Find us on Google+ Rick and JoAnne's RV Travels: Lost Dutchman #3: Apache Trail and Tonto National Monument.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lost Dutchman #3: Apache Trail and Tonto National Monument.


The Apache Trail is a “must do” drive. Without question this is one of the most scenic drives we have taken in AZ. The drive takes you through historic towns, craggy canyons, across desert plains, up narrow and unpaved mountain roads, along lake shores, and by some cliff dwellings.

Since a Google search will turn up more than you would ever want to know about this well traveled route, I will not write about all the history of this route. Instead here are some of the highlights of our daylong trip.

For anyone coming from the Phoenix area one of the first stops would be the Superstition Mountain Museum and Goldfield Ghost Town. Both of these stops are only a few miles from the State Park and we had already “checked” them out a couple days earlier. 

The museum houses some interesting artifacts from around the area and has the remains of the Apacheland Movie Ranch that were moved here after a fire destroyed most of the movie set. While Goldfields is the location of an authentic gold mine, it is now a very commercialized tourist “trap” complete with staged gunfights. However, it does have a great little “cactus” shop.

If you are staying at Lost Dutchman State Park you simply turn right onto Apache Trail (Hwy 88) to begin your 120-mile loop drive. So, with a full tank of gas, plenty of water, binoculars and charged camera batteries we headed out.

After about a 10-mile drive on a paved and very pretty drive we dropped over a crest to a view of Canyon Lake. This is one of three man-made lakes created on the Salt River south of Roosevelt Dam. After spending the past several months in the desert it seemed strange to see so much water. Since we had just started our drive we did not stop at the marina but headed on toward Tortilla Flat.

Originally a stagecoach stop, Tortilla Flat remains a real town with a population of 6 and has a funky little restaurant. Rumor has it that there are 88,000 dollar bills serving as wallpaper. Still to early for lunch. So, we got back in the jeep and headed up the road toward Fish Creek Hill. 

A couple of miles outside of Tortilla Flat the pavement ends. Thus, begins a 22-mile stretch of dirt road that twists and turns through the Superstition Mountains toward Roosevelt Dam and Lake. While we were in a Jeep, the road is well maintained and would be fine for a passenger car - even our little Honda Fit could have made it.

We think this was the prettiest part of the drive. At the top of Fish Creek Hill we got out and walked some of the short trails and just soaked in the beauty.  As I mentioned in our last post, the desert is in bloom and some of the wild flowers and blooming cactus were spectacular.

We descended down Fish Creek Canyon and drove along beautiful lake Apache – each switch back revealed another spectacular view. We are now hungry - perfect timing. We stopped at Apache Lake Resort which is right on the lake for lunch. The food was OK but the best part was the many old photographs that documented the history of the area and building of the Roosevelt Dam.

After lunch we continued another 14 miles to Roosevelt Dam. When completed in 1906 it was the largest masonry constructed dam in the world. In the early 1990s the dam was reconstructed and the height raised 77 feet. Thus, today the dam is an impressive, modern looking structure. Roosevelt Lake behind the dam is the largest lake within the boundaries of Arizona. At the dam the road once again is paved. Yay!

One of the highlights of the trip was Tonto National Monument. This stop is just a bit up the road from the dam. There is an excellent interpretive center complete with a movie on the ancient Salado Indians and their culture. There is a paved .5 mile “straight up-hill” hike to the ruins. Besides some interesting and very well preserved ruins the view from the top was worth the climb.

There was even a Crested Saguaro!

From the ruins it is about 25 miles to Hwy 60 and the turn toward Miami and Globe. The only notable sight along this stretch are the mine tailings from the tons of copper ore extracted from the copper mines in the area.

You also pass the Boyce Thompson Arboretum mentioned in the last post on your way back to the park.

Yes, it was a long day but also one filled with amazing sights. If you are in the area this is a drive you must take… but a word of advice Do Not do it on a weekend.

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