Native Cultures in the White Tank Mountains
The White Tank Mountains Park had an archeology study done in 1965 when the park was established. They listed 11 prehistoric sites in the park, all attributed to the Hohokam in a date range of 500 to 1100 A.D. These sites are located in large canyons where water would have been more assessable. The Hohokam inhabited a huge area of the Sonoran Desert and they are best known for their agricultural communities and river based irrigation systems. The settlements here were small satellite settlements, perhaps for the collection of cactus fruits and hunting. The rock art you find from this native culture includes animal forms and complex abstract designs.
Next here, centuries later, were the western Yavapai. This nomadic tribe came through the area to hunt, gather cactus fruit, and to stop for water on their travels across central Arizona from 1700s to the 1900s. Any dwellings built by the Yavapai would leave no traces. They fabricated rude huts from brush and usually burned them when they moved on. They did add to the rock art in the mountains.
Most of the petroglyphs in the White Tank Mountains are attributed to the Western Archaic culture. These desert nomads roamed the area prior to the Hohokam, perhaps as early as 2000 B.C. This rock art style is abstract and includes lines, squiggles, sets of circles, concentric circles and gridiron patterns.
The Survey of Earth and the White Tank Mountains
Jasper Bilby and a crew of 12 men came to Arizona in September of 1910. They were establishing observation and survey stations on several mountains tops in Arizona, including the White Tank Mountains, The Superstitions, and the Catalina Mountains. As members of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, they would spend the next two months on the mountain tops taking measurements for a detailed survey of the United States. Working with acetylene signal lamps at night and heliographs by day, the men sent signals from mountain top to mountain top, taking measurements.
(A heliograph is an instrument with a mirror that reflects the sun light in a signal beam.) The survey crew would live and work at the station on the White Tank Mountains for several weeks and then move west to California to continue the survey. Besides the instruments, the men hauled up tents, cots, cooking utensils, food and water to the top of the White Tank Mountains on the backs of mules.
The "Bug" Fire story of a fire started by a caterpillar
On Friday, July 31, 1993 reports of a brush fire was called in by a worker who was building a road to the 300’ tower being installed on the mountain top. Sparks from the caterpillar’s blade hitting the rocks started the fire. So the newly named “Bug” fire was started by a caterpillar. A small crew was sent to protect the towers on one of the hottest days of the year. Then, in the late afternoon, the conditions changed. The wind picked up and the fire took off. The fire went to a couple of hundred acres in just a few minutes. By dark, the fire was no longer threatening the towers but was spreading fast through the dry grasses and scrub on the mountain.
On Saturday a command center was set up and fire crews and air support were redirected to the White Tank Mountains. 400 firefighters were working the fire by Sunday in 114 degree heat. Air support consisted of six air tankers and three helicopters. Guided by two lead planes, water and retardant were dropped on hot spots to keep the fire out of the park.
The “Bug” fire took about a week to fight. In the end, over 3000 acres were burned.