Saturday, March 24, 2018

Arizona Road Trips:Apache Trail Scenic Drive

The Superstition Mountains from Apache Flats
Picacho Peak  neighbors Gail and Ed suggested the Apache Trail to us saying that it was a beautiful drive through the Superstition Mountains. It is a full day trip from the RV Park so we packed a lunch, extra water and the dog and headed out for an adventure.
The trail starts on Rte 88 in Apache Junction which is close to Phoenix, an hour north of where we are staying.

Rascal liked the ghost town but not the sound of gunfire.
We made our way through Apache Junction stopping at Goldfield Ghost Town, an old mining camp turned tourist attraction. The towns buildings have been refurbished into restaurants and gift shops. We enjoyed walking the dirt main street and wooden sidewalks up hill past the bordello to the back of town where the views of the Superstitions were fantastic. We found a fun little coffee shop and got swept up into the crowd watching a gun fight reenactment. Rascal took exception to the sound of gun fire so we headed back to the Jeep and made our way up the mountain.

Apache Trail runs through 40 miles of desert landscape.
The Apache Trail is well traveled on this portion. We encountered a variety of vehicles from motorcycles to RV's on the paved road. There are a number of formal pull offs and in several other places the road is wide enough to allow you to get off the road to take advantage of photo opportunities. The road is named after the people who created it, using the path to travel through the rugged landscape. It was later adopted by Stagecoach Drivers and in the 1930's it was widened and improved enough to bring in supplies and equipment to build the Theodore Roosevelt Dam of the Salt River.

Canyon Lake
We passed the Superstition Mountain Museum and Lost Dutchman State Park on our way to Canyon Lake. There were stands of tall Saguaro and Ocotillo were surrounded by cholla and prickly pear cactus around every turn. Four lakes are created by the dams on the Salt River. Canyon Lake is the first to come into view. We have seen many boats this Winter and no big water so it is great to finally figure out where they were all heading. Canyon Lake is home to the Dolly Steamboat which offers tours and dinner cruises in this beautiful setting between the mountains. Kayakers were paddling the quieter edges of the lake and fishermen had their poles in the water.
It has been an unusually dry year in Arizona and we could see evidence of that in the exposed high water line.

The small own of Tortilla Flat, which was once a Stagecoach stop is a few miles further up the road. It marks the halfway point of the drive and is the only remaining stagecoach stop on the Apache Trail.  The restaurant there was standing room only with a line waiting to get into the parking lot. It seems to be a destination for many travelers who stop here for a meal and then turn around and return to Apache Flats. There were a lot of desert dune buggies in the parking lot. I imagine it is a nice place to stop when you are hot and dusty from off roading. There is a gift shop, a Post Office and a couple of houses in addition to the restaurant. I read somewhere that the population of Tortilla Flat is less than 10 people.

Just after Tortilla Flat the road becomes a dirt trail.
The road turns to washboard dirt a couple of miles past Tortilla Flat. It is narrow and winding, full of steep drops and blind curves cut into the rock face of the mountain. It is just wide enough for two vehicles to pass except for on the one lane bridges where you wait your turn to cross. It's not a fast drive but well worth the effort because there is something unique and beautiful around each hairpin turn. It was a bit unnerving to meet another vehicle coming around one of those bends. i was glad to be on the side of the road that hugged the mountain because the guardrails don't look very sturdy.

We did fine in the Jeep and also saw several passenger cars on the unpaved portion of the road. 4WD is not necessary but I wouldn't want to drive it in a very low clearance vehicle. That portion of the road is not recommended for RV's, large vans, SUV's, or motorcycles. The desert dune buggies did great. We later learned that General Motors once used this road to test the suspension and maneuverability of their vehicles.

Theodore Roosevelt Dam
The 40 mile long Apache Trail ends at Roosevelt Dam. We drove home through the Tonto National Forest stopping at the Tonto National Monument along the way. The monument is part of the National Park system. It preserves cliff dwellings of the Salado culture. There are two sets of cliff homes. The lower house is easily accessed by a short steep 1 1/2 mile trail. To visit the upper dwelling you must attend a Ranger guided tour on the weekend.  We didn't do either since dogs are not allowed on the trails.

We had a great time exploring the Superstition mountains and are grateful that Ed and Gail told us about the drive. If you are near Phoenix I would put it high on your list of things to do.

Lower Cliff Dwelling at Tonto National Monument.

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