If there’s gold secreted in the imposing labyrinthine depths of the Superstition Mountains, these stones could lead the way to it.
Or they could be complete bupkis.
That’s the trouble with the Peralta Stones, a set of three controversial sandstone slabs and a fourth, heart-shaped rock in a brand-new display at Superstition Mountain Museum on the Apache Trail.
“There are as many stories and theories about these rocks as there are about the Lost Dutchman’s gold, and that legend has been added to and taken away from and butchered every which way until you can’t tell fact from fiction,” says Larry Hedrick, an avid history buff and rockhound who’s explored the rugged mountain wilderness on horseback for decades. He’s also co-founder and coordinator of special projects at the museum, where the stones will be displayed for 360-degree viewing among other artifacts relating to tales of riches in the Superstitions.
Kept out of view and under lock and key for years at the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in Phoenix, the 25-pound rectangular tablets and the heartstone are engraved on both sides and some edges with images, symbols, numerals and misspelled Spanish lettering. The most often-heard story of their origin is that they were found around 1949 not far off of U.S. Highway 60 near Florence Junction by a man vacationing with his family, says Diane Bain, spokeswoman for the state Department of Mines and Mineral Resources. The department operates the museum where the stones were kept until now, available for viewing by appointment only.
Another tale suggests the slabs were stolen from a church basement in Mexico around the same time, then sold to a man who brought them to Arizona.
Some believe the maps were made in the 19th century and hold the key to uncovering the troves of early Mexican prospectors Pedro and Miguel Peralta, Jacob Waltz’s fabled “Lost Dutchman” mine, or a string of lesser-known mines scattered throughout the 242-square-mile mountain range.
Others think the maps are fakes.
“Personally, I don’t believe they’re authentic, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a fun thing to look at and think about. I’m very pleased that they’re going to be on display,” Bain says.
Hedrick, who can tell tales of riding into the Superstitions armed to the teeth and fending off horse thieves in the days when the range crawled with determined treasure hunters, says his museum won’t take a stance either way.
“Here at the museum, we deal in fact, fiction and legend — all the history and lore of these mountains. It’s up to each person to take it all in and make up their own mind,” he says.
The stones are on loan from the Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum Foundation, the organization that owns them.
Superstition Mountain Museum will host a reception to open the Peralta Stones exhibition at 10 a.m. Thursday. Admission and refreshments will be free to the public.