Adventures On Superstition Mountain

ARTHUR NEAD ILLUSTRATION

If you’re going to Superstition Mountain, you should watch out for the rattlesnakes. “They’re not an endangered species,” Dave, our tour guide said. “There are millions of them out here.” The good news is that the snakes, diamondback rattlers, also watch out for you and aren’t at all anxious for an encounter. In a land with so many diamondbacks that even the baseball team in nearby Phoenix is named after them, they aren’t easy to spot. There are also bears and bobcats in them there hills, but they are shy, too.

This was land that was once populated by two groups: gold miners and Apaches. The latter sometimes drove the former away, except for one legendary geezer of a miner who, according to legend, when the Apaches went to evict him, put on such a tantrum that they thought he was crazy and cursed by the spirits. They left him alone.

From one vantage point, we could see a lake below, where pleasure boats were making waves. One curiosity that folks in these parts like to mention it that Arizona has one of the highest per capita pleasure boat ownerships in the nation, yet it has no natural lakes. Its entire lake system is manmade, captured in valleys and held in place by dams. 
   
One living creature that was apparent was the turkey vulture, gliding above in big circles. There are legends of lost miners in these parts unable to find paths that only the Apaches knew. What happened to them, maybe only the vultures knew.

Our destination was a spot in the road on the downside of a hill called Tortilla Flats. There was a restaurant there where I had a “cowboy burger” and a bowl of chili. Dave explained that there are still open gun laws here. A drifter can walk in with a sidearm but has to check it in at the bar. I felt assured when a black-and-white car pulled up. It was the sheriff, and he had come for lunch.

After our meal, Dave directed us to the back of his SUV where he had things from the hills to show, including the fragments of a meteorite that could have fallen recently or that might have dropped billions of years ago. He also had found the skull of a mountain goat whose horns must have weighed 20 pounds each. But the showstopper in his collection was stored in a tied sack that was in a locked box. Dave undid both and pulled out a snake. He had found it recently, and it was now part of the family. The serpent, he explained, looked like a rattler but was a gopher snake. He named it Goofy. Dave said that a snake could live in a sack for intervals because it breathes so slowly and demands little air. Back at his house though, Goofy has a pad with all the comforts fit for a snake.

While Dave spoke, Goofy wound around his arm. Dave put Goofy on the road where he slinked along, though probably finding the unnatural surface too hot. Getting back in the bag felt better.

On the way back, Dave talked about the thousands of stars that could be seen at night and of having had spiritual experiences with the Indians. Everywhere there were clumps of the native magnificent saguaro cactus, the kind that look like inverted pitchforks. Each of the cactus’ arms, Dave explained, takes about a century to grow. This land is timeless, and, amazingly, most of it is still untouched by humans.

By the time we got to Phoenix, Goofy was snoozing in the back. We had seen a lot that day, but there was still one thing missing.

The day before I had asked one of the locals, “Where can I see a coyote chase a road runner?” Her answer was quick: “At Warner Brothers.”
 

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