The Superstition Mountain Museum

The Superstition Mountain Museum!

The Superstition Mountain Range is just a short drive east of Phoenix, Arizona.  When traveling on one of the many roads and interstate highways that converge in Arizona near Phoenix, it is well worth taking a side trip to the Superstition Mountains, because this legendary mountain range is majestic in many more ways than what meets the eye!

The unique geology of the Superstitions are the result of ancient volcanic activity.  The bulk of the mountain rock strata in this current is the remains of heavily eroded volcanic ash plumes.  There are a few sources of water in the Superstitions, so this supports evidence of mineral enrichment dispersed in the rock strata by ancient volcanic steam and hot springs.  Any gold prospector that takes one look at the Superstitions would more than likely think that there is a high probability of finding gold in this region.

Before the Spanish explorers and European settlers came along, the Superstition Mountains were revered by native people for thousands of years.  The Apache respected the Superstition Mountains as being sacred and they defended this territory as such.  By tribal rites, it was forbidden to allow outsiders into the Superstition Mountain territory.  Those who transgressed the will of the Apache people to enter this sacred land were subject to a powerful Apache curse. 

The curse of the Superstition Mountains is nothing to laugh about.  Many Spaniards seeking gold in the 1600s and prospectors from the gold rush days in the 1800s made references to a powerful curse that causes tragedy or madness to occur.  Those who entered these mountains were hunted down like animals by tribal members or their fate was sealed by unexplainable accidents. 

Even in modern times, experienced weekend hikers have turned up missing after venturing into the Superstition Mountains.  Often the missing have never been found, but on occasion skeletal remains turn up.  The resulting forensic evidence often adds to the mystery of the old Curse Of The Superstition Mountains.  Many folks that perish in the Superstitions in modern times die from unexplained accidents that do not normally occur or they die from gunshot wounds.

Gunshot wounds? … Like what was mentioned earlier, there is far more to the Superstitions than what meets the eye.  The tale of the Lost Dutchman Mine is one of the greatest legends of the old west and this story has its roots in the Superstition Mountains.  The tale of the Lost Dutchman Mine is a curse in its own right, because everybody knows what can happen when an average man gets “Gold Fever.”  Greed is the root of all evil and a man with gold fever will defend his claim, even if no gold exists! 

Many prospectors have explored the Superstitions during the last few hundred years.  There are literally thousands of stories about prospectors finding gold in the Superstitions, but none are more famous than the legend of the Lost Dutchman. The Lost Dutchman was the nickname of a German immigrant gold prospector, Jacob Waltz.  The Lost Dutchman spent many years in the late 1800s exploring the Arizona territory for gold.  The Lost Dutchman is most famous for the gold that he claimed to have discovered at a secret mine in the Superstition Mountains.

There are three well known tales of how the Lost Dutchman acquired his vast amount of gold in the Superstitions.  The first tale involves the Lost Dutchman discovering a very rich gold strike in the Superstitions and he kept the location of the mine a secret.  Some say that the Apache ran the Lost Dutchman off, then sealed the secret mine by blowing it up with dynamite. A second story involves the Lost Dutchman discovering a cache of plundered gold that was left behind by the Spaniards and no secret gold mine actually exists in the Superstitions.  An alternative version of this story states that the Spanish gold was actually gold mined by the Peralta family of Mexico.  Some say that the Lost Dutchman either found a gold cache that the Mexican Peralta family left behind after being run off by the Apache or that the Lost Dutchman came across one of the Peralta family gold maps. 

The third tale is the most famous story about how the Lost Dutchman came across his gold in the Superstition Mountains is the most probable.  Many historians say that the Lost Dutchman had a very bad case of gold fever.  Supposedly the Lost Dutchman simply befriended other prospectors in the Superstitions, then killed them while stealing their gold.  Modern geologists state that other than the rich Mammoth Gold Mine at the Goldfield Ghost Town next to the Superstitions, there really is not much of any gold to be found in these mountains.  By all accounts, the Lost Dutchman actually was a murderer and gold thief, who simply made up a false story about a secret gold mine in the Superstitions to throw off suspicion. 

The discovery of the Peralta Stone Gold Mine Maps in the 1900s can either add credence to the Last Dutchman’s Peralta family connection or it can be viewed as a farce, depending on who one asks.  Some say that the Peralta Stone Gold Mine Maps were a fake and the discovery of the Peralta Stones was nothing more than a publicity stunt.  As of this day, nobody has discovered a rich gold mine in the Superstitions by using the Peralta Maps.   

Everybody had gold fever back in the days of the Lost Dutchman and many still seek gold in the superstitions in this modern age.  Those who have gold fever the worst do try to keep their secret as safe as possible.  This is why some innocent people have been killed by gunshot wounds in the Superstitions during the last 50 years.  There are crazy prospectors with gold fever in them thar hills!

All this Lost Dutchman information and much more can be found at the Superstition Mountain Museum.  The Superstition Mountain Museum is also known as the Lost Dutchman Museum.  The Superstition Mountain Museum is located in Apache Junction, near the old original Goldfield Ghost Town.

The Superstition Mountain Museum is a work in progress that keeps on expanding.  When I visited this place, construction of the new facility for the museum was just completed and the grounds were taking shape. I chatted with a few museum representatives while there and they were optimistic about how all the hard work they put in will surely make the Superstition Mountain Museum project a success. 

The Superstition Mountain Museum has every kind of artifact from the old gold rush days that one could imagine.  Everything from an old Assayers Office to a Blacksmith Shop can be found on site.  Each old periodic building is stocked full of antique items that were used by these businesses back in the 1800’s.  The pride and joy exhibit on the grounds is the gigantic 20 Stamp Mill that is still in working order.  Very few of these big antique rock crushers exist, because they were usually parted out after a mine was exhausted. 

One of the museum reps showed me a new exhibit that was being built.  The concrete forms for a huge Garden Scale Model Railroad exhibit were just poured a few days before and work was progressing rapidly.  The outdoor model railroad will accurately represent an old west gold mining boom town in its heyday.  For the time being, a smaller scale model of the project can be viewed next to the Apacheland Barn.

Fans of the legendary old western movies will be thrilled to hear about how the Superstition Mountain Museum rescued the remaining buildings that were left standing after the tragic Apacheland fire, that destroyed most of this old Hollywood movie set.  Apacheland was where many old Hollywood western movies and weekly TV shows were filmed.  One of the most famous western TV shows filmed at this location was Gunsmoke. 

Many artifacts from the famous old western movies can be seen inside the old original Apacheland Barn, which is officially dedicated to western movie star, Audie Murphy.  Autographed pictures and cement footprints of hundreds of Hollywood western stars ranging from John Wayne to Donna Reed are on display too.

One of the most famous western movies filmed at Apacheland was Charro and Elvis Presley was the star.  The complete church building from Elvis Presley’s Charro Movie can be experienced in its entirety at the Superstition Mountain Museum.  The museum even offers wedding services for those who want to tie the knot Elvis western style! 

There is a Superstition Geology Exhibit, a really good Native American Exhibit and of course a complete Lost Dutchmen Exhibit at this museum.  There are nature trails through desert botanical gardens and there is plenty of wildlife to see.  Wild horses and wild burros sometimes frequent this area and these animals present great picture taking opportunities. 

Guided tours and group tours are available at this museum.  Tour buses excursion companies will be please to know that beverages, snacks and all sorts of good merchandise is available in the museum gift shop.  I actually did a little bit of Christmas gift shopping while I was there and I found a nice old Cowboy Cookbook for a family member.

The winter season is the best time of year to set a course for the Superstition Mountain Museum.  The Sonoran Desert is known for extreme desert heat, so visiting this destination while the weather is cool is the best choice. This museum depends on sales and private funding and it is a worthwhile project.  Spending a few dollars in the gift shop or for a guided tour sure does help the cause. 

Some of the friendliest folks that I have met in recent years work at the Superstition Museum.  The information that they provide to guests sure did contribute plenty of writing material for today’s article and I do give sincere thanks to the museum crew! 

If your Southwestern vacation plans take you near the Phoenix area, then by all means take a little side trip to this open air museum in Apache Junction.  The educational value of the Superstition Mountain Museum will interest visitors of all ages and especially those who have gold fever!  


Author: wildwestdestinations

I worked as a chef in remote resorts and National Parks, which provided the time to explore western travel destinations. I have a BA Degree in Culinary Management with high honors and currently I am working on a Masters Degree in Adult Education. My food and travel blog writing began as a means to generate income during college and now photo journalism has become my lifestyle.

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