Destination: Superstition Mountains

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The area around the Superstitions is rife with ruins, ghost towns, abandoned mines, yipping coyotes, and legendary figures.  Classic movies were filmed, canvas tent mining camps rose and fell, American Indians built and abandoned cliff side settlements, and stage coach stops still operate.   The history of this place is immense; in four days I feel like I only scratched the surface.


The Legends

There are many stories about how they got their name; most seem to revolve around the local American Indian tribes, who claimed that many strange things happened up beyond those stone faces.  My favorite theory is that the wind blowing through the wild crags makes wailing sounds that put people in mind of spirits and monsters.  Supposedly there’s an unbelievable vein of gold running through the Superstitions.  Jacob Waltz claimed to have found it, but on his deathbed 115 years ago could only give a series of cryptic clues as to its location.  People have been trying to rediscover the Lost Dutchman Mine and its treasures ever since.  Of course there’s no way to know how true the stories are, but it’s a part of the Southwestern lore nonetheless.

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The Place

Located just about 45 minutes east of Phoenix, the cliffs on the southwestern edge of the range rise suddenly out of the desert floor, jumping up hundreds of feet into spires and canyons that could inspire a million stories.  Lost Dutchman State Park, just outside the suburb of Apache Junction, isn’t much on its own but makes a great jumping off point.  The campground and picnic areas are very nice and many trails lead directly into the mountains.

I hiked a little over a mile up Siphon Draw Trail into its namesake canyon that cuts into the center of the range, which offered great opportunities to shoot some mid-day infrared photos.  Much as I would’ve preferred to hike in the cooler morning or evening hours, IR demands bright sunlight.  The trail went a lot farther and connected to other ones criss-crossing the wilderness area but my goal was to get up into the canyon and once I did that I was content to go back.  Besides, by then I was hungry.


A Journey

Highway 88, the historic Apache Trail, loops up along the reservoirs of the Salt River to Roosevelt, where it meets 188 and then 60, which comes back around to Apache Junction.  On the way it passes many towns and historic sites as it weaves through the mountains.  Altogether it covers about 125 miles and makes for a very nice day excursion through the desert.  Between Tortilla Flat and Roosevelt (about 22 miles), Highway 88 is dirt, but it’s well maintained.  Aside from some washboarding it was fine, with very few ruts or rocks.  Only the very lowest vehicles would have a problem with it.

The Superstition Mountain Museum consists of an indoor exhibit hall ($5) as well as several buildings outside, including the barn and chapel from the Apacheland movie set.  The rest of the set burned down years ago, but those were saved and eventually moved to the grounds of the museum.  Elvis Presley himself once sang gospel songs in the chapel during breaks in the filming of Charro!, the only movie of his in which he did not sing.

Goldfield Ghost Town straddles the border between historic and downright silly.  Rebuilt with antique lumber after the original town burned down, it now consists of gift shops, ice cream parlors, and semi-authentic tours.  The historical society museum ($1) does a good job of presenting the area and people who made it what it was.  The train and mine tours ($8 each) were interesting although not especially long or realistic and they gave some conflicting information.  There was also a bordello tour ($3) that made a point of letting potential customers know it was “child friendly”.

Tortilla Flats is a one-time stage coach stop that’s still in operation as a restaurant and gift shop out in the middle of nowhere.  Highway 88 meets 188 at the Roosevelt Dam, the largest masonry dam in the world, made of blocks carved right out of the canyon, although the newer concrete facing covers the original stonework.

Tonto National Monument ($3), overlooking Roosevelt Lake, is a small cliff-side settlement long abandoned by its original builders for reasons unknown to us today.  The lower ruins are readily accessible, although a visit requires a 1/3 of a mile hike up a steep trail.  The upper ruins can only be visited on occasional ranger-led tours (reservations required), visit the park service website for dates and information.  Unlike other ruins I’ve been to, most of the rooms at Tonto are actually open for visitors to walk through.  They’re so well protected that textures and fingerprints are still visible in the walls.  They also contain surprisingly little graffiti, although unfortunately a few people have managed to get away with it over the years.

Fall asleep listening to coyotes howling, and try not have Stevie Wonder singing Superstition in your head the whole time.

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Throwback Thursday: Cataloochee Valley

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Cataloochee Valley is my favorite part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It’s far from any of the big towns or really popular parts of the park so it’s a good place to get away from the crowds at Cades Cove or Clingman’s Dome.  It’s got abandoned buildings that are still in pretty good shape and is also the only part of the park where elk have been reintroduced.

I went out there hiking one day in October a few years ago when I was still living in Gatlinburg.  The leaves were beautiful, the elk were out in the meadows, and I had the trails all to myself.  Lots of little creeks with tiny waterfall made for a very peaceful experience.  I had intended to hike out to a schoolhouse but I got started too late & didn’t want to be out there in the dark so I had to turn back.  I also kept meaning to stay at the campground there but never got around to it.  Hopefully I’ll make it back there someday & do those things.

This Month in Awkwardness

First week of my last semester is in the bag!  Historical Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, and an independent study working in the 3D visualization lab learning to do laser scans & stuff so it should be interesting!

I spent my Christmas break exploring small parks near where I live & doing a whole circuit of South Florida to visit family before taking a short train jaunt back to Tampa.  The interior of Florida is truly a flat, flat, dull place to travel through.  Not much to look at but cows and the occasional farmworker village.


Crossed off the Travel Map:

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Homosassa, Florida – sort of a combination park/zoo, this place is neat because they have the “fishbowl,” an underwater observatory with views of the fish and, when they’re out in the main pond, manatees.  Aside from a resident hippo who’s been there since the 60s, all of the animals on display are native to Florida.  Adults $13, children 6-12 $5, open year-round.

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park, Homosassa, Florida – a tiny roadside park that encompasses the namesake ruins with a few interpretive panels and a small picnic area across the street.  Free, open year-round.

Crystal River Preserve State Park, Crystal River, Florida – hiking trails along the river, boat tours, canoeing, etc.  Free, open year-round.

Fort Cooper State Park, Inverness, Florida – trails through the site of a fort used during the Second Seminole War.  The fort today consists of a small section of recreated palisade.  Reenactments & living history displays during Fort Cooper Days in March.  $3 per vehicle, open year-round.

Morris Bridge Park, Thontosassa, Florida – hiking trails, boardwalks, & fishing on the Hillsborough River.  Watch out for alligators!  I don’t recall what the admission fee was & the website doesn’t say, I think it was $2 or $3 per vehicle.  May close if the river floods.

Tampa Union Station, Tampa, Florida – my train back home stopped here & it was weird because the way the route is laid out it feels like you pull into town & then go backwards out of town on the same track, but it’s just because the station is at the end of the line & then the train goes back out toward Orlando.

This Month in Awkwardness

Classes are done & I’m all signed up for my last semester! Again. It should stick this time though, since I’m only taking three.  It will be nice to only have three classes to work on instead of four, even if they will probably all be relatively difficult.  Now that grades are done I wanted to share the 3D model I made for Digital Archaeology of the Pantheon in Rome:

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Not a whole lot else going on, just looking forward to a few weeks of not dealing with school stuff!  Sometime this week I’ll post the paper I wrote on Photogrammetry, which turned out pretty good considering I wrote it in about 4 days.  I’m also going to try to post on Instagram more now that I’m not so busy.  We shall see if I actually accomplish these goals…


Added to the Travel Map:

Hontoon Island State Park, Deland, Florida – in the St. John’s River.

Greenwich Meridian Trail, Peacehaven to Sand le Mere, England – 273 miles of hiking along the Greenwich Meridian.

Peek & Poke Computer Club Museum, Rijeka, Croatia – vintage gaming & computers.

Hamilton, Nevada – abandoned town.

Bankhead, Banff National Park, Canada – abandoned coal mining town.

Fort Ross State Historic Park, Jenner, California – reconstructed Russian settlement.

Throwback Thursday: That Time I Tried to get to Munising & Ended Up in Grand Marais

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So it turns out that roads don’t cross each other in the Upper Peninsula. I discovered this when I decided to wander my way in the general direction of Munising to see waterfalls, with no real timeline or plan except to be back on Mackinac Island when I had to be at work again. I just kept going north, figuring I’d turn west on the next road. That road didn’t exist until Lake Superior appeared in front of me, & then it turned out to be a horrible, rutted logging road that I could only go about 10mph on lest it shake my car to pieces. The first civilization I came to was Grand Marais, a good 45 miles east of Munising.

Grand Marais is nice though. I got to see the Pickle Barrel House, I had the beach pretty much to myself (although I didn’t go swimming – Lake Superior stays about 55° year-round & I’m not crazy). I did get to hike out to a waterfall & to some sand dunes in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. All in all it was a nice little weekend jaunt, just not the one I had in mind when I started.

This Week in Awkwardness

We learned about photogrammatry in Digital Archaeology & it’s AWESOME.  Basically you take a bazillion photos of something & dump them into a software program that makes them into a super-realistic 3D model.  It’s more complicated than that but it’s still AWESOME & I really want to try it when I have time.

I finally started putting some stuff on my YouTube channel, so that’s something.  So far it’s just a couple of time lapse videos but I’ll keep working on it occasionally.


Added to the Travel Map:

Tobermory, Ontario, Canada – shipwrecks & islands & stuff.

Madame Sherri House, Chesterfield, New Hampshire – ruins of an elaborate mansion in the forest.

This Week in Awkwardness: Hurricane Aftermath Edition

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My pre-storm experience can be read here.

Irma turned out not to be nearly as big of a deal in West Central Florida as they kept telling us she would be.  In fact, the biggest problems we had stemmed from the total mismanagement of the shelter we were in.

We were supposed to be in the elementary school but they had too many people showing up so we ended up in the high school without anyone ever telling the Red Cross we were there so we had no access to the resources they were bringing in.  Because we were the overflow section they were winging it, sticking people wherever, applying the rules here & there when they felt like it.  I guess after days of telling everyone to get out they didn’t actually expect anyone to do it.  It was pretty amazing on Sunday morning, with this monster storm bearing right down on us, all the hundreds of people who started showing up, a lot of them totally unprepared with no bedding, no cages for their pets, pretty much nothing.

They only had regular coffee so everybody drank that & sat around talking ALL. NIGHT. LONG. making it pretty much impossible to sleep in the echoing gym.

At one point an older lady came in the side door of our hall & said she just wanted to let us know that they were bringing four dogs through.  Someone asked if they were bad, and she said yes, two are aggressive.  Then a younger woman came & said she was bringing “four bad dogs” in.  They brought them through to one of the locker rooms because these people were too stupid to bring cages, but by then the whole hall was in an uproar because nobody wanted to be anywhere near these dogs.  They brought in someone who I think worked for animal control & was there to keep tabs on all the dogs, who then decided because these people had aggressive uncaged animals, they should get a whole locker room all to themselves!  As they were moving around the younger woman said that the problems were because “people don’t know what aggressive means” & something about the dogs getting up in your face.  OK, if you think that an “aggressive” dog is one that “gets up in your face,” YOU’RE the one who doesn’t know what aggressive means!  Somehow these people had “made arrangements” with animal control the day before, something none of us with well-behaved, controlled dogs had been able to do.  The complaints continued until the Animal Control employee brought in a Sheriff’s deputy & told him he would have to deal with it because she’d been yelled at all day.  Eventually the people left with their dogs, according to the younger woman they were leaving because her mom (I guess the older lady) was freaking out “because somebody had to open their big f***ing mouth” ummm…yeah, that was Y’ALL, when YOU BOTH described your dogs as aggressive!  The rest of us probably wouldn’t have noticed if YOU hadn’t said it!

An older couple in one of the other locker rooms moved all their stuff out into the hall, including their dog, an unassuming cocker spaniel, because I guess there was a two-year-old in there SHRIEKING & they just couldn’t take it anymore.  Around lockdown time the Animal Control employee who had been so nice to the people with the big mean dogs got after them for having their quiet smallish dog in the hallway & argued with them about it before finally threatening to call the deputies back down!  The lady said “yes, bring them down, they can kick me out but I’m not going back in there!”  Eventually they moved them & a couple of other people into the locker room vacated by the mean dog people, including one woman who had been sleeping in the hallway but moved her dogs out of the room with the two-year-old.  I can’t even imagine having a kid so out of control that people in a disaster situation don’t even want their DOGS around him/her.

They kept saying that all pets had to be in their crates & everyone had to be in their camps by 6 because they were locking things down to keep everyone safe, OK fine. They locked the pet hall (which you had to go outside to get to) so nobody could go in but never actually stopped anyone from going outside. People were allowed to go out & smoke, but nobody could so much as visit their pets, never mind take them outside or even walk them up & down the hallway, so they were locked in their cages for 12+ hours for basically no reason except It’s The Rules.  My mom’s dog is a tiny, elderly, quiet poodle who stuffs easily into a sleeping bag & doesn’t move for hours at a time so we got one over on the mean Animal Control woman & kept her with us all night.

They made us gather all of our stuff up at 2:30 in the morning to run through ankle-deep water in an open walkway in the middle of the hurricane to the cafeteria because after 5 hours of pouring rain someone finally noticed that the water in the courtyard wasn’t going anywhere & was about to come pouring into the hallway where we were trying to sleep.  The people in charge were out there digging around up to their knees in water trying to find the drain & get it unclogged, which they finally were able to do before all the people in the gym had to be moved.

Finally, around 6 am, we were in the eye of what was then a minor storm that was rapidly breaking up  & people were frustrated enough that they wanted to just get out of there.  The first announcement was that they couldn’t stop us from leaving but they couldn’t say for certain if it was safe for us to do so until the deputies had had a chance to go see what the road conditions were like.  A little later another announcement said, essentially, that it was safe outside so we should gather up our crap & get out.  I think they were as sick of us as we were of them.

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Irma passed directly over Crystal River around 6am. My mom’s house is in Hernando, and we spent the night at the high school in Lecanto.

The one gas station in Hernando that actually had gas had a line from the pumps, around through one of the stalls of the car wash next door, & about another half-mile down the road, which is pretty amazing since it looked like that before the storm too so I have no clue what everybody did with all the gas they were buying then.  That was the only time I actually saw anything close to violence – somebody tried to cut the line & the people behind them ran them off.

Once we got a look at things it really seemed like Irma just made a mess.  Some trees & power lines down, the occasional metal overhang roof peeled back like the top of a tin can, but it didn’t look like anybody’s houses had flooded or blown away, at least not on the inland halves of the counties I drove through.  There are still a lot of people without power, but the worst real damage I saw was a number of large trees down in a yard around the corner, that was likely because of one of the mini tornadoes Irma was spinning off rather than the hurricane herself.  My mom’s yard was covered with twigs & Spanish moss, a situation quickly remedied by hiring a couple of neighborhood teens to rake it all up.  Temple Terrace was largely untouched, my neighbor said the ducks that hang out in our complex’s pond had a great time in the storm.

I certainly have no desire to do the storm shelter thing again after this ridiculous experience.  There’s probably a lot of other people who were there who will be more likely to try to weather storms at home now too.  So thank you, overzealous newscasters desperately trying to make yourselves interesting & county officials who don’t know how to organize anything properly.  Thanks for that.

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This Week in Awkwardness: Hurricane Shelter Edition

My shelter experience & aftermath of the storm can be read here.

Most of you probably know that we’ve been watching Hurricane Irma barrelling at us for the last week or so.  I was going to ride out the storm in my mom’s house in Hernando, figuring with the path she was taking she would have slowed significantly by the time she got so far north.  Then she decided to swing to the west & pummel Tampa instead of Miami.  We can’t drive north because the entire population of Florida is already out on the roads and taking a direct hit from a Category 2 hurricane in a manufactured home isn’t really an option so we’re in a high school gymnasium for the duration.

It was a total zoo getting in here, literally and figuratively.  We came here because it’s a pet-friendly shelter so my mom’s dog and a couple hundred other pets are here, stacked in their crates in a hallway around the corner.  We waited in line for an hour to get her registered, alongside many other barking dogs, yowling cats, and even a handful of screeching parrots.  Then we had to take her to another building because the first one was full, and send her away with some guy because the new pet area wasn’t ready for the public to be in yet.  But I’ve seen her since & she’s alright, aside from I’m sure being very confused & trying to bury her food so the dogs in the cages around her can’t get it.

Besides being in an open gym with a hundred strangers this isn’t so bad.  They’re feeding us 3 meals a day, there’s wifi, & we have air mattresses to sleep on.  It’s kind of amazing how many people are here thinking they’re going to sleep on the hard floor with only a blanket under them.  Little tip – air mattresses, flashlights, batteries, bottled water, & bread all fly off the shelves during a disaster, to the point where they are totally unavailable, so stock up early.

Every store I’ve been to the shelves are picked clean of emergency supplies.  I’m not totally sure why, since most people have perfectly good tap water to fill containers with & generally buy more than one day’s worth of food at a time, but I guess panic begets panic.  In one Winn-Dixie I was watching people snag cases of water off of a couple pallets they’d just put out, then when I wandered back to the meat section I found gallon jugs of water that everyone was ignoring.I heard stories about trucks getting mobbed when they brought more water to the stores & somebody getting stabbed for gasoline.  There’s a bunch of National Guard people here at the school so things shouldn’t get too crazy.  See you on the other side!