Tucked far into a deserty corner of Arizona is a mountain range that is small (compared to many mountain ranges), but very mighty. Located inside the Lost Dutchman State Park, within three different counties (Maricopa, Pinal, and Gila), sits the Supes, as they are known to locals. This mountain range is located right outside the city of Apache Junction, about 45 minutes from downtown Phoenix. It’s a mountain range that must be respected and revered, coupled with an extremely healthy dose of caution. This concept has been well-known in Native American culture for centuries, particularly by the Apache and Pima, and the locals as well. Out-of-state tourists or recent Arizona transplants tend to learn the hard way…
Because there is a reason why the Superstition Mountains have earned their reputation and the title of “most haunted mountain range in America”. People routinely report hearing phantom gunshots, disembodied yelling and talking, and Native American chanting that seems to surround them. Hikers have said they feel watched while out in the Supes, sometimes even followed. People see old prospectors, dressed like they’re from 1869, only to simply disappear. There’s a good YouTube video of an interview with a hiking guide who claims the Superstition Mountains are the only mountain range he will not enter alone. I think it’s an interesting video and I’ll link it below at the end of the blog!
This is because the amount of death and pandemonium that has occurred on, or very near, this mountain range is unprecedented. Dating as far back as the mid-1800’s, deaths occur regularly here. Hikers have accidentally died from dehydration, heat stroke, or the elements; people have been stalked and murdered (either by psychopaths, animals, their own friends and associates, or members of Native American tribes – allegedly); others perished while looking for the Dutchman’s lost treasure (sooo many…); and some have simply gone missing without a trace, only to be found deceased months or years later (and some are never found).
Death is rampant in the Supes.
According to some sources, more than 600 people have died in or around the Supes, with the majority of them dying or disappearing while looking for the Dutchman’s lost treasure. However, many more were simply just hiking. Of course, not all of these incidents are recorded (or even true). This alleged treasure is probably what the Supes are most well known for. So much so, that the entire area is called Lost Dutchman State Park.
Per the story (or legend), a German immigrant (he wasn’t even Dutch) named Jacob Waltz discovered an enormous amount of gold in the Supes, never revealing where it was for much of his life. Only on his deathbed did he confess where this gold allegedly was, to a woman named Julia Thomas, who owned the boarding house where Waltz had lived for many years. She kept the location to herself, never telling a soul. Over the years, numerous people have claimed to find the actual mine that Waltz found, but none have been verified. Officially, to this day, the mine has never been rediscovered. In fact, there is much debate about whether the mine ever actually existed. While gold was found in Goldfield (Goldfield Ghost Town: Gold & The Supes.), which is mere feet from the base of the Supes, none has ever been officially found inside the Supes.
However, the spooky thing is, nobody knows for certain if the gold mine has ever really been found again. Many of the stories surrounding the Supes claim that the mine is protected, either by supernatural forces or physical forces (the Native Americans), or those who manage to find it are killed off by greedy partners and “friends”. Basically, even if someone found the mine, they don’t live to tell the tale.
So, speaking of the deaths, here are a few. I’m going to leave this section unencumbered by photos or videos, so you get the full effect of just how long this list is. Buckle up because it’s going to be a long, wild, interesting ride…
- 1848: The Peralta Massacre. The first “official” murder in the Supes, the Peralta family from Mexico was ambushed and killed by Apache Native Americans. This was supposedly over a gold mine that the Peralta family allegedly found and was using. Evidently, the Apache did not appreciate them coming onto their land for such purposes. They cared not about the gold, as they did not use it in their culture, but about the trespass onto their land. After the massacre, the Apache allegedly buried the gold and covered the mine. This mine is supposedly the one that the Lost Dutchman found. It is “The Mine”. A few members of the Peralta family were able to flee and survive, and that is how we know about the massacre today. Some argue that this event is nothing more than a fable birthed from the legends surrounding the Supes, while others argue that it is true. Where this carnage allegedly took place is now called Massacre Grounds. Fitting.
- 1870’s: Prospector Jacob Weiser, a partner and associate of Jacob Waltz (the famed Lost Dutchman), died of wounds received from the Apache. He did not die in the mountains but at a nearby ranch.
- 1880: Two soldiers on a search for gold went into the Supes and disappeared. Their remains were later found, each with a bullet hole in their skulls. 🥴
- 1881: Another prospector by the name of Joe Dearing heard the story of the two dead soldiers and thought it would be a brilliant idea to search for the mine himself. He survived, initially, returning to Pinal, AZ claiming that he had found an old mine. He described it as “the most God-awful rough place you can imagine… a ghostly place”. He was later killed in a cave-in of another known mine in the area, Silver King Mine, and never revealed the location of the “ghostly” mine he supposedly discovered.
- 1884: Pedro Ortega was found dead from shotgun wounds about 30 feet from Jacob Waltz’s home, near the Supes. Waltz claimed that Ortega’s partner shot and killed him after “borrowing” Waltz’s gun, but many believe Waltz himself killed Ortega. Whether this was over the mysterious gold-filled mine that Waltz found or some other, probably dumb, argument, we’ll never know.
- 1892: 13-year-old Charles Dobie was killed by the Apache in the Supes. His home was ransacked, supplies were taken, and there was other evidence that Native Americans had been there. Charles was found a short distance from the house, shot twice in the body, with his head and limbs crushed and mangled by heavy boulders that the Apache had used to stone him to death. His death is the last known death caused by the Apache.
- 1896: A man named Elisha Marcus Reavis was found dead along a trail in the Supes, in an area known today as Grave Canyon (appropriate). It is not known how he died.
- 1910: In an elevated cave in the Supes, the skeletal remains of a female were discovered. There were tiny pieces of gold nuggets next to the remains; however, no fragments of clothing of any kind were found, adding to the mystery.
- 1931: Adolph Ruth, a 78-year-old retired veterinarian and avid treasure hunter, went missing in the Supes after setting out to find the treasure with a “Peralta Map”. The search for his body began after he failed to return for 2 weeks. Not until almost one year later was his body found near Black Top Mesa with two bullet holes in his skull. (These ones always freak me out)
- 1934: A man named Adam Stewart died in the Supes. It is unclear how.
- 1936: Roma O’Hal, a “mountain hobbyist” and broker from NY died after falling in the Supes while looking for the Lost Dutchman mine.
- 1937: Another prospector named Guy “Hematite” Frink, who had made several successful treks into the Supes to find gold without dying, finally ran out of luck after he was found dead from a gunshot wound to the stomach on the side of a trail. Next to his decomposing body was small sack of gold ore.
- 1945: Barry Storm, a treasure hunter on the search for the lost mine, claims to have narrowly escaped from a sniper in the Supes. He believes that Adolph Ruth might have been a victim of the same sniper. Who this sniper is, and what was his goal, is unknown.
- 1947: James Cravey’s skeletal remains were found in the Supes after he went missing while looking for the lost treasure. They found his skeleton minus the head near Weaver’s Needle. They never found his skull.
- 1949: Jason Kidd went to work in the Supes, only to never return. The main theory is that he had fallen down a canyon to his death. His body has never been found.
- 1951: An Oregon man named Dr. John Burns was found with a single bullet hole through his body. Even though there was no powder residue and ballistics experts believed he was shot from a distance (sniper strikes again), his death was ruled a suicide.
- 1952: A man from Ohio named Joseph Kelley went into the Supes only to disappear and never be seen again.
- 1952: In the same year, two men from California named Ross Bley and Charles Harshbarger also disappeared in the Supes, also… never to be found again.
- 1955: A 16-year-old boy named Charles Massey was, allegedly, accidently killed in the Supes by a bullet that ricocheted off something (probably a rock) while he was out hunting javelinas with four other boys.
- 1956: Martin Zywotho was found dead in the Supes after going missing for several weeks. He had been searching for the Lost Dutchman mine. A month after he was reported missing, his body was found with a bullet hole above his right temple. Even though the gun was found underneath his body (something usually deemed physically impossible if one commits suicide), his death was eventually ruled a suicide.
- 1958: A deserted campsite was discovered in the Supes, along the northern edge of the mountains. There was a bloodstained blanket, a gun cleaning kit (no gun), cooking utensils, and letters from which the names and addresses had been torn out. No trace of the camp’s occupant(s) has ever been discovered.
- 1959: Stanley Hernandez and Benjamin Ferreria believed they had found the famed Lost Dutchman mine. Probably out of pure greed (although we will never really know) Hernandez murdered Ferreria. Ironically, Hernandez later learned that the “gold” they found was pyrite, aka Fools Gold. 🤡
- 1959: Also in this year, Lavern Rowlee and Ralph Thomas went hiking in the Supes, only for Thomas to shoot and kill Rowlee while there. Thomas claims that Rowlee attacked him, and he shot him in self-defense.
- 1960: A beheaded skull was found in the Supes with two bullet holes, which turned out to be the skull of Franz Harrer, a student from Austria. His body has never been found.
- 1960: In the same year, Robert St. Marie was killed by Edward Piper while looking for gold in the Supes.
- 1960: This same year, yet again, the remains of William Harvery Jr. were found in the Supes. His cause of death remains unknown.
- 1961: The skeletal remains of Hilmer Bohen were found at the edge of the Supes in a shallow grave. He was shot in the back. Some reports say he was discovered by a family picnicking while other sources say it was school children who found him.
- 1961: Again, in the same year, the body of Walter J. Mowry was found near Weaver’s Needle. He was from Denver, Colorado and had come to camp and hike. Some sources claim it was a suicide.
- 1963: Vance Bacon allegedly fell to his death from the top of Weaver’s Needle; however, there are reports of rifle shots and indications of foul play. It remained unsolved/an accident.
- 1964: Brothers Richard and Robert Kremis were found by searchers in the mountains after going missing. They were discovered in a snow-covered canyon where they had succumbed to the elements. They had gone hunting in the early morning when a sudden snowstorm struck.
- 1970: The body of Albert Morrow was found in a tunnel after he was crushed to death by a fallen boulder.
- 1973: During an employment dispute, Charles Lewing shot and killed Ladislas Sancho Guerrero at Jacob’s Campsite (at the base of the mountain). He claimed self-defense.
- 1976: Harold Lewis Polling accidently shot and killed himself inside his campsite near the Supes. He had slung his .44 Magnum revolver over his shoulder, and when he leaned over his bed, the revolver fell and discharged upon hitting the ground. Polling was hit in the left side, penetrating his lungs and spleen. He died of internal bleeding.
- 1976: Prospector Dennis Jospeh Brown was found murdered in the mountains. He was shot one time in the chest with a .22 bullet. His death remains unsolved.
- 1978: Mexican cowboy Manuel Valdez was murdered by unknown “assassins”. They allegedly laid in wait, a short distance from Valdez’s ranch house near the Supes. He was shot several times for seemingly no reason. His body was buried inside the Supes, in Fraser Canyon, and was discovered only because Valdez’s dog “Prieta” laid at the foot of his grave until someone coming to use the ranch arrived and found him.
- 1980: Rick Fenning went hiking in the Supes only to disappear. His body was eventually found near Trap Canyon.
- 1981: ***WARNING – This is a bad one*** Suzanne Rossetti was taken to the Supes by two men she had met earlier that night at a convenience store. After sexually assaulting her, they drove her to the mountains with a plan to kill her. Once there, they made her hike up the mountain and threw her off a 40-foot cliff. However, she didn’t die. They then began to strike her in the head with rocks until she lost consciousness. Not caring that she was not yet dead, they then buried her alive underneath rocks. The medical examiner later said she was alive for at least 15 minutes after being buried. Fortunately, the men were caught and found guilty – one was sentenced to life and the other to death.
- 1984: Walt Gassler died while looking for the Lost Dutchman’s mine. His body was found by two men hiking, propped up against a rock near Charlebois Ridge. The medical examiner ruled his death was from natural causes, possibly a heart attack.
- 2009: Jesse Capen, another man from Denver, went missing while looking for the Dutchman’s mine. He was presumed to have fallen to death or succumbed to the elements. His body was found 4 years later, in 2013, wedged between rocks underneath a cliff.
- 2010: Three men all went missing at the same time while looking for the elusive treasure and gold mine. Curtis Merworth, Ardean Charles, and Malcom Meeks were friends and considered to be “gold crazy” by their families. In fact, they had to be rescued while treasure hunting from these very mountains only a year before their deaths. The skeletal remains of Charles and Meeks were eventually found by another treasure hunter 5 months after they went missing. One week later, the skeletal remains of Merworth were found by the Superstition Search and Rescue team about a half mile away, resting underneath a tree. It’s widely speculated that the trio died from the searing July Arizona heat.
- 2011: Six people died in a plane crash in the Supes. Three children, their father, and two other adults were killed one day before Thanksgiving in the tragic accident.
- 2012: Avid hiker Kenneth Clark, from Michigan, died while hiking in the mountains. The medical examiner later ruled that he had died from dehydration and a heat stroke.
- 2012: Robert Bitton, an elderly man in his 70’s, died suddenly while hiking in the Supes.
- 2013: The body of Eric Fernandes was found in the mountains by a hiker. Unknown cause of death.
- 2014: A man died while hiking in the mountains. The cause of death was likely from natural causes and no foul play was suspected.
- 2015: Elizabeth Shwartz, a 65-year-old resident of Los Angeles, died while hiking after collapsing on a trail. She and her husband had been hiking for nearly 10 hours before she collapsed. The couple are said to have been experienced hikers and had plenty of water. No foul play is suspected.
- 2015: Two men in a medical helicopter died after crashing into the mountains. A third man was injured and went to the hospital, where he survived. The helicopter crashed for unknown reasons.
- 2016: An unnamed hiker went missing in the mountains and was later discovered deceased. His cause of death remains unknown.
- 2016: That same year, Anthony Quatela died from “heat-related conditions” while hiking. On the day he died it had hit 111 degrees, and he and his friend had run out of water. His friend was also suffering from heat-related conditions but survived.
- 2018: An unnamed man died while hiking with a boy scout group in the mountains. Near the end of the trail he started having trouble breathing and collapsed. The cause of death was likely a heart attack or heat exhaustion.
- 2021: A New Jersey man died on the Black Mesa Trail inside the Supes after hiking all day with his girlfriend. She was able to survive, despite experiencing heat-related issues and collapsing herself.
- 2022: A 21-year-old man camping at the top, near Flatiron, died after falling off of Flatiron while taking a picture. He fell more than 700 feet.
Undoubtedly, there is a draw to these mountains that I can’t quite put my finger on, something clearly many others have felt too (there’s even an entire Facebook hiking group dedicated to the Superstitions). I have no interest in searching for the Lost Dutchman’s treasure or mine, because as you can see, it rarely works out well. I typically come to the Supes to marvel at them from afar, usually at Goldfield. I attempted to hike them in 2008; however, we arrived way too late and were almost caught in the wilderness in the pitch black. We almost became a number on the above list. I hadn’t had a chance to hike them again since, until recently. We had a small reprieve from the scorching summer heat when massive monsoon storms rolled in back-to-back for 3 days. This dropped the temperature down to the mid-70’s,/low-80’s, perfect hiking weather. We knew we had a small bubble to hike (unless we waited until October), so once the rain halted for a few hours on the third day, we headed out.
Since it had been raining for the last three days, there were not many people out exploring the Supes when we arrived. We got there around 10am and had zero issues finding parking. In fact, we were probably one of only 6 or 7 cars there. The park is open year round, with the trails open from 6am to 8pm. It costs $7 per car to enter, and they have a nice gift shop/information center right at the front (open Monday through Friday from 7am to 3:30pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 6am to 3:30pm). We spoke in length to the park ranger at the entrance, who told us which “family friendly” trails to use. My friend is not a hiker, so we needed something on the easier side.
There are numerous trails to choose from in the Supes, and I’ve included all that are listed on the state’s website, along with the description the state gives in quotes. These trails include:
- Native Plant Trail: (“A 0.25-mile trail near the Visitor Center that features desert plants along an accessible paved trail”)
- Discovery Trail: (This 0.7-mile trail connects the campground and day-use areas. The trail features information signs, a wildlife pond, bird feeder, and viewing bench”)
- Treasure Loop Trail: (#56) (A 2.4-mile round trip, this trail is rated moderate and has elevation changes of 500 ft. It ends at either of our beautiful picnic areas.”)
- Prospector’s View Trail (#57): (“This 0.7-mile trail is rated moderate. It connects Siphon Draw Trail to Treasure Loop Trail and also connects to Jacob’s Crosscut Trail.”)
- Jacob’s Crosscut Trail (#58): (“At 0.8 miles, this trail is rated easy, and runs along the base of the Superstition Mountains. It connects Treasure Loop Trail with Prospector’s View Trail and continues 4.5 miles past the park area along the mountain’s base.”)
- Siphon Draw Trail (#53): (“The trail is 4 miles round-trip and winds into a canyon known as Siphon Draw with a 1,000-ft elevation gain to the basin area.”)
There is also a stern warning listed on the state’s website that says, “NOTE: Hikers can continue on the trail to the Flatiron, but the trail is not maintained past the basin. There are elevation gains of over 2,000 feet. The trail is very steep and difficult. Please allow 5-6 hours. Six miles round-trip.” So…. heed their warning, people. Ignoring these things is what leads to so many deaths and accidents. You can find this information and more on https://azstateparks.com/lost-dutchman/explore/maps.
But anyway, talking to the park ranger about the “family friendly” trail turned out to be useless because we got lost almost immediately. We were not lost like “omg this is bad” lost, but lost as in, we ended up on a trail that the park ranger definitely did not recommend. The trail she told us about was purportedly a slight loop near the base of the northern side of the Supes. This was the Discovery Trail. However, the trail we ended up on was one that ascended the mountain, sharply at one point. This was Treasure Loop Trail. Here is where Kristi and I parted ways (she waited near the middle, before the trail began rising sharply), as I continued up to the top. I wanted to make it to the base of the rocks, because that is what I came for.
I really wanted to continue hiking into the Supes but could not because that would’ve been extraordinarily rude to my friend. So I stopped near the base and found a large rock to lean on and catch my breath. Here is where I got an amazing view of the valley, with all the mountains and peaks surrounding Apache Junction. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and not a view you get often. It was eerily quiet up there, with the silence being broken only briefly by the rare, occasional hiker walking by.
Again, I would’ve gone on much further if I could, but it wasn’t an option this day. I have every intention of coming back and pushing further into the mountains as soon as the weather chills out (literally and figuratively). I simply refuse to hike inside the Supes when the weather is anywhere past 85, as that is a (clear) risk I am not willing to take. Also – I have heard – people say to never hike alone in this mountain range, something that is pretty discouraged everywhere but really discouraged in the Supes. Although, as the above list points out, it doesn’t always matter if you’re alone or with a “friend” …
Overall, I realize that all this death and mayhem makes the Supes sound like a scary, terrifying place. However, it really doesn’t have to be. Just stay on the clearly marked trails, bring lots of water, do not hike when it is hot out (if you do, go super early), follow all the typical hiker safety rules (don’t go alone but if you do, make sure someone knows where you are going, bring some type of protection, respect the wildlife and nature, etc), and PLEASE, do not try to look for the Lost Dutchman mine… Do these things and you should be fine. 🤪
The excellent YouTube video about the Supes: https://youtu.be/btDeWxLD14E