Sunday, February 12, 2012

Exploring the Apache Trail near Apache Junction, Arizona

We drove the popular Apache Trail (US Highway 88) this weekend. The Apache Trail once served as the stage coach and freight route from Mesa to Globe. Today this route will take you past several old historic western attractions and sites, lakes, and through the Tonto National Forest and part of the Superstition Mountain range.

Our first stop was the Superstition Mountain Museum. It consisted of a replica of an old western town which you can walk around and explore, as well as the actual museum. We wondered around the old town area (not the museum) and learned the barn and church are the only buildings left from the original Apacheland Movie Ranch and were moved to this location a few years ago. Apacheland Movie Ranch was the original movie set for many of the 60s television and movie westerns. Elvis Presley even filmed the 1969 movie "Charro!"   

In the barn there are pictures of all the actors that filmed on location. For us this was the most interesting aspect of this attraction…that and taking a picture of Suzanne riding in the stage coach.

As we continued along the Apache Trail, we passed the Goldfield Ghost Town (a touristy ghost town) and Lost Dutchman State Park. At this point the terrain started getting much more interesting with giant saguaro cacti everywhere, multi colored rock canyons, and beautiful rock mountain formations on both sides of the road. There are several trailhead parking areas and viewpoints to stop and take photos. However, and this is a big negative, the beautiful views are obstructed by large power lines that follow the road until you are past Canyon Lake. This will drive you crazy because getting a photo of this amazing landscape without power lines was difficult. You will need to hike past these lines to get the best shots.
Next on the route is Canyon Lake. This is the smallest of the four lakes formed by damning the Salt River. It is a beautiful lake in the bottom of a deep canyon. Sheer rock walls form several of the sides. It was speculator to see with saguaro cactus growing along the lake’s shore. (But the darn power lines got in the way again.) Being from the Pacific Northwest, we found this very interesting to see. Canyon Lake has a marina, restaurant and a campground along the grassy shoreline. It also is the home of the Dolly Steamboat which tours the lake. This seemed like the big attraction. We didn’t take the tour but can image it being pretty spectacular. We’ll definitely come back and kayak this lake, so stay tuned for that adventure!

We continued our journey until we reached the famous Tortilla Flats, which is 18 miles from Apache Junction. Tortilla Flats started as a stage coach stop in 1904 and is now an interesting tourist destination with gift shops, live country music, live shootouts and a very unique restaurant that has US dollar bills and other foreign currency stapled to the walls like wallpaper. They even have real saddles as bar stools - is there a drink that can prevent saddle sore? The food was typical bar fare (burgers, sandwiches, homemade chili and more) which was good with generous portions.

After lunch we continued on the Apache Trail for six more miles until the pavement ended. Here a dirt road continues which you can take to the other lakes and eventually to the town of Globe. We weren’t interested in traveling over this wash-board road for 22 miles, so we turned around and headed back. The scenery in this section of the Apache Trail was the most spectacular of the trip. 

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