The Believers


As long as people have lived in Phoenix they've told stories about the Superstition Mountains. The rugged ridges of fused volcanic ashes lurk, mysterious and foreboding, just out of sight to the city's east. Legends of bandits, murder, strange night-time rituals, and treasure both caution and lure the listener. While I lived in Arizona there were four disappearances in the mountains. Some years later, three of the bodies had been found.

When I first moved to Arizona and talked about hiking with people I was told that the superstitions were "the best place to go, really the only place worth going". Because of those words I obstinately avoided them for years.

Eventually the legend of the lost dutchman mine, supposedly the richest gold vein ever discovered, lost in the superstition mountains beckoned even me and I mounted several trips hunting for clues as to its existence. Like most who hike in the superstitions I had never ventured far from its outer edge. But I wanted more, the central and western part of the range was much less frequented and I became determined that would cross the entire mountain range on foot.

The first night my friend and I camped on the southern edge of the mountains, where they rise abruptly from the flats. Peering into the quickly darkening desert we thought we understood that the next few days would be tough but I think we were both unprepared for the heat, misery, but more than anything, the thirst we would experience.

Having now crossed deep into the range we set out to locate an oasis hidden in one of the many canyons that criss-crossed the wilderness. Eventually we spotted two great cottonwood trees bursting from a small canopy of verdant green, a refuge from the glaring sun and a break from drinking the water that had been heated into a plastic flavored tea. We abandoned our backpacks and scrambled down the oasis' embankment shouting and laughing until we found our first great disappointment of the trip. The oasis had dried up. All that remained was a crust of once green algae that yielded a few foul smelling drops when it was wrung out.

After spending a few hours in the shade to pass the hottest part of the day, we climbed back out and reshouldered our heavy packs. We now travelled along the sandy path carved out by a dry streambed in between the towering walls f rock. Towards evening, much to our surprise, we discovered a buried rock containing a large pool of water in a depression. The rock did not allow the roots of desert plants to penetrate and rob the water as they had at the oasis. After finding the oasis, which is a steady trickle of water at the best of times, dry. Now finding this large pool, unmarked on any map, unexpectedly, we became jubilant, stripping off our outer clothes and jumping into the slimy, shallow water.

Soaking in even this fetid water had an incredibly rejuvenating effect on us. Before leaving we carefully refilled empty water bottles with the same water we had just bathed in. I pointed out to my companion that insect larvae could be seen squirming in both our drinks.

For lunch we ate tuna fish from foil packets, squeezed out onto pita bread. By the end of the trip the smell of tuna became anathema to me. I began to find the sandwiches barely edible even though nothing was wrong with them. I don't think I'll be able to eat tuna for a long time, and when I finally do, I'm sure it will remind me of huddling under the patchy shade of a mesquite tree, and particles of sand carried by a hot breeze stinging my face.

The northern edge of the Superstitions are bounded by the great Salt River, which flows out of the White Mountains far in the north-east. It seemed hard to imagine somewhere ahead of us the journey would end with a great body of water. Such a thing seemed almost imaginary. But eventually when we crested a final ridge we could see it in the distance, a shimmering patch of blue peeking out from the hills which faded back into flatter deserts before reaching the Four Peaks. We were almost there.

Those last few hills almost proved our undoing. Now low on water and other supplies, our packs had nonetheless seemed to grow in weight with each step. Finally though we made it to a road and stashing our packs in a hiding place we walked sharing the last bottle of water between us. Staggering into the bar at Tortilla Flat the manager gave us one look before shouting that they were closing. I called out in a rasping voice "Water! You have to give us water!" Invoking Arizona's law that makes it illegal for any eating or drinking establishment to deny a person water, the manager rushed over carrying two large styrofoam cups topped with icewater. Nothing had ever tasted so refreshing.

Hitchhiking a ride back to where we had left our car I watched as the mountains we had crossed went by, visible in the little window as if I watched a tv screen.

The oasis; lush but dry.

An unexpected surprise; a pool!

Insects fed on us incessantly.

The Salt River is seen in the distance.

Horned Lizard


See the world, they
told me...

bayou goula towhead

the sea test

the circumnavigator pt5
the circumnavigator pt4
the circumnavigator pt3
the circumnavigator pt2
the circumnavigator pt1
falling dream
the darkness
one hell of a mile 3&4
he will return
the believers
the horror pt2
the horror pt1
death valley

paradise of outlaws
the mountain climbers 1&2
brought to surface
one hell of a mile 3
the lost world
inner gorge
a ghost story
the riddle
slaying the minotaur
heart of darkness
public lands
organ music
two sought adventure
the virgin river
the road north

steal the world
the end of the world
el dorado
the valley of the kings 2
the valley of the kings 1
one hell of a mile 2
one hell of a mile 1
the mountain climbers rr4
heroes rr3
rainy roadtrip 2
rainy roadtrip 1
the transgression
sinister 2
sinister 1
new chapter

like sedona?
torn in two
bridge to nowhere
the door
hitting the wall
elusive 2
elusive 1
pick up lines

revisited 2
revisited 1
which way?
lost mines
in their footsteps
a dance with death

casting the bones
mountain thief
the deer hunter
strange temple
burial pt. 3
burial pt. 2
burial pt. 1
the apparition
return to hell
the lower depths
underground lake
stretch sewer
the hidden lab
shadow movements
meager rations
sw8: the conclusion
sw7: lost gold mines
sw6: the big tubes
sw5: gold!
sw4: el calderon
sw3: redondo
sw2: ghosts
sw1: westward bound
formaldehyde dreams
the underdark
in the beginning