Gold Canyon Watershed
The Gold Canyon Watershed is adjacent to the community of Gold Canyon. The Watershed constitutes a complete ecological system of washes, mountains, hills and ridges that link directly to 590,000 acres of rugged National Wilderness. The area is rich with archaeological sites and provides a riparian habitat for nearly all Sonoran Desert flora and fauna. Superstition Area Land Trust has selected nine sections for conservation classification under the Arizona Preserve Initiative. All 5,760 acres are on Arizona State Trust Land in Pinal County.
Gold Canyon Watershed
This rugged area provides a large undisturbed habitat of native plants and wildlife. Its immediate proximity to Gold Canyon, where virtually all of the privately held land is under development, puts these nine sections in peril of being sold by the State Land Department for development.
Numerous peaks with elevations ranging from 1900 to 2348 feet overlook the bowl-like hiking and riding viewscape and provide magnificent and undisturbed views of more than 60 miles of Sonoran desert.
Two major washes with deeply incised banks offer respite from the summer sun and provide ideal miniscapes to hike, picnic, observe and photograph the Sonoran Desert. This wild and pristine area is in close proximity to Phoenix and its eastern suburbs, providing opportunities for school children and tourists to study the unique qualities of the open Sonoran Desert.
The historic Bark Ranch, dating back to 1877, was located on the eastern portion of the Gold Canyon Watershed. During territorial days, James Bark farmed, ranched and pursued a search for the legendary Lost Dutchman’s gold. Bark sold the ranch to William Barkley in 1907 and the name was changed to the Quarter Circle U. In 1977, Charles Backus acquired the ranch and continues to operate it today as a cattle grazing operation. The land in the proposed preserve is grazed by Don Donnelly Stables at Gold Canyon.
Apacheland Movie Studios, built in 1958, is located adjacent to State Trust Land. provides a western location film site for Hollywood. Many major films were filmed here between 1960 and 1972 because of the wide open viewscape with the Superstition Mountains as a backdrop. The studio still operates and contains a restaurant. Major movies filmed at Apacheland were Charro starring Elvis Presley, The Gambler starring Kenny Rogers, A Time for Dying starring Jack Palance and the television series Death Valley Days which was hosted by Ronald Reagan.
GEOLOGY AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL FEATURES
The Superstition Mountains were formed by volcanic eruptions 15 to 30 million years ago. In ancient times the major wash which runs through the Gold Canyon Watershed provided much of the water for the Hohokam village commonly known as the Blackwater Site, no longer in existence due to recent development. The large size of the Blackwater site leads archaeologists to speculate that there are probably many small sites in the foothills leading toward the well-known petroglyph site known as Hieroglyphic Canyon. Evidence from lithics and artifacts found here indicates human habitation from 9,000 BP to modern historical times. Lithics and points gathered from the area are on display at the Superstition Historical Museum at Goldfield Ghost Town near Apache Junction.
The virgin Sonoran Desert in the Gold Canyon Watershed provides a significant undisturbed habitat for all native species, including jackrabbits, coyotes, deer, javelina, mountain lion, bobcat, ringtail fox, coatimundi, desert bighorn sheep, and many others. Sonoran Desert tortoises, collared lizards and gila monsters, diamondback, tiger tailed and Mojave rattlesnakes have also been recorded and photographed. Seasonal hunting for white winged dove, Gambels’ quail, deer and javelina is allowed on the State Trust Lands.
Great horned owls, buzzards, and many song birds are prevalent, so much so, that Elderhostel groups from Kings Ranch Resort schedule formal bird watching sessions. Harris’ and red tailed hawks are often seen soaring, mating, hunting and training their young along the air currents below the cliffs. Peregrine falcons and the Bald Eagle have been recorded.
The Gold Canyon Watershed contains large stands of healthy saguaros, cholla and barrel cacti. Vibrant green stands of foothill and blue paloverde, ocotillo, jojoba, desert ironwood, catclaw, creosote and bursage abound along the meandering washes and provide shade for animals during hot summer months. Magnificent showy wildflower displays bloom during the spring months and attract visitors and photographers from all over the world.
The region is globally recognized as a recreation destination. It is heavily used by hikers and horseback riders on numerous old roads. cattle and animal trails that crisscross the open spaces. Superstition Area Land Trust is currently negotiating a 9.5 mile long multi-use public trail for hikers, horsemen and mountain bikes across the front of the Wilderness Boundary from Apache Junction to the Peralta Trailhead.