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How can Spencer be sure someone didn't find the treasure years ago?
And assuming that the maps are indeed authentic, how can Spencer ever hope to match the sketchy topography indicated on the ancient tablets with the Superstition landscape of today?

When that mini-inquisition is over, Spencer flashes a confident smile--he's already taken all that into account, thank you very much. "It's all in the research," he says, thumping his finger on a thick ream of photocopied documents and photographs.

@body:The curator of the Superstition Mountain Historical Society is all too familiar with the legends that have sprung up around the artifacts since they were discovered some four decades ago in the Florence Junction area.

"I've made a lot of people unhappy, but I just can't get very excited about these stone tablets." So says curator Tom Kollenborn, who is frequently quizzed about the alleged maps by would-be treasure seekers, nearly all of whom believe they have finally cracked the code that has eluded everyone before them.

Chuckling wanly, Kollenborn reports that over the years, he's heard practically every stone-tablet theory imaginable--not to mention a few that border on the unimaginable.

"Some people believe they show where the treasure is, some say they are really surveying maps, other people say this, others that. Someone's always coming up with a 'new' angle.

"I can't prove it, of course, but I've always thought they were some sort of hoax," insists Kollenborn. Although he concedes the tablets are "undoubtedly old" (or at least appear to be), the curator claims he has extreme doubts that the tablets are actually of Spanish origin. Instead, he theorizes that the tablets may actually have been manufactured as "evidence" in hopes of swaying a judge in a long-ago land-rights lawsuit.

In any event, Kollenborn suggests that from a purely practical standpoint, the mysterious "maps" (if that's indeed what they are) are almost certainly a hoax.

"Those rocks are big--they probably weigh 90 pounds apiece," says Kollenborn. "Why would anyone put a map on stone unless it was for some sort of permanent display? Can you imagine anyone packing these things around? It simply doesn't make sense."
@body:So much has been published about Superstition Mountains treasure that Kollenborn has compiled a computerized listing of literature, cataloguing (at last count) 72 different books and some 18,000 newspaper articles dating from 1859.

Randomly scanning an additional list of the hundreds of articles about Superstition treasure that have been published in various magazines over the years, it's easy to see how many an armchair adventurer has been inspired to throw a pickax in the back of the family sedan and head for the hills.

Never mind that many of the articles (like the ominously titled "Stay Away From Up There!", a piece that appeared in a 1938 issue of Family Circle) warned of the horrors of the sinister Superstitions. For every cautionary tale of the perils of the mountains, gold-digging wanna-bes could find five articles ballyhooing "The Richest Mine in the World" or, even more promising, "Treasure Enough for Everyone." Besides, no pain, no gain. Rattlesnake fangs be damned! Come and get it!

That gilt-edged clarion call was never louder than when Life magazine trumpeted the stone tablets in an article that it ran in June 1964, perhaps the first (and best-known) article about the artifacts to be printed in a mainstream publication.

While long on photos of the sandstone curiosities, the article was suspiciously short on facts regarding the tablets' origins. Oddly, the question of the tablets' authenticity was never even broached.

Instead, the article focused on the melodramatic trials and tribulations of one "Travis Marlowe," a 58-year-old Apache Junction prospector who was so busy staring down bobcats, sidestepping sidewinders and dodging bullets that he scarcely had time to decipher the tablets that were to be his claim to fame. The article read more like a slick piece of Western pulp fiction--hardly the kind of coverage you'd expect to find in a national news magazine with Life's fact-finding resources. Despite a dearth of any verifiable information about the tablets, the nearly-30-year-old magazine story continues to be one of the best-known pieces of literature on the subject.

Not to Superstition historian Robert Sikorsky, author of two books (Fools' Gold and Quest for the Dutchman's Gold) that delve into legends and lore regarding lost mines and treasure in the area.

"The reason Life glossed over the facts was that there was nothing substantive there in the first place," contends Sikorsky, a syndicated automotive columnist who lives in Tucson. "You see, that's the bread and butter of most 'lost treasure' tales: You can't go and verify anything." As a result, he contends that treasure hunters can easily delude themselves into believing anything is possible.

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Dewey Webb