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Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains

La Ventaña- the Window Rock

By Robert Zucker

“At the Ventaña divide there is a never failing stream that flows down to the Cañada de Oro. This latter canyon opens in the Santa Catalina Mountains above Pueblo Viejo, and trends around to the east and south, heading towards the divide at the north base of Mt Lemmon. This canyon also has three large forks.” [1] [2]

One of the most spectacular natural wonders of the Santa Catalina Mountains is Window Rock, also called La Veñtana– a natural formed hole in the boulders that juts out from the peak. Besides being a popular hiking destination, this spot has played a role in the mountain’s notorious legends.

Spanish for “the Window,” La Ventaña was a topic of speculation among Tucsonans in the 1880s. Is it a natural hole in the rock or a notch? Does it point to the legendary lost mine?

Tucson dairyman C.G. Jones gave his account of a trip he took to La Ventaña in 1882. He said the granite abruptly rose to a height of thirty feet and the hole is about ten feet in diameter. On one side he could see the entire Tucson valley. When he peered through the north side, he viewed a deeply wooded canyon.

A year later, two local hikers tried to find the Window Mountain. They said they saw an elbow projection of granite that was supposed to be the long, lost hole, but they could not reach it. [3]

Window Rock: A hole or a notch?

The argument of “Hole vs. Notch” was a popular topic in the 1880s. A reporter in 1883 questioned the appearance of the “aperature (sic) in the Window mountain that it is no hole after all.” There is a “two-fingered shaped projection from the ends of the meeting ridges” and that space between them gives the appearance of a hole, he said. [4]

The issue came up again that year when C.G. Jones, Ira Carter and John Hart all affirmed that La Ventaña is a hole. But, a newspaper reporter, along with several others who also made the hike up the mountain, contended that it is a notch. Both sides visited the site after a 14-mile buggy ride from Fort Lowell into the mouth of the Pot-hole, or Ventaña Canyon, and an hour climb to the top. [5]

In 1895, Mariano G. Samaniego, who owned a ranch nearby and prospected the Cañada del Oro, said he went to La Ventaña and “the square hole (was) seen through the crest” of the Catalina Mountains. Samaniego said he rode through the hole with his horse. He claimed it was nothing more than “two immense granite cliffs” that appear like a hole when standing far away. Judge Scott said it was confirmed to be a hole seen from a telescope at the University in the Tucson valley. [6]

Another trip to the Window in 1896 by University of Arizona students and their professors J.W. Toumey, Forbes, Hoxie and Hall found the landmark “window” but they concluded it was not a window. The telescope that saw the window “must have been off.” An old timer from Tucson who approached the group while they were looking at it said it was only “two overhanging cliffs.” They found the “window” to be about thirty feet across, fifteen feet high and about ten feet through. [7] E.M. Tardy, who joined on the trip, remarked that anyone who says they rode a horse through the hole is “talking through his hat.” It would be impossible to get a horse in there “unless he had wings.” [8]

From La Ventaña, you can see the lost mine

La Ventaña was often mentioned as a location point of the lost mine in the Catalinas. One clue that author John D. Mitchell gives to the existence of the legendary Iron Door Mine is the ventaña– the large natural hole in the rock that resembles a window.

Mitchell, one of the perpetuators of the Iron Door legend in the 1930s, claimed the lost mine is located one league northwest of the ventaña. “On a clear day, the miners, when standing at the mouth of the tunnel, could see the light shining through the Ventaña near the summit of the mountain in a southerly direction from where they stood.” [9] One league is equal to about three miles. A league could be covered in about an hour walk.

Oracle hotel owner and partner of William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, William Neal, told a newspaper reporter in the early 1900s that the earthquake of 1887 might have further eroded any resemblance of a hole and buried any visible tunnels. Before the quake, Neal said they were able to “cut through the Cañada del Oro to Tucson right through where the hole in the mountain– what they call “The Window” is now. The earthquake tumbled all that in.” [10]

Neal believed the fabled lost mine did exist, and, if one gets to the point to look through “The Window” they were able “see the San Xavier Mission nine miles to the south that the mine lies exactly in that line.” Buffalo Bill, who had mining interests in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the early 1900s reportedly searched for the lost mine with Neal. [11]


[1] “Arizona Arbors,” Arizona Weekly Citizen, Tucson, A.T., January 1, 1884. Canyon de Oro is the spelling used.

[2] The Arizona Weekly Citizen, January 19, 1884.

[3] “La Ventaña, An Interview With a Party Who Has Been Through the Window Mountain – A Second One,” The Arizona Weekly Citizen, Tucson, A.T. October 27, 1883.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Hole vs. Notch,” The Arizona Weekly Citizen, Tucson, A.T. December 8, 1883.

[6] “Hole in the Mountain,” The Arizona Weekly Citizen, March 28, 1895.

[7] “Trip to the “Window,” The Arizona Weekly Citizen, January 4, 1896.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Lost Mines of the Great Southwest, including stories of hidden treasures,” by John D. Mitchell, 1933. From “The lost Escalante Mine.” Page 44.

[10] “Buffalo Bill Believed In ‘Lost Mine’ In Catalina Mountain’s and Organized Company; William Neal Thinks It Really Exists,” undated newspaper article, Cody Scrapbook, Arizona Historical Society.

[11] Ibid. Also, “Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill,” Don Russell. Pages 434-35.

La Veñtana graphic by Robert Zucker © 2014.

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