Snakes, trash, phones, campfires
all in a day at Lost Dutchman
By Candace S. Hughes
Special to the Republic
Apache Junction – The friendly voice answering the many calls about wildflowers and scenic campsites at Lost Dutchman State Park just may be the new park manager relocated from Lyman Lake State Park near Show Low.
Tom Fisher also may be caught picking up trash from under bushes at the base of the Superstition Mountain, but not without first making noise to ensure no rattlers are taking shelter there as the temperatures increase.
About once weekly Fisher or one of the other three full-time employees use tongs with a long set of handles to extract an unwanted camper from the area loved by RVers, place the diamondback in a bucket, add a lid (very carefully) and transport the noisy reptile to a location far from hiking trails, picnickers and wildflower enthusiasts.
Located northeast of Apache Junction on Arizona 88 or the Apache Trail, the assignment is a big change for Fisher, who only came across two rattlers during his 13 years at Lyman Lake.
The 57-year-old started at Lost Dutchman in August, when the park is quiet, and is now adjusting to the heavy winter visitor season.
“We’re one of the few parks operating in the black with about $300,000 taken in annually in fees for campsites, ramada rentals and admission to the park,” Fisher explained. Campsites are $12 daily, but have no electricity or water to the site. A fee of $5 per vehicle is charged to enter.
The park’s outdated wastewater treatment plant will receive a $600,000 upgrade in May, said Fisher, who may start a day by calling a technician to unplug the stopped up dump station.
More than 100,000 people visit the park yearly bringing in up to $4 million to the area, according to a state parks’ survey.
Fisher is returning to Lost Dutchman after he started there as a seasonal employee in 1984. “The development around the park has really changed. There were only a few houses close to the park’s boundaries then,” he says.
He still enjoys having more than 100,000 acres of the Superstition wilderness in his backyard where he hikes early in the morning and on his days off. “That’s my passion when I’m not working.”
Brittlebush and chuparosa are blooming, but only a few lupines and poppies have been found in the upper locations of the park near the formation called Praying Hands, he points out. A Ranger Cam on the state parks’ Web site shows recent flower photos taken on hikes in the park.
One of his most amazing sights to date at the park was a group of six deer drinking from a concrete pool near the contact station, he brags. The park draws many birders and Fisher’s glad to see cardinals, a bird he never saw at Lyman Lake.
While at Lyman Lake his rescues were mostly stranded boaters, but here he’s uses the park’s quad to help haul out the injured on the park’s heavily used trails, and also has volunteered to go outside the park to the First Water trailhead to search at midnight for lost hikers. While he helped the parents of the young people look for several hours in the dark, Superstition Search and Rescue found the lost hikers and does most of the rescues in the upper elevations of the mountain.
The diversity of the work is what keeps Fisher with the state parks system. When his seasonal job ended at Lost Dutchman in 1984 as winter visitors left, he was transferred to Lyman Lake where visitation goes up in the summer and stayed there working his way up to park manager.
“I’ve seen the movie ‘Endless Summer’ and it appealed to me,” he jokes of the move from Apache Junction to the Show Low area.
Fisher now enjoys building Saturday night campfires where talks are held at 7 on such subjects as bats (April 4) and reptiles (April 11). A March 28 program will cover the “Reel West vs. The Real West: Hollywood vs. History.”
Fisher emphasizes he couldn’t do it all without his staff, including a transfer from one of the closed parks, and volunteers. Many of the unpaid helpers are leaving as the temperatures climb in Arizona as well as in their home states, he laments.
Before Fisher moved into the park manager’s residence, it was occupied by Bob Sherman, who held the position for more than 20 years.
Sherman transferred to Oracle State Park 40 miles north of Tucson in Pinal County and retired Feb. 28.
If you go
WHAT: Lost Dutchman State Park named after Jacob Waltz, a miner, who is rumored to have buried a treasure map in the Superstitions
WHEN: Open every day sunrise to 10 p.m.
WHERE: 6109 N. Apache Trail (five miles north of Apache Junction on Arizona 88). Take the Idaho Road exit off the Superstition Freeway or U.S. 60 and turn north on Idaho Road.
FEE: $5 per vehicle. No senior discount.
ACTIVITIES: Guided hikes 9 a.m. Saturdays are two-three miles, two-three hours focusing on plants, wildlife, local history and legends of the Superstition Mountain. Most hikes include steep grades. Free maps at ranger station. Check for moonlight hikes at 7. Free with park admission. Bring water.
Individuals with disabilities may request special accommodation such as alternative formats or assistance with physical accessibility. For more information, call Arizona State Parks Department at 602-542-4174.
Treasure Loop Trail #56 — moderate 2.4 miles roundtrip
Prospector’s View Trail #57 – moderate .7 miles
Jacob’s Crosscut Trail #58 — easy .8 miles along the base of the mountain in the park and continuing 4.5 miles past the park area along the base of the Superstitions
Discovery Trail — easy .5 miles connects campground and day use areas featuring information signs, wildlife pond, bird feeder and viewing bench
Siphon Draw #53 — difficult to very difficult up the canyon with a 1,000-foot elevation gain in a two-three hour hike entering the Superstition Wilderness. The hike beyond the basin is a very difficult steep climb not recommended for the average hiker. Those going to the Flatiron should be prepared for the 1,800-foot climb and plan to be gone four-six hours.
Camping: 70 non-hookup campsites on paved roads for RVs and tents. Includes dump station, showers and water. Each site has a picnic table and barbecue grill, but no fire pit. Pets on leashes are welcome.