone who is serious about searching for the mine, but many wanna-be prospectors spend a few nights there, in the shadow of Superstition Peak.

"We get gold hunters all the time. I've seen people come in here in $100,000 motor homes, and I've seen people come in here on foot after catching a ride. They are all looking for it," he says. "A lot of them are not the most organized. They're not going too far off the [beaten paths], but they want to find the Dutchman's gold."

Some have experienced a "find," Jakubowski says, which is how die-hard prospectors are minted.

"They have a big pendant with a piece of gold on it, and they love to show it to you too," he says. "That's what got them going. They find one piece like that — one big piece of rock gold in quartz — and they're addicted to prospecting."

Which is to say that small amounts of gold have been found near the Superstitions, though nothing like the Dutchman's lode.

If prospectors are addicts, Louis Ruiz, a salty old shopkeeper who runs The Blue Bird Mine store, is a 12-stepper. Ruiz, a man who says "daggummit" a lot and chews tobacco as he chats up customers, selling them handmade bolo ties and shards of volcanic glass, takes a dim view of the ongoing Gold Rush.

"A mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar," he spits.

Sure, Ruiz says, he spent time out in the mountains hunting the Dutchman. Then, he started developing an interest in geology, concluding that the main range of the Superstitions has been stripped of valuable minerals. Now he believes Waltz actually got his gold by poaching the nearby Bulldog Mine, one of many old-time shafts in the area.

"I just came to the conclusion, after wearing out boots, that it ain't out there," he says of the Dutchman. "It wasn't a waste of time — I had a good time out there hiking and saw some pretty scenery."

He's not the only Dutchman hunter who'll tell you "the gold is in the hunt," which is maybe the only thing that all hunters can agree on.

The current owners of the Bulldog Mine, for example, don't agree that it could be the source of the Dutchman's ore. How do they know? They've had it tested against some purported Dutchman ore, which they own, handed down from old Dick Holmes. Meet the Feldmans.

Considering he's a relative newcomer, born back east before moving to Arizona in the '60s, it's a little surprising that Ron Feldman and his family are the top outfit in the Dutchman-hunting game.

Unlike the loon who stumbled into Apache Junction's Pro-Mack Treasure Hunting on a recent weekend, drunk and asking for dynamite, the Feldmans play by the rules. They also have a huge platform for their beliefs via their OK Corral riding stables, which takes city folk on tours of the area, complete with history lessons from their guides. The gold is truly in the hunt for the Feldmans, who charge $1,200 a head for one of their three-day Dutchman-themed riding trips.

Ron Feldman first heard of the Dutchman legend while growing up in Buffalo, New York, then started exploring the Superstitions when he lived in California. In 1968, he opened his stables, mostly so he could finance his hunt for the Dutchman. Feldman's oft-repeated quip about his first quarter-century of searching is that he followed the typical threads and "became an expert on where the mine wasn't."

Then, Feldman started poring over the notes of Ted Cox, an old-timer whose father claims to have known Waltz and who himself purports to have overheard plotters discussing the murder of Adolph Ruth. That led Feldman to an abandoned mine far east of where most Dutchman hunters concentrate.

To explore that mine, Feldman had to assemble a team and file a "treasure trove permit," which had never been done in the Superstitions before. The Feldmans got the permit in 2004 and started digging without power tools, using basically the same technology the mine would have made do with in the 1850s. Officially, they were digging under the auspices of an archeological expedition, trying to prove the Spanish made their way into the Supes, far north of where most historians believed they'd been.

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8 comments
sherrycook007
sherrycook007

My brother, a friend & myself took a hike in the superstition mountains once back in 1971. we had barely started walking when we saw this rocket ship @ the top of a cliff (we thought, a space ship - someone must

b playing a joke). We left the trail & headed 4 the base of the cliff, hoping that once there we'd find a way up. At the point directly below the ship we found a hidden waterfall (no way up at all). The waterfall was spilling into a circle of small river rocks. And going immediately underground. There was no pooling of the water @ all. We didn't touch it or walk on the rocks. We were so spooked we took off back to our car. When we could we looked back to c if the rocket was still there. It was not. I would love to hear of others experiences in those mountains. I have never been able 2 forget what happened to us & have never been back there.

Dbmcneal
Dbmcneal

Great article. I have been lucky enough to have been taught by knowlegable freinds how dangerous these mountains are.

Scole14
Scole14

This is a very interesting article but the idea that the Superstition area is a particularly dangerous one is silly. There is a certain romance associated with the range which some find important to nurture. The stories of stick-weilding miners and squatting prospectors are, of course, apocryphal, as are the tales of the lost mine itself. Likewise, the danger from the exceedingly sparse population of mountain lions in the range is by all measures nonexistent and anyone who packs a firearm into the wilderness against the advent of a shootout with one is either ignorant or operating a couple of raisins short of a fruitcake. I have hiked extensively in the Superstitions and I have often seen these pistol-packing nimrods. I suppose one should allow them to indulge in their adolescent Wild West fantasies, but they still leave me rolling my eyes a little. Nothing is sillier (even squatting prospectors or lurking mountain lions) than a paranoid, Stetson-wearing nudnik shivering with fear and packing a six-shooter in this rugged but friendly wilderness.

Jonathan  McNamara
Jonathan McNamara

How is looking for a lost gold mine any different from the constant search for material wealth modern society seems to place us all on?

C W Williamson
C W Williamson

There is a certain pity I feel for people as ignorant as you who think that nothing bad will ever happen to them. What happens when you or your dauhter are hiking with a couple of girlfriends and you come upon some maniac squatting out there? You would be really wishing you had a gun at that point, because chances are the maniac DOES have one. And guess what, there are no police out there either friend!

 
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