Sunday, May 29, 2011

Salt Lake City and a little beyond

A rain thunder and lightning storm welcomed us to Salt Lake City. Weather in Utah and Idaho is certainly not spring like. So far this year Utah has had 150% of its normal rainfall; with the snow pack at 250%! All indicators point to the potential for severe flooding later on in June in the SLC area as all their rivers are virtual rapids; the water resource authorities are empting the reservoirs as fast as they can to hopefully avert flooding. However, as some of the reservoirs are overflowing their dams and still the rain keeps coming I think they will need Noah’s Ark. Four rivers run into the lake and there is no outlet; summer evaporation is the only safety valve. Minerals that flow down the rivers remain in the lake which is what makes it so salty.

While there we visited downtown SLC and visited Temple Square the headquarters of the Mormon religion. As I said to Tom the place is like the Vatican to the Mormons.  We went inside the Tabernacle a very large theatre where the choir practices on Thursday nights and looked at the Temple from the outside (visitors are not allowed inside.)  We also took in a quick look in their Museum, one could get a guided tour but we decided we would do our own tour as we had a very informative guide in St George. We also walked up the hill to the Capital building and discovered the "Daughters of Utah” Museum which is just packed with memorabilia.
After lunch we drove to Antelope Island in the Salt Lake.  It is a State Park which has a herd of 500 wild Bison. This is the time of the year for calves which increases the herd to over 700. In October they round up the herd for a veterinary inspection after which they cull the herd back to 500. Some end up as steaks or hamburgers; others (the lucky ones) go to other parks. Did you see the photo on the last blog? They are huge animals!  There are also antelope there - running fast and wild; it was lovely to see them.  Unfortunately, we did not see any big horn sheep as they stay on the mountains. The brochure said the flies don’t bite but there were millions of them buzzing around and they had a feast on Tom. The lake has lots of other islands that are bird sanctuaries for migratory birds. Before leaving, we drove to a restaurant on the island to sample a buffalo burger but it was closed.  

Our trip to SLC was greatly enhanced by an invitation to Miele (the daughter of neighbors in Los Gatos) and her husband Ronaldo for dinner. They have two gorgeous girls and Francesca put on a ballet display for us that could have lasted the night but bedtime intervened. Ronaldo took us golfing on the Wednesday - it was a lovely day and the golf was not too bad. After golf Tom and I drove to Park City where the 2002 Winter Olympics were held; the original town is a lovely historic mining town set high on a hill. In all there are 10 ski resorts in as many miles, lovely Alpine villages with lots of snow in May.
We are now in St Charles, Idaho on Bear Lake at 6000 feet.  The Lake is a beautiful turquoise color owing to the minerals (calcium bicarbonate - I think that is what we all take for upset tummies) in the water.    

We played golf yesterday at Bear Lake West Golf Course where Tom was delighted to shoot his age (soon to change) and bought our customary logo ball. There’s a restaurant – Cooper’s by name attached to the clubhouse which had been recommended to us by Kent from Bear Lake North RV Park. Cooper’s is one of the best restaurants we have ever eaten in; so much so that we recommend it as a “must stop” for anyone traveling HWY 89 between Salt Lake City and Jackson.
Our lunch included soup a delicious barbequed beef broth. For our entrées we both ordered prawns; I had them sautéed in garlic butter while Tom had them butterfly deep fried. The prawns were plentiful, succulent and cooked to perfection. The service was friendly and personal, everyone obviously take pride in their work; also, the owner Chef/Owner Tony came by to talk to us to inquire if we were satisfied with our meals. We returned last night for dessert when we enjoyed live entertainment in the bar.

This morning we woke up to snow! Can you believe it? Snow Memorial weekend? It soon melted so we were able to drive to Soda Springs where there is a Geyser that gushes every hour and reaches 100 feet into the air. Awesome!  The extreme pressure is caused by carbon dioxide gas mixing with water in an underground chamber.   We had a walk around town and discovered it is part of the Oregon/California Trail.  This town is called after a soda water that was bottled and sold as” Inda-ha” Soda Water.  The water was taken from it natural spring right in the middle of town and sold worldwide until a new way of adding bubbles to sodas put them out of business...
On our return we visited Montpellier another town on the Oregon/California Trail and spent time in the Museum where character actors (townspeople) bring you back in time to the pioneers crossing the country including a simulated bumpy road trip on a Prairie Schooner similar to those used on the Oregon/California Trail. We also sat on logs around a camp fire while the actors, in period costumes regaled us. A good and interesting day. 

Tomorrow we head for Wyoming.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Gods were Building Sandcastles

In Williams, AZ we stayed at a beautiful campground Grand Canyon Railway RV Park, part of the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel complex. We had full use of the Hotel facilities; the indoor heated pool, hot tub, large gym and lovely grounds.  Every morning before the train departed for the Grand Canyon there’s a gun fight at 9am in the coral; we went one morning and had breakfast in the station afterwards. All very touristy but fun! There’s an old steam train in the station which now runs on Vegetable oil - not quite the same thing is it? Much too clean; I remember them being really dirty with lots of big black smoke that would choke you.

We spent a day wandering around Flagstaff and stopped for a coffee at a shop we had noticed on our walk. Sipping our hot coffee we noticed a young man and an older man come in – the older gentlemen was wearing a hat with “Curmudgeon” written on. While the young man was ordering the coffee the older man was looking around and I gave him the thumbs up sign and pointed to his hat. That was the start of what has become a lovely friendship; Art came over to us and asked if we knew what Curmudgeon meant. Of course, we replied we’re Irish the home of Curmudgeons. Art’s grandson Jason joined us and we spent the next two hours chatting and listening to Arts stories about WW2 and “The Mule Artillery Battalion”; we had a good laugh at that story but now we both know a lot more about mules. Delightfully, Jason asked us to dinner on Sunday which was Mother’s Day. We met Nan and Steve Jason’s parents and his friends Elizabeth and Drew. Jason cooked a delicious meal and the dessert was a “to die for” bread pudding. It was a wonderful Mother’s day for me; so unexpected.
Thanks to Skype we keep in contact with family here and in Europe. Hannah, Molly and Ciaran tell us all their news at around 10am on Sunday. Frequently, my brothers Tom and John in Canada tune in around 9am as does Cearull - if he is awake.  Then, Sunday afternoon we are entertained by Cian and Caleb in San Jose, CA.   My cell is my only phone, which works well in built up areas. However, sometimes I try to use it when we are travelling in the wide open spaces and I get cut off as some of you will have experienced.

Thanks to a gift from our friend Wanda, we spent a day driving along Route 66 to the Grand Canyon Caverns – a little known “must see” about 90 miles west of Williams. We started by buying our Route 66 T shirts in Flagstaff. Downtown Williams is on Route 66 with lots of old motels, shops, bars and cafes along the main street which is full of bikers every evening. Along the way on “66” we met a group of German bikers in the town of Seligman which looks like the set of a movie - a fun and colorful town. One of the interesting facts about the Grand Canyon Caverns is that the only link between them is that the air in the Caverns is proven to come from the Grand Canyon. Since the early 1960's the Cavern has been stocked with enough water, crackers, first aid and sanitary thingies to last for 2 weeks in case of a nuclear war!!
We drove to the Grand Canyon as the train would only have allowed us 3 hours there and we wanted to stay through the sunset.  When we had been there in 1980, we flew up from Vegas under the rim of the canyon and flew back over the canyon. This time we spent 7 hours and thanks to the shuttle buses we visited every lookout point and even hiked down into the canyon a bit. I really wanted to see the sunset and watch the colors fade on the canyon.  It was great to be there and see it.

The next day we drove up to the Powell Lake, Glen Canyon area where we took a tour of the dam; right down to the turbines and watched them turn and learned how much electricity is made and how much water is let through.  The lake is enormous and has more coastline than the west coast of the USA.  We never got to sail on the lake because I was playing “Emma” (Jane Austin’s Emma).   We had a single man one side of us and a single woman the other side and I wondered if I could get them together - I did at coffee one morning and we spent hours chatting, so our schedule went haywire. Later, Tom took me to dinner at the lakeside hotel in Waweap on the lake and watched the sunset over the lake and mountains – it’s one of the photo’s we posted. Beautiful!
Friday we crossed into Utah along Hwy 89 a pretty drive into the state of beautiful rocks. It was then that I said to Tom I think the Gods must have been playing Sand Castles.  The swirling shapes, the changing colors, the high cliffs, tall mountains and colorful valleys made for a lovely drive. 

We stayed in Kanab, a small town that is called “Little Hollywood” as so many western movies were made there; commemorated by a walk of fame and there are plaques of the stars, including Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, all along the sidewalk. It is a lovely town. The people who greeted us at the RV Park Sandra and Ian were from Sheffield, UK and we really enjoyed talking to them and loved their sense of humor. As the RV Park was in the town we could take a walk downtown at night.
We visited Bryce Canyon on a windy cold day.  What an unusual place? We had seen pictures of Bryce Canyon but one has to go there to see those spires and Hoodoos (fat spires); the way the rocks change color and see new spires emerge peeping out of the pink sand falling down the cliffs. Once again there are shuttle buses to all viewpoints.  We walked down some of the hikes but they were wet so we did not go to the bottom as we might never get back up, too slippy.  It was busy there mostly with Europeans all enjoying the strange rock formation.  Nothing like this in Europe!

Next day we drove through Zion in the RV and what a trip that was!!   Tom thinks driving along Big Sir is a piece of cake compared to Zion, however, from the passenger point of view it was magnificent.  It is the best way to drive into Zion – east to west.  The drop in altitude is about 3000ft with two tunnels to navigate; one about a mile long, very narrow and all downhill.  Our brakes were very hot and we needed to stop to cool them down half way down the triple S bends.  How did we know?  Smoke!!!!  
We had no idea the drop was so steep so we recommend this as a car drive. The visitor’s center is on the west side and once again we took the shuttle bus to all the points of interest.  We walked the mile into the “Narrow’s” unfortunately, as the river was full and fast flowing, with warnings of flash floods we could not go into the canyon which is just 33ft wide. Some fellow passengers on the bus were people we had seen the day before in Bryce.

Apart from the topography the great difference between Bryce and Zion is that in Bryce you are looking down from the top into the canyons and in Zion you are looking up from the inside the of canyons.
We really enjoyed visiting these three National Parks.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

From Tucson to Camp Verde

As I write we are at an elevation of about 5500ft, the weather is cooler and breezier and our bodies are happier.  The hot climate of the desert is difficult for me as you know I find the Bay area weather beautiful in both summer and winter.
Tucson…while there we met 3 very friendly people (Irene, Brian and James) from Alberta Canada their car had over heated like ours.  The tires on their RV were under inflated and damaged as a result, so they had to be replaced (all 6 of them).  This can be an expensive pastime!!   I’m mentioning this to let you know that Irene does Intarsia Wood Art to pass the time in colder months.  I had no idea what that was and just had to find out. She has photos of her work and it was beautiful; all colors of wood, cut, polished and put together to make a picture.  Google it! 
We also had dinner with Rhoda and Larry Geisel in a Mexican Restaurant.  We went to their home first; Rhoda’s South West décor looks so good in their Tucson surroundings. Her Parrot died and now they have a lovely little dog called Buddha.  Rhoda still plays golf and sometimes she starts at 6.30am.  It was great to catch up after 10 years and talk of old friend and old times in Los Gatos.
On our way to Camp Verde we spent 3 days In Mesa at a lovely camp site that, once again was comprised of 90% mobile homes, most closed up as everyone has gone home. So we had their lovely facilities to ourselves.  It was hot and breezy also in Mesa. In Tucson we joined another RV club called Camp Club USA among the benefits is a 50% discount at some really top class RV Parks.  I keep thinking this is too good to be true but, so far, so good.
We did the boat trip that prompted Tom to write the story of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine from Mesa and also visited the Heard Museum in Phoenix.  The building and the sculptures alone are beautiful.  The museum has a great collection of Native American, African and Indonesian artifacts.  The Native American exhibit is interesting as they have displays from at least 5 different tribes’ - baskets, clay pots, cloths, baby carriers, jewelry, blankets; also a perspective of what they ate and how they cooked.
On our way north to Camp Verde we stopped at Chris and Rob Redford’s House.  We were a bit nervous at going off the highway into a housing area, our concern being that we might not be able to turn the RV around and end up taking a weeks’ vacation right outside the Redford’s front door.  Thankfully, we had no problem as the roads were wide and we were able to turn at the end of a cul de sac.  We had lunch on their patio while Riley, their dog, went in and out the back door many times.  When he was in he wanted out and when out wanted in.  New River (that is where Chris lives) was a lovely break half way on our journey to Camp Verde.
We went to visit Montezuma’s Castle an ancient native ruin site near Camp Verde.  It really is a castle built into the side of a cliff; the engineering and architecture of the buildings is amazing.  Talk about a room with a view! They had their doors in the roofs and got up to the castle by a series of ladders.  There were not too many windows which kept the rooms cool.  The walls were built of stone covered with mud, the roof of logs and twigs. The nearby Beaver River, which is lovely, provided their water.  Similar to the HO’ HO KHUM people they left the site around 1400 to this day there is no history of why.
Also, we went to Tuzigoot, another nearby ancient ruin; we have dubbed it America’s answer to Machu Pichu. The builders of this village were the “Sanagua” Native American tribe (Spanish speakers can work that one out easily = without water) this tribe also built Montezuma’s Castle.  These ruins were up at the top of a Hill overlooking a big valley with a river flowing through it. The walls of the ruins are of stone and terraced down the hill. Once again great views!
The following day we visited Montezuma’s well, a well formed by a cavern that collapsed long ago; again, the Sanagua tribe built homes in the cliff caves around the top of the well.  An interesting fact about the well is that 1,400,000 gallons of water percolate from far below the ground into the well per day; another is that the water source is full of dissolved carbon dioxide; 3 unique forms of life (not found anywhere else on earth) live in the well. 1,400,000 gallons of water spill out of the well per day, some running into canals built by the Sanagua to water their crops and the rest via an underground channel to join up with the Beaver River. Fascinatingly, the temperature of the water is a constant
74 F.  I checked by putting my foot into the canal.
On Saturday we drove up to Prescott and met up with Chris and Rob and Janette Henshaw. We had picked a perfect day to visit Prescott as there was an off road bicycle race finishing on Whiskey Row right in the middle of town. Prescott is full of great old buildings and good sources of food.  After lunch we drove to Rob and Chris’s castle.  It will be a beautiful big house on top of a hill and just like the Sanagua they will have beautiful views from every window and water nearby in the form of a pool and hot tub.  Hope to get invited when it is finished!
Sedona what can I say!  Everything is a red earth color and it is gorgeous. The red vista starts once one turns off the freeway.  On our way into Sedona we visited Holy Cross Chapel and promise to post a photo soon as words cannot do justice to this highlight. As recommended by Eileen and Chris we took the off-road Broken Arrow Tour with “Pink Jeep Tours”.  The Jeeps are Pink and built to go really, really off road, sometimes we were almost standing on the front grill going downhill.  It was a thrilling off road experience.  We shared the jeep with 5 people from New Jersey, 3 adults and 2 children, the children are touring with the Broadway Show “Billy Elliot”.  They will be in SF for 12 weeks during the summer – go see the show, it’s great.
Our next destination is Williams “The Gateway to the Grand Canyon”.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Superstition Mountains Dutchman’s Gold – Fact, Myth, Legend or Pure Fiction?

For us the story began with a visit to Saguaro Lake about 30 miles east of Phoenix where we embarked on a 90 minute paddle boat cruise aboard the Desert Belle, expertly and entertainingly under the command of Captain Jake.

Saguaro Lake an integral part the Tonto National Forest, located in the Superstition Mountain Range is truly one of the Valley’s hidden treasures where we experienced the magnificence of the desert beauty, natural wildlife including birds of prey soaring high on the desert thermals, spectacular flora and fauna, with the unbelievable Saguaro taking place of pride. All while we were navigating the pristine Sonoran desert canyons of the spectacular Saguaro Lake.

The highlight of our cruise was a story related by Captain Jake…in response to a question from an Irishwoman, no less! Guess who?

To the best of my recollection the tale goes something like this…

In return for noble services above and beyond the King of Spain conferred a land grant to a soldier named Peralta in the 17th century – this grant included parts of what is now New Mexico and Arizona and measured 300 miles by 100 miles, including the mountain range now called Superstition Mountains.

In the 19th century the fledgling United States decreed a principle of “use it or lose it” in regards to old land grants. The Peralta family dispatched two sons from Santa Fe, New Mexico, together with their wives and children, to Arizona to lay claim to and preserve their ownership rights in Arizona. Having lived harmoniously with the Native Americans in New Mexico for a few centuries the Peralta party sought out the Apache’s and befriended them. After some years living in close proximity with the Apache’s the Peralta’s received a substantial gift of the purest gold and learned from them the location of its source.

Shortly afterwards the Peralta’s decided to return to New Mexico to share their good fortune with the extended family, but first they had to travel west to buy provisions for the trip; unfortunately, they used the gold to pay. Unscrupulous townspeople provided the Apache’s with whisky, guns and ammunition and convinced them (in their inebriated state) that the Peralta’s were their sworn enemies. A few days later the Apache’s overtook and killed the Peralta adults sparing, as was their custom the children.    

Years later, a man called Dr. Thorne treats an ailing or wounded Apache (often alleged to be a chieftain) and is rewarded with a trip to a rich gold mine. He is blindfolded and taken there by a circuitous route and is allowed to take as much gold ore as he can carry before being escorted, again, blindfolded from the site by the Apaches. Thorne is said to have been either unwilling or unable to relocate the mine.
In the 1860’s Jacob Waltz (the Dutchman) first appeared on the scene Waltz was in fact German not Dutch. When answering questions as to where he came from he answered Deutschland and thereafter was mistakenly called the Dutchman. The tale soon takes an interesting twist as a second German by the name of Jacob Weiser appears.

However, historians, most notably a gentleman called Blair argue that there is a strong likelihood that there never was a second man named Weiser, but rather that a single person named Waltz was, over the years, turned into two men as the legend of the Dutchman mine evolved. Blair also contends that this story can be divided into "hawk" and "dove" versions, depending on if the German(s) are said to behave violently or peacefully.
In most versions of the tale, Waltz and/or Weiser located a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains (in many versions of the story, they save or aid a member of the Peralta family, and are rewarded by being told the location of the mine). Later Waltz and Weiser are apparently attacked by marauding Apaches. Waltz who reported that he was wounded and unconscious recovered to discover that Wisner has been shot between the eyes and beheaded.

Subsequently, this has become the stuff of legend; to this day some people believe that an elite band of Apache’s jealously guard the mine by killing (yes, shot between the eyes) and beheading intruders. Blair however dismisses this story as similar to the game of Chinese Whispers, where the original account is distorted in multiple retellings of the tale.
What is known however, is that Waltz did arrive in Arizona in the 1860s, and stayed in the state for most of the rest of his life. He pursued mining and prospecting, but seems to have had little luck with either. In 1870, Waltz had a homestead of about 160 acres near Phoenix where he operated a farm.

In 1891 there was a catastrophic flood in Phoenix and Waltz's farm was one of many that were devastated. Afterwards, Waltz fell ill (he was rumored to have contracted pneumonia during the flood). He died on October 25, 1891, after having been nursed by an acquaintance named Julia Thomas (she was usually described as a quadroon).
Waltz is also said to have made a deathbed confession about Weiser to Julia Thomas when he drew or described a crude map to the gold mine.

There is little doubt that Waltz did in fact relate to Thomas the location of the alleged gold mine as on September 1, 1892 The Arizona Enterprise reported on the efforts of Thomas and several others to locate the lost mine, whose location was told to her by Waltz.
After this was unsuccessful, Thomas and her partners were reported to be selling maps to the mine for $7 each.

Were it not for the death of amateur explorer and treasure hunter Adolph Ruth, the story of the Lost Dutchman's mine would have likely been little more than a footnote in Arizona history as one of hundreds of "lost mines" rumored to be in the American West. Ruth disappeared while searching for the mine in the summer of 1931. His skull – with two bullet holes in it (reminiscent of Weiser) – was recovered about half a year after he vanished and the story made national news, thus sparking widespread interest in the Lost Dutchman's mine.

In a story that echoes some of the earlier tales, Ruth's son Erwin C. Ruth was said to have learned of the Peralta mine from a man called Pedro Gonzales. According to the story, in about 1912, Erwin C. Ruth gave some legal aid to Gonzales, saving him from almost certain imprisonment; in gratitude, Gonzales told Erwin about the Lost Dutchman's (Peralta) mine in the Superstition Mountains, even reportedly passing on some antique maps of the site. Erwin passed the information to his father Adolph, who had a long-standing interest in lost mines and amateur exploration. In fact, the elder Ruth had fallen and badly broken several bones while seeking the lost Pegleg mine in California; he had metal pins in his leg, and used a cane to help him walk.

In June 1931, Ruth decided to finally try to locate the lost mine. After traveling to the region, Ruth stayed several days at the ranch of a Tex Barkely and prepared for his expedition. Barkely repeatedly urged Ruth to abandon his search for the mine: the treacherous terrain of the Superstition Mountains could be difficult for experienced outdoorsmen, let alone for the semi-lame, 66-year-old Ruth. However, Ruth ignored Barkely's advice, and set out for a two week stint in the mountains.

Ruth did not return as scheduled, and no trace of him could be found after a brief search. In December, 1931, The Arizona Republic reported on the discovery of a human skull in the Superstition Mountains. To determine if the skull was Ruth's, it was examined by a Dr. Ales Hrdlicka, a well-respected anthropologist who was also given several photos of Ruth, along with Ruth's dental records. Dr. Hrdlicka positively identified the skull as that of Adolph Ruth. He further stated, after examining the two holes [in the skull], that it appeared that a shotgun or high-powered rifle had been fired through the head at almost point-blank range.

In January 1932, human remains were discovered about three-quarters of a mile from where the skull had been found. Though the remains had been scattered by scavengers, they were undoubtedly Ruth's: many of Ruth's personal effects were found at the scene, including a pistol (not missing any shells) and the metal pins used to mend his broken bones. But the map to the Peralta mine was said to be missing.

Tantalizingly, Ruth's checkbook was also recovered, and proved to contain a note written by Ruth where he claimed to have discovered the mine and gave detailed directions. Ruth ended his note with the phrase “Veni, Vidi, Vici”

Authorities in Arizona did not convene a criminal inquest regarding Ruth's death. They argued that Ruth had likely succumbed to thirst or heart disease although one official went so far as to suggest that [Adolph Ruth] might have committed suicide ... While this theory did not ignore the two holes in the skull, it did fail to explain how Ruth had managed to remove and bury the empty shell, then reload his gun, after shooting himself through the head. Blair noted that the conclusion of Arizona authorities was rejected by many, including Ruth's family, and also by "those who held onto the more romantic murdered-for-the-map story".

Blair wrote that "the national wire services picked up the story [of Ruth's death] and ran it for more than it was worth", possibly seeing the mysterious story as a welcome reprieve from the bleak news that was otherwise typical of the Great Depression.

Since Ruth's death, there have been several other allegedly mysterious deaths or encounters in the Superstition Mountains, but it is unclear how many of these can be regarded as reliably reported. Other searchers for the mine have disappeared in what have been reported as wilderness accidents.

In the mid-1940s, the headless remains of prospector James A. Cravey were reportedly discovered in the Superstition Mountains. He had allegedly disappeared after setting out to find the Lost Dutchman's mine.
In his 1945 book about the Lost Dutchman's mine, Barry Storm claimed to have narrowly escaped from a mysterious sniper he dubbed "Mr. X". Storm further speculated that Adolph Ruth might have been a victim of the same sniper.

In late November or early December 2009, Denver, Colorado resident Jesse Capen (35) went missing in the Tonto National Forest. His campsite was found abandoned, but he was not located. He was known to have been interested in the mine for years and had made previous trips to the area.
On July 11, 2010 Utah hikers Curtis Merworth (49), Ardean Charles (66) and Malcolm Meeks (41) went missing in the Superstition Mountains looking for the mine. Merworth had become lost in the same area in 2009, requiring a rescue. On July 19, the Maricopa county Sheriff's department called off the search for the lost men.

In January 2011, three sets of remains believed to be those of the lost men were recovered. They were presumed to have died in the summer heat.
Irrespective of the potential danger and despite the myth or legend, many people continue to search for the Lost Dutchman’s Goldmine.

So…is the story myth, legend or pure fiction?