As I drove east of Phoenix and away from its bustling metropolis I became intrigued by the legends surrounding the mysterious Superstition Mountains. The jagged mountain peaks of this vast desert landscape lingered just ahead of me. Soon I’d be hiking on a trail in the heart of the area where legends and tales of a lost gold mine have existed for over one hundred years. Was it still out there? Would others be searching for it? I’d soon find out.
Trail Name: Peralta Trail To Fremont Saddle
- Length: 4.9 miles (round trip)
- Trailhead Elevation: 2,400 ft
- Gain/Loss: +1,300 ft
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time: 3.5 hours
- Location: Tonto National Forest, AZ
My goal was to day hike along the Peralta Trail for about 2 miles till I reached the Fremont Saddle. From the Fremont Saddle I’d get my first views of the colossal Weavers Needle off in the distance. At that point I’d decide whether or not I should continue hiking the extra 2.6 miles downhill to the end of the trail for closer views of the mountain. On the way I’d be sure to keep a watchful eye out for any signs of The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. Since it has never been found, maybe I’d be the lucky one who finds it! Hey a girl can dream, can’t she?
The Desert Terrain
I pulled into the parking lot near the trailhead and was astonished to find I was the only one there. A few cars were parked nearby but there wasn’t a sole person among them. Kinda surprising given that this hike was supposed to be one of the most popular in the Superstition Mountains. Maybe the fact that it was a weekday had bettered my chances for a solo hiking experience. Fantastic! So off I went into the Tonto National Forest to begin my desert hiking adventure.
The trail began by weaving through sections of lush desert foliage. A shady tree here, a group of cool boulders there. The vegetation was plentiful offering me lots of refuge from the sun. I didn’t have much to worry about since the overall temperature was rather mild compared to the usual heat found in desert climates. If your going to hike in the desert, do it in early spring or very late fall to avoid the extreme heat of the summer months.
Well the shade was nice while it lasted. About midway through the hike the lush vegetation seemed to disappear. The trail was now out in the full sun. It was the perfect time to start daydreaming about that legendary gold mine! There are probably a million different variations of the story of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine but the basic gist of it was that a German immigrant named Jacob Waltz claimed to have discovered a mother lode of gold somewhere in the Superstition Wilderness of Arizona. Of course he didn’t tell anyone about it (smart man), that is, until he was on his deathbed. It was reported that in 1891 he revealed the location of the gold mine to his caretaker Julia Thomas. No one knows if poor old Jacob was crazy or telling the truth but Julia and countless other treasure seekers attempted to find the mine sadly to no avail. After several failed attempts Julia and her friends began selling maps to the mine for $7 each. And still no one has ever found the mine!
Say Hello To Friendly Hikers
As I continued past desert scrub and tall slick rock chutes I finally caught up with the other hikers whose cars were in the parking lot. Most of them were seniors probably in the midst of enjoying their retirement years. They were all very friendly and so I struck up a conversation or two with anyone willing to talk. Not many had heard about the lost dutchman’s mine even though it is often considered the most famous lost mine in American history. To be fair I hadn’t heard about it before setting out on this hike either.
As I continued on towards Fremont Saddle the slightly crowded trail seemed to thin out. Maybe some people simply decided to turn around and head back. In no time at all I was all alone again. I hiked past tall Joshua trees that seemed to be reaching upwards to touch the blue sky. As I pondered the story of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine I thought “Wait just a darn minute!” If he was German, why did they call it a Dutchman’s mine? I found out later that Dutchman was a common American term for a German. I didn’t see anything that resembled a mine or a cave or anything even close. Maybe the mine didn’t really exist at all.
Upon further research I learned the story has been an ongoing mystery. No one knows whether the lost dutchman mine was an actual mine with a gold vein embedded in the rock or just the location of a cache of gold stored by the Peralta family who had owned a profitable gold mine in the area. Had it not been for an amateur explorer and treasure hunter named Adolph Ruth this story might have just faded away as many other legends do. In 1931 he set out on a quest to locate the legendary mine but later went missing. Six months after he vanished his skull was discovered in the Superstition Wilderness with evidence that two bullets had been shot into his head. I suspect foul play!
How did Adolph learn about the mine you ask? Apparently his son Erwin had learned about the mine from a man who he had given legal advise to that facing imprisonment. In gratitude the man told Erwin about a gold mine and gave him antique maps of the location. He also claimed to be a direct descendant of the Peralta family who had owned the mine. Erwin gave the maps to his father Adolph who in turn set out to find the legendary treasure. Before his journey Adolph stayed several days at the ranch of Tex Barkley. Barkley urged him repeatedly to abandon his search warning him of the treacherous terrain in the Superstition Wilderness. Maybe Adolph should have taken Barkley’s advice because he was never to return. After recovering the skull and later the body authorities surprisingly disregarded any foul play. They instead came to the conclusion that Adolph must have succumbed to heat, thirst, or heart disease. WHAT? Really? They found two bullet holes in his head for crying out loud! I could understand one but two? Hmmm…
The Beauty Of Weavers Needle
As soon as I approached Fremont Saddle the view of Weavers Needle came into view. Wow! How beautiful. It reminded me of the scenes of The Devils Tower from the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Weavers Needle stands as a tall eroded remnant volcano that rises 1000 feet above the desert floor. I decided I wanted a closer view so I hiked the extra miles out to the Weavers Needle Overlook Ridge. It was totally worth it! Once again my thoughts drifted to the missing gold mine. Where the heck was it? Could it really be out here after all this time? Or had someone already found it and kept the riches within it secret.
Here’s one more interesting fact. When they found Adolph’s body they also found his checkbook which contained a note he had written. It stated that he had discovered the mine and detailed directions were given. Adolph’s note ended with the Latin phrase “Veni, vidi, vici”, which means I came, I saw, I conquered. Forever I’ll wonder whether the gold mine was ever found or is still out there among the mysterious Superstition Mountains.