JULY 14, 2010 -- The search for three missing treasure hunters in a deadly, mountain area near Phoenix, Ariz., entered its fourth day with no sign of the men, authorities said.
The hikers, who were reported missing Sunday but hadn't been heard from in more than a week, were lured by the fabled Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine in a wilderness area 40 miles east of Phoenix, which has claimed dozens of lives. One of the men had been rescued from the same area after a failed treasure hunt one year ago.
"We're still holding on hope," Maricopa County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Jesse Spurgin said. "There are some pockets that may contain water out there. But at this point in time, it's not looking very likely that they'll be found alive. We are still hopeful, though."
The three men came from Salt Lake City, Utah, lured like countless others to the rugged landscape by tales of gold treasures that date back to the gold-rush days of the 1800s. Spurgin said the men have been in the Superstition Mountains -- where the temperatures are upwards of 115 degrees -- since at least Sunday, and possibly a week.
The hikers have been identified as Curtis Merworth, 67, Ardean Charles, 66, and Malcolm Meeks, 51, Spurgin said. They had planned to hike into the mountains, explore the area during the day and spend nights in a motel. But, Spurgin said, there was no evidence the men checked into a motel.
"They had no cell phones, which just seems not very well planned," Spurgin said. "I think ill prepared would be a better way to put it. I know one of the gentlemen had done some mapping. We're trying to get that information from his home computer. It's a hard environment and the trails are very rugged. The heat is very dangerous."
Authorities said the search involved three helicopters, about 20 mounted patrols, multiple search teams with dogs and dozens of volunteers. The hikers' car and other items were found at the trailhead.
Arizona historian Marshall Trimble said the legendary Lost Dutchman's Mine has claimed an estimated 100 lives, with many explorers perishing in the unforgiving terrain.
"It's very unforgiving," Trimble said. "The last thing anybody wants to do is go out there this time of year. It's just too hot. The lure of it is that it's a kind of mystical place said to have magnetic magical powers. There are people who claim they have seen aliens out there from outer space and legends of Apache who protect the treasure."
115 Degrees in the Shade
The Dutchman himself was actually German, a man named Jacob Waltz, who lived in Phoenix and is said to have died with gold under his deathbed, Trimble said.
"People from all over the country have come out looking for the Dutchman's gold," he said. "It's like the lottery or the Power Ball. People think, 'I'll be the one to find it.' They're dreamers."
But Trimble explorers rarely make it out alive.
"It's a pretty hostile place, full of cactus and rattlesnakes and twisting canyons," he said. "There is water but it's hard to find and it's 115 degrees in the shade. It doesn't take long, if you aren't careful, to get your brain fried."