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Debunked: Foothills residents chased down myths and urban legends
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Leave it to Dan Rasp to get to the bottom of a mystery.
If anyone can find a way to shine a light on local urban legend and phenomena, it's him.
For instance, there's the myth about Spook Mountain, one of the hills in the Gila Mountain chain east of Yuma.
It was so named because passers-by in Dome Valley had reported seeing a dull white haze or low glare coming off it on moonless nights.
Rasp, a Foothills resident who retired after a career as a civil engineer and professional treasure hunter, was at once curious and skeptical about stories he read on the Internet or heard about the glow's supposed spiritual significance.
“I started hearing about it in 2005,” Rasp said recently with a chuckle. “People asked me if I had ever seen (the glow). My answer was, ‘No, I've not seen it. I've been out there, but I haven't had that much to drink.'”
Actually, Rasp had seen the light that people were talking about, but through some investigation, he arrived at a likely conclusion, one not readily apparent to those seeing it from ground level.
Climbing another hill in the area, he gained a vantage point where he could identify several sources of the glow: headlights of vehicles traveling on nearby Avenue 16E and County 5th Street, lights of passing eastbound trains and, to a lesser extent, the lights of overflying cropdusters and aircraft bound for Yuma Proving Ground.
“You have to go out when there's no moonlight. If the light from the moon is on the mountain, it drowns out the light from the other sources.”
He added: “Basically, when you get out and hear a lot of reports of a phenomenon, it's obvious there is something that is causing it. I'm not into the supernatural, so I went out” to check out the glow. “Once I observed it, it did not take me long at all to get to a high enough elevation to observe what was causing the phenomenon.”
Rasp has included a section about Spook Mountain in the latest edition of “Following Footprints Around Yuma, Arizona,” a book he compiled based upon his years of rambling around Yuma County in search of long-shuttered mines, routes dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, graveyards, lost treasures and other sites of geographical or historical significance.
Along the way he's debunked some local myths that have made the rounds in Yuma County over the years or decades.
One legend he takes on in his book is the discovery of the ruins of a Spanish galleon in the Imperial Sand Dunes, centuries after the ship supposedly ran aground while sailing up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California.
And there's also the myth about U.S. Gen. George S. Patton burying military supplies in the Imperial Sand Dunes in anticipation they would be needed to fend off a Japanese invasion of the West Coast during World War II.
Actually, Rasp says, old surplus war equipment was buried in the dunes in what today is known as Patton Valley, but that happened after the war, when the military was conducting a study into the use of photography in aerial surveillance. But when the equipment was later dug up in sight of passing motorists on Highways 78 and 80 in neighboring California, he says, the research project somehow got spun into the legend of Patton's stockpile.
“I have found almost all urban legends have some basis in fact,” Rasp said. “And then they become distorted and, boom, they start growing and growing and growing.”
Rasp, who was raised in San Diego, said his interest in local legends stems from his youth as he read and heard about myths that circulated regarding the disappearance of Amelia Earhardt.
Rasp was 4 when Earhardt disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in her aircraft. Among the myths spawned by her disappearance were that she had been flying a spy mission against Japan, that she was held captive by the Japanese during World War II and that she survived the flight but assumed a new identity.
While raised in San Diego, Rasp was introduced to the Yuma area in his childhood when his father's work with Consolidated Aircraft would bring him here on occasion. As he got older, Rasp made forays to the area as well as western Arizona as a Boy Scout.
Maintaining a connection with the Yuma area throughout adulthood, Rasp has made it his permanent home after he retired in 198.
Rasp's book can be found at Sprague's Sports, 345 W. 32nd St.; the Book Nook, 11242 S. Foothills Blvd.; and the Yuma Visitors Center, 201 N. 4th Ave.