Museum holds legends, lore and Elvis in A.J. - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Museum holds legends, lore and Elvis in A.J.

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Posted: Friday, August 8, 2008 1:32 pm | Updated: 9:24 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

I pity any building that has to stand in front of the Superstitions. Few, if any, man-made structures could pull the eyes from those fabled rocks, which seem to rise in front of you as you drive out of Apache Junction on state Route 88. 

>> Video: Tour Superstition Mountain Museum with Michael Grady

I pity any building that has to stand in front of the Superstitions.

Few, if any, man-made structures could pull the eyes from those fabled rocks, which seem to rise in front of you as you drive out of Apache Junction on state Route 88.

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Most drivers pass the squat brown building and the desiccated barn next to it without comment. The adjacent A-frame chapel might elicit an “I wonder what that is?” before tourists whiz by to explore the wonders of Roosevelt Lake, Lost Dutchman State Park or the majestic Superstitions.

That’s a shame, because those modest buildings are the Superstition Mountain Museum, an extensive and surprisingly diverse patchwork of the lives and lore those beautiful mountains inspired. “We’ve got a little bit of everything, that’s true,” co-founder Larry Hedrick says.

And they do. The Superstitions have inspired everything from American Indian flood mythology to Elvis Presley Westerns. The squat brown building is Chapter One, taking viewers from pre-Columbian pottery shards through a detailed exhibit on the Lost Dutchman mine legend. Jacob Walz wasn’t Dutch — though he sure could get lost — but his deathbed tale of a mine in the Superstitions sparked a million imaginations and almost as many maps. “He died in 1891, with some very pure gold samples under his bed,” Hedrick told me. “And I guarantee you, as we speak, people are out in the Superstitions looking for it right now.”

While prospectors swung for the fences, settlers worked the scenic, hardscrabble land. The museum chronicles the gritty work of mining claims, carving the Apache Trail, and creating Roosevelt Dam. The dam and the roads brought the end of Western mystique — so the area got a second life helping Hollywood film that mystique.

The barn probably never held cows, but as part of the Apacheland Movie Ranch set, it held plenty of actors filming pictures like “Death Valley Days,” “Have Gun Will Travel” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Located a few miles up the road, Apacheland was a gritty Western town with mean streets broad enough for camera crews. How many brave cowboys left the makeup trailer to die heroic fake deaths on its streets? We’ll never know. Fire claimed Apacheland for good in 2004, but not before it gave our community its touch of Elvis.

The A-frame chapel was a set piece in “Charro,” a 1969 movie where Elvis tamed the Wild West without ever even singing. Its steeple was blown off in the film (you can watch that scene on the monitor inside) but has since been rebuilt. The chapel now sits as a pious anthem to Arizona Westerns. Kind of what a church would look like if Elvis was God and Hollywood ran heaven.

The museum covers a surprising amount of territory with folksy sincerity and lots of detail. “We’re all very passionate about the history of this area,” Hedrick says, and it shows. It would make an ideal cap to a day of hiking, and give you a much better feel for the land on which you tread.

The Superstition Mountain Museum is at 4087 N. Apache Trail, northeast of Apache Junction on state Route 88. It’s open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tickets cost $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $2 for children (6-17). Information: (480) 983-4888 or www.superstitionmountainmuseum.org.

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