Those silly Dutch errr Germans, losing things...
January 5, 2013 9:50 AM   Subscribe

The Lost Dutchman Mine remains lost, though the body of a man obsessed by it was finally found. Jesse Capen was obsessed by the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine, and planned a trip to the Superstition Mountains in 2009 to find it and earn his riches. Unfortunately he died in an apparent fall on what was probably his first day there. His remains were finally found.
posted by Eekacat (14 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Oh gosh, first the Death Valley Germans and now this post. It's my lucky weekend on MetaFilter. I feel a little bad for being so morbidly fascinated by this kind of thing but I know I'm not the only one here who is.

*goes to RTFAs*
posted by daisyk at 9:53 AM on January 5, 2013

It's also a fairly good abandonware computer game.
posted by Zarkonnen at 10:40 AM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

That bit in the search and rescue guy's account of when he was talking to the ranger about the Germans, and on the phone the ranger sniffs to another, "I've got an enthusiast here"? Yeah, this is where that comes from.
posted by dhartung at 10:42 AM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having read the links, Jesse Capen's story is a very sad one. It's somehow especially tragic, after the previous story of dangerously-underequipped tourists, that he had planned and equipped himself so carefully only to die from a misstep and a fall.

I'm glad for his parents' sake that he, as well as the three men who went missing in 2010, was found to have died from natural causes rather than murder. The list of mysterious deaths in the second link is certainly enough to make one consider the possibility of a long-running defense of the mine by corpse-mutilating snipers. On the other hand, with thousands of visitors looking for the mine each year (per Wikipedia), there are bound to be deaths, and headless skeletons by themselves are not suspicious, given the presence of scavenging animals. I would believe an intermittent defense of the mountain range by unbalanced people who might believe they've found the Mine, and others who have no business being up on the mountains with a gun.

The Wiki page also has a much more skeptical treatment of the legend of the Lost Dutchman's Mine, and I've just seen that there's a whole list of lost mines there...
posted by daisyk at 10:47 AM on January 5, 2013

The second link is grade a classic MYSTERIOUS PLACE web page alright - white text, black background, introductory paragraph that consists of nothing but dire questions... I admit it, I love them. There's a kernel of truth in there somewhere, and it's fun to speculate.

Poor kid... Sad that it happened at all, but I hope it really was an accident. The bit about someone rolling boulders down from above in the 1920's and 30's, and other people turning up shot to death is creepy, if true.
posted by usonian at 10:48 AM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm not super-familiar with the Sonora and the Superstition Mountain area like I am the Mojave, but I've been through there a couple of times.

The main thing it has going for it is that it's slightly cooler and wetter than Death Valley, but as you can see from the pictures the terrain is torturous and extremely craggy and vertical.

It's also very pretty. The Apache Trail road through there out to Apache Lake amazing, easily on par with Bryce or Zion. It's very visually stunning, and due to the amount of water and rocks there's all kinds of canyons with large and small springs and waterfalls.

It is not some place I would want to get lost, though. It's a maze of box canyons, mesa, cliffs and peaks. If you didn't know where you were going it with a good map would be basically impossible to cross or traverse.

And GPS can be useless out there. Driving through with my ex-GF I remember being alarmed at how hard it was to get a lock even with a clear, cloudless sky due to how much we were surrounded by cliffs and tall peaks. I've had an easier time acquiring satellite lock in a big city surrounded by tall buildings while riding a city bus.

There is a lot more traffic through the main maintained trail/road then there is through Death Valley. Apache Lake is a popular destination from Phoenix due to the fact that it's generally cooler than Phoenix, has lots of shade from the cliffs and cold water in Apache Lake.

There's also a lot more wildlife. Coyotes, mountain lions/cougars, deer, rattlesnakes and scorpions and more. The closest I've (knowingly) been to a wild mountain lion was driving out from the north side of Apache Lake. This would have been on the 188 heading north towards Payson along the Three Bar Wildlife Area and Lake Roosevelt. We were driving down a 4 lane highway and it was just sauntering across the road and turned and looked at us while we slowly passed.

The mountain lion stayed close enough that I could have rolled down the window and scratched it behind the ears, but I know enough about mountain lions to know that if one is allowing itself to be seen and approached by humans chances are good that it's sick, possibly with rabies. Any mountain lion that would allow not only humans but an entire car with two humans to approach that closely is probably not doing so well and is either extremely hungry or ill.

Not that healthy mountain lions should be approached, either, but it's exceptionally rare you actually see healthy mountain lions in the wild unless something's gone wrong. They prefer to be ninjas and stay invisible.

The areas around Apache Junction at the lower end of the Apache Trail were super creepy, though, and definitely had a "stay away, outsiders" vibe. I didn't spend much time there but I found it to be a lot more threatening than anything I've seen in the Mojave, probably due to this kind of active mining speculation. Gold fever is an actual thing and makes people extra-nutty, especially with an extra serving of desert madness.

Like a lot of people I'd heard of the infamous Lost Dutchman Mine but I hadn't ever really considered it as a real thing someone could go look for. When my ex described where we were going I remember thinking "oh, really?" and briefly entertaining the idea of looking for it.

But, yeah, no. My knowledge of geology and prospecting is at best just a notch or two above any other average human, and, well, terrain like that gets people killed with or without the spookiness of back country denizens and overprotective miners. Sure, I could likely identify the differences between fool's gold mica and some gold-bearing quartzite given good samples, but when you're talking about gold ore these days you're not talking about visible nuggets of soft metal, but trace veins of the stuff that actually need a chemical assay to know for sure.

And prospectors and pro/amateur geologists are among the nuttiest of the deep desert dwellers, and I'm including tweakers, cultists and aerospace archeologists in that tally having met all of the above at least once or twice.
posted by loquacious at 11:23 AM on January 5, 2013 [17 favorites]

I'm amazed at all these people in the story getting shot and the coroner recording it as accidental.
posted by arcticseal at 11:59 AM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

This Google map link shows a point along the Apache Trail that shows the kind of water/stream in the canyons I'm talking about above, as well as a lot of the typical rock formations. (Just look at that cleavage!)

That bend in the road at the center/bottom is a bridge over a small stream and swimming/water hole. The rocks are hundreds if not thousands of feet overhead at that point. When we passed through the whole area was actually quite chilly and cool in the shade compared to the rest of the blast furnace known as Arizona.

Zoom out a bit and you can see how rugged the terrain is. The satellite images don't do it any justice, but it's incredibly vertical. There are chasms and canyons along the trail that are thousands of feet deep, and you go up and down several thousand foot rises several times along the trail.

The Apache Trail is a hell of a drive for looking at pretty rocks and canyons. It's a fairly well maintained dirt road that should be passable in any road-worthy car that isn't lowered. There are some rugged sandy bits where someone totally inexperienced might get stuck, but it's a fairly wide road and there's also a lot of traffic on that road for a "back country" road. People haul boats in trailers up that road on a regular basis to go to Apache Lake or Lake Roosevelt.

Put it this way - it's the only place I've driven a stickshift off-road and I'm not a driver. Granted, I know the basics of desert/sand driving, but that's mainly "go slow, avoid the rocks, don't spin your tires, don't put your tires into any ruts and don't drive into that thick patch of deep sand, dummy." It's not super challenging and you'd have to really spin your tires in one of the rare deep sandy areas to get stuck.

There's also a pretty cool dam and bridge between Apache Lake and Lake Roosevelt where Apache Trail (88) meets the 188.

I highly recommend it. It's a really rare mix of accessible and extremely rugged, like being able to drive right through the heart of Bryce or Zion or the Grand Canyon. There are very few places like it in the southwestern deserts where you can just easily/reliably drive right into the heart of things. There's a couple of rest stops and vistas along the way that are just incredible and breathtaking.

FYI, Weaver's Needle is much farther south-west from the link closer to Apache Junction at the start of Apache Trail/route 88. There are trails out to it if you're interested in seeing that area, which is the most commonly accepted reference point and landmark to look for the Lost Dutchman Mine.

Though all things considered I don't know how deeply I'd explore that area beyond the tourist/hiker trails. Too many people seem to get accidentally shot or crushed by boulders.

And now I'm really jonesing for a desert trip, but after several years in the lush wet cold of the PNW I'd probably spontaneously combust and burn up. I've unlearned a lot of water discipline and acclimation.
posted by loquacious at 12:18 PM on January 5, 2013 [12 favorites]

loquacious: And prospectors and pro/amateur geologists are among the nuttiest of the deep desert dwellers, and I'm including tweakers, cultists and aerospace archeologists in that tally having met all of the above at least once or twice.

Holy crap that's a compelling lede. Who are these people? You really need to flesh that out into an FPP!
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:40 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seems, rather than look for "lost" gold, it might be better to look near one of Arizona's existing 44,613 active gold mining claims. But that figure suggests that turf's already exhausted.

The lure of "lost" only seems to grow stronger the longer it lasts. Not many "found" mines (or "found" victims) are legendary. On the other hand, the more than a hundred books and maps Capen bought were sure a gold mine for their authors.
    There's gold, and it's haunting and haunting;
    It's luring me on as of old;
    Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting
    So much as just finding the gold.
    It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
    It's the forests where silence has lease;
    It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
    It's the stillness that fills me with peace.
posted by Twang at 2:26 PM on January 5, 2013

Neat! My buddies and I are headed out there tomorrow morning to do our annual 50k, running around in those mountains. I don't know that area super well, but I've roamed around quite a bit, deep into the interior of the park. You really need to be careful -- despite being relatively close to the city, it is, indeed, very dangerous if you're not aware of the risks.

The Superstitions are stunningly beautiful... not hard to see how it still inspires adventure.
posted by ph00dz at 2:58 PM on January 5, 2013

I really want to start a band called Death Valley Germans.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:46 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Holy crap that's a compelling lede. Who are these people? You really need to flesh that out into an FPP!

The less said about tweakers, the better. Spun out meth addict + desert madness is not a good combination, especially when you mix in cheap land and the ability to turn it into a Mad Max compound full of junked out trucks, cars, RVs and buses and stuff. Or bulldozers. A tweaker with a working bulldozer or backhoe is a terrifying thing.

The "aerospace archeologists" are people and, uh, "enthusiasts" like Tom Mahood in the "The hunt for the Death Valley Germans" post. He would admit himself that he's pretty nutty since he's been into UFOs and stuff like remote viewing experiments. I've met a few of these guys out in the deserts either from when I was living out there and I ran into them while they were combing the desert for airplane wrecks, or they'd occasionally show at desert parties (which stood out like a sore thumb compared to the normal desert traffic), and there were a few of them out at the Space Ship One X-Prize flights.

Some of them seem to be disposed to wearing fedoras, leather bomber jackets and trench coats out in the desert, often combined with fanny packs and utility belts with ham radios and stuff.

The geologists are just stark raving mad, though. A thousand yard stare is nothing. Imagine having a 100 million long year stare. It's like they stare into the abyss too long and have too much of a sense of perspective about space and time.

I briefly worked for a geologist who did stuff like prospecting samples and assays, and that's a lot more risky and complicated and grueling than it sounds, because it's not just a couple of rocks. It can be something like 2 tons of rocks loaded into cases or boxes.

This guy was in his early 60s and drove a Bronco or something, and it probably had a couple of hundred pounds of random rocks, white papers and books in it at all time like a sedimentary deposit. This was before you loaded it up with people, dogs, shovels or camping gear or water. Whenever I was in the Bronco with him he was incessantly ranting about bad landscaping and earthmoving projects all around us, like "That one's coming down in the next 50 year rain, and that house is going to fall within 10 years in a landslide." and that sort of thing. Imagine a typograhy nerd complaining about font usage on billboards all around you, except instead of billboards it was potentially lethal cuts and slopes in the sides of freeways or cities around LA.

One sampling trip involved heading a good 30-40 miles off road in the dead of night somewhere North-Northwest of Henderson, basically towards the southeastern edge of Death Valley. We may have even crossed into Nevada. I had no real idea of where I was exactly. And we're doing this in the dead of night for privacy and protection from actual claim jumpers, and maybe because it might not have been fully legal or legit.

I don't know, and too many questions were discouraged. I still have no idea of what we were sampling for.

Besides the Bronco we've got a big, rented Ford SUV and a common cargo trailer and a few dozen cheap plastic tubs with lids as "sample cases". This is being driven by the actual client and prospector.

The terrain is crazy rugged and sandy. Not vertical, just an endless flat plain of rolling sand and arroyos and rocks. And the client seems to be rather nervous and in a hurry, so we're going a bit too fast for my experience and comfort. The geologist doesn't seem to mind too much and is ripping along over the desert like it's a race, too. We're taking potentially axle-breaking hits and bumps, the kind of ride where you actually have to tighten your seatbelt and keep a firm grip on the ceiling and "oh shit" handles to keep from getting your head bashed in by the roof or dashboard.

We go truly off road and cross country for a good mile at a slightly slower pace and get to the location. It's an unremarkable knoll of whitish shale, sandstone and maybe some quartzite or something.

We light it up with headlights from the trucks, and for the next several hours we pick-and-shovel (no kidding) two standard tons of hard rocks into bits and load them into the cheap ass sample cases, which tend to split and shatter when filled with 50-100 pounds of rocks. It's hard, dusty, miserable work. I get blisters. Basically everyone gets blisters. We didn't bring gloves. We go through a good case of bottled water.

And then after the rented SUV and trailer is loaded up and we high tail it out of there at alarming speed ith that kind of load, almost getting stuck a few times if it wasn't for sheer horsepower or momentum. The rented truck and prospecting client makes it back to a geological assay company somewhere in Pasadena or Altadena or something before we do and they unload the samples in their yard, and we arrive in the Bronco shortly after.

Since I'm the hired help and grunt I get left there all on my own without so much as a banana or change for a payphone at like 4 in the cold-ass morning "guarding" these sample cases and waiting for the company to actually open. I'm filthy and tired and sore and really hungry and I just want to go home, and I still have no idea what they're prospecting for or what I'm guarding. The whole thing is nuts.

I explore the yard and look at old mining equipment and piles of rocks. I get bored and end up napping on top of the sample cases with my bare, shorted legs tucked up inside my hoodie. Eventually the sun comes up and 8 or 9 in the morning rolls around and the owners or employees arrive and they're just like "Who the fuck are you?" and I drop the name of my geologist and they're just like "Oh, that guy. Well, come in and sit down where it's warmer. You might be here for a while."

I was paid something like 300 bucks for my troubles, but, damn. It was a lot of work and weirdness. I remember declining work in the future just because I was just slightly less poor and not interested in working that hard with that much stress and weirdness.
posted by loquacious at 4:13 PM on January 5, 2013 [13 favorites]

Clicked, scanned comments for "Chester Copperpot," very disappointed in you guys. ;)

This is a fascinating post though, thanks!
posted by trackofalljades at 6:55 AM on January 6, 2013

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