Jun 7 2017 Old Apache Trail

Jun 7 2017 Old Apache Trail

There are several scenic drives close to Phoenix that can be  explored in less than a day. I think one of the best is the historic Apache Trail, a 48-mile route  built in the 1920s to transport construction materials through the Superstition Mountains to build Roosevelt Dam. It snakes along a chain of man-made lakes on the Salt River. The lakes include Canyon Lake, Apache Lake and Roosevelt Lake. Following the Apache Trail, AZ 88 passes through Tonto National Forest, Lost Dutchman State Park, Tortilla Flat and Roosevelt Lake. The route is a loop so you’ll end up back in Phoenix about 10 hours after you began depending on how long you stop at each viewpoint and how long you take for lunch at Tortilla Flats. 

Although parts of the trail are gravel, you can make the drive in a passenger car most of the year. To start, take Hwy 60 east from Phoenix to Idaho Road, then follow the signs to AZ 88 (Apache Trail). At 5.5 miles from Hwy 60, you come to the Lost Dutchman State Park.  Since the legendary Lost Dutchman Mine has never been rediscovered, the Superstition Mountains draws adventurers seeking lost gold as well as recreational activities.  Besides the towering Superstition Mountains on your right, the first attraction of note is the Goldfield Ghost Town, about 4.5 from Apache Junction.

About 15 miles into the Apache Trail, you'll come to Canyon Lake, one of a series of lakes on the Salt River. Canyon Lake twists for 10 miles through a magnificent gorge. It is one of four lakes formed by damming the Salt River. About two miles past Canyon Lake you come to the "town" of Tortilla Flat (480-984-1776). In 1904 the town began as a stagecoach stop on the Apache Trail, it was the first of two stops between Phoenix and Roosevelt dam. The town burned to the ground in a 1987 fire. The rebuilt version features the Superstition Saloon that serves "Old West" Burgers and home-style Chili and Salsa. Walk down the boardwalk past the official U.S. Post Office to the Old Fashioned Ice Cream & Candy Store and try a scoop of the town's famous prickly pear cactus ice cream. I highly recommend the sarsaparilla with your food and the prickly pear ice cream for dessert.

Five miles beyond Tortilla Flat you come to a rest stop that overlooks spectacular desert scenery.  For the less adventurous, this is a good spot to turn around and head back to civilization  since continuing on means driving on a one lane dirt road down the side of Fish Creek Hill.  A word of caution: Drive slowly and watch for traffic coming up the hill in the opposite direction. Some of the turns are of the hairpin variety, some with room for just one vehicle.

As you leave Fish Creek Canyon, you'll come to Geronimo Head, one of the trail's most famous landmarks. Continue on to Apache Lake to enjoy views overlooking Goat Mountain and Four Peaks. Surrounded by the Superstition Wilderness and Three Bar Wildlife Area, Apache Lake is home of bighorn sheep, javelina, deer, mountain lion, and eagles.  At this point, about 14 miles from Roosevelt Dam, you'll pick up the paved road again. Continue on to the dam and Roosevelt Lake on AZ 88.

Theodore Roosevelt Dam was completed in 1911, the year before Arizona became a state. It is one of the major masonry dams in the world. The visitor center, located about a mile and a half east of the dam, features exhibits and videos. Call 928-467-3200 for information.

Four miles east of Roosevelt Dam and one mile off AZ 88 is Tonto National Monument, an ancient Salado cliff dwelling. The Salado people lived here for about 300 years and abandoned it in the 1400s, according to archaeologists.  Most travel guides end the trip with the cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument but in fact there are additional wonders to see on your way back to Phoenix.  As you approach the Miami-Globe area you’ll begin to notice large terraced hills on your right.  These are tailings and slag heaps from the strip-mining operations. It is called Inspiration Slag Dump.  As you turn off AZ 88 and head west on US 60 driving through Miami you’ll notice that the heaps actually come nearly to the road’s edge.  On the western edge of the town as you begin the climb up the mountains if you look off to your right you’ll be able to see the Pinto Valley Mine, an  active strip mining operation.

This is an amazing and beautiful drive. You can see wildlife and scenery, learn a little geology and history by stopping to read the information signs, get a little exercise and fresh air, be awed both by nature and the incredible things that humankind can do, and just have a lovely time.

For more information go to www.sunsetroute.com or www.americansouthwest.net or www.ajpl.org/aj/tour.htm.

John Gonzales Headshot
Phone: 602-614-9683
Dated: June 7th 2017
Views: 636
About John: John Gonzales, a Phoenix real estate agent, had his passion for the art of real estate begin with hi...

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