Joe and I lived in a nice little cabin we had built on a claim of his in the Goldfield Mountains. One day, an old blue Chevrolet pickup passed by on its way to Bob’s trailer up the hill. Joe was outside sawing wood for our stove; he glanced up casually to see who was coming to visit.
Joe continued to saw wood until Bob came down the path with the two men who had passed by in the blue Chevy. Both of them looked like prospectors — one thin and wiry, while the other was an older man with gray hair and three days of stubble on his chin. The younger man of medium height had a stoop to his shoulders, as if the continual searching for gold had bent him. Both wore faded jeans, shirts, and heavy boots, and the older one wore a cap.
“Joe, this man’s a Cactus Reader,” Bob said, holding the arm of the man wearing a cap. "I’ve never heard of that; what is he supposed to do?” asked Joe. “He says he interprets the signs on cactus. He says the Mexicans marked the big saguaros to show if there were rich mines, buried treasure, or where they could get water in the desert”.
“Such nonsense,” said Joe in obvious disgust. “Joe," Bob responded, "I’ve asked him to look at the cactus around the mine and tell us what he can read in them.”
The two men had been a little taken aback by the vehemence that Joe had displayed in condemning the one man’s chosen profession, but after Bob talked to them quietly, they agreed to study the cactus on the property and interpret anything they might see as best they could.
The men said they spend their time looking for the Lost Dutchman, searching for buried treasure, prospecting and studying cactuses. The one in his 60s considered himself an expert on the subject of cactus reading. He had lived the last 40 years in the area of the Superstitions, and said he had studied the cactus from Apache Junction to Globe, Arizona — a distance of about 100 miles.
They walked in front of the cabin to the large saguaro, which was approximately 35 feet tall. The younger man stepped back in deference to his elder, while the older man half closed his eyes as he viewed the cactus, walking around it slowly and surveying it from every angle. He looked most impressive gazing up and down the tall cactus, which was obviously a very old one. It had several holes in it, one of which had the nest of a woodpecker whom we had watched rear her brood of youngsters.
After a few minutes of absolute quiet while he looked the cactus over almost inch for inch, the Cactus Reader’s companion stepped over and asked him what he had learned from the holes and marks on the saguaro. The Reader answered him in a low voice.
I could not understand what he said, and they continued to talk quietly, both looking very solemn and important. Then the younger one turned to Bob and me standing nearby and said that the Reader would now look at a cactus near a small canyon close to the mine.
Joe was still sawing wood, and had completely ignored the Cactus Reader's performance. To Joe, such characters were just fakers, and he would not even bother acknowledging their existence. However, I found their performance interesting to watch, and I was prepared to keep an open mind about the reliability of anything they might say regarding buried treasure.
The four of us — Bob, the two Cactus Readers, and I — carefully climbed down to the edge of the canyon. While Bob and I waited on one side, the two men climbed down farther and crossed the dry stream bed. Then they scrambled up to where a large old cactus stood. This particular cactus had one limb that sprouted from the trunk about 10 feet above the ground; but, instead of growing upward and parallel with the main stem, it grew out of the side and pointed down south.
The Cactus Readers both took their time looking at this cactus, making gestures as they spoke. I longed for them to tell us what, if anything, they had discovered, but they were not yet finished looking the cactus over. They came back towards us, then headed off south to another cactus on the edge of the stream bed, about 100 feet away from the second one they had examined.
This cactus also had one limb which, instead of growing upright, was skewed to the side pointing south. The two men reached the cactus and stood, regarding it in apparent awe.
They clambered over the rocks in order to get a better view of where the limb joined the main stem. The two of them began another performance of pointing and gesturing, the older man taking the younger man’s arm and making twisting motions around it.
After they both appeared satisfied that they had seen enough, they climbed back to where Bob and I stood. They walked past us, so we followed them until we were close to the cabin.
“Well,” said Bob, “did you find anything?” They both looked at one another as if they had a secret they were about to reveal. Then the older one took a small step toward Bob and, looking him very earnestly in the face, said slowly, “Yes, I have discovered something very important.”
He took a deep breath and continued, “This is quite interesting. This mine was obviously an old Mexican digging. It must have been a very rich one because they marked the cactus.”
The Cactus Reader turned and pointed in the direction from which he had just come. “You see the two cactus near the course of the dry stream bed? They did not grow that way naturally. The Mexicans twisted them to make them visible from a distance in order to point out the water course. This canyon or water course must be a landmark to show that a rich mine is nearby. This canyon, which runs north and south, was probably marked on a map.”
Bob and I looked at each other. It sounded a bit farfetched, but we both tried to appear suitably impressed. The older one went on to say that the large cactus close to the cabin also had signs on it (in the form of holes) he could understand and interpret. They conveyed, he said, the depth of the mine at the time the Mexicans owned it, as well as the number of tunnels. He conveniently never got around to telling us the actual figures.
I thanked the Cactus Readers as they walked past the mine shaft, heading towards Bob’s trailer on the hill where their pickup was parked. Bob stood and talked with them for a while. I went and sat in the shade on the porch of our cabin. I heard their truck pass by as they drove out to the highway.
Joe asked what they had to say, so I told him. He laughed, joking, ”I’ve seen lots of nuts in my time — monkey nuts, bolts and nuts, and the kind of nuts who drag a boat around with them even if they’re only going to a puddle six inches deep — but this is the first time I’ve seen cactus nuts, and I had to come to the Superstition Mountains to do it!”