Arizona Highway 88, which is near our current "home" of Lost Dutchman State Park, is known as the Apache Trail. The 40 mile road links Apache Junction with Roosevelt Lake. This mostly unpaved road heads east along the Salt River through canyons and past lakes formed by the dams. At Roosevelt Lake, the route becomes a paved highway again heading south and west to complete the circle around the Superstition Mountains.
We had heard about this route that passes through the Tonto National Forest from numerous friends familiar with the area. The promise of spectacular scenery despite a little "white knuckle" driving prompted us to explore the area. We found beauty beyond what our camera could capture.
We had heard that the trip can be a little tricky. Highway 88 turns into a narrow, winding dirt road with many hairpin turns as it passes through the rugged desert mountains and alongside forests of towering saguaro cacti. The portion descending into Fish Creek Hill is particularly notorious for its steep cliff drops and little in the way of guard rails. Sounds like it fits our criteria for a perfect RVenture, so we set out with our friends, Joanne and Gary in their "big bad mountain-climbing truck" to cruise around the Superstition Mountains.
The first stop on our "cruise around the mountains" was a boat cruise. Ten miles east on the still-paved Highway 88 lies Canyon Lake, and the best way to see beauty of that area is to get on the Dolly Steamboat.
The hour and half cruise took us past spectacular scenery and wildlife. Among the highlights:
Mormon Flat Dam that formed Canyon Lake,
majestic high flying eagles and red-tailed hawks,
ancient petrified tree trunks permanently encased in the cliffs,
and bighorn sheep standing guard high above us.
After the cruise, we continued on the still paved road to the old western-style town of Tortilla Flat ... population 6! The locals were "hanging around" to greet us (note the object above my head), so we stopped for lunch at the Superstition Saloon.
The restaurant is rustic and fun,
from the horse saddle bar stools,
to the hungry javelina wall decor,
to the delicious Sonoran style Mexican food,
to the hundreds of thousands of dollar bills that are autographed and left on the walls of the restaurant by past patrons ... $350,000 dollars worth, if we are to believe our friendly waitress!
After happily topping off our meal with some wonderful gelato and touring the town ... all three buildings ... we continued our journey. From this point, our roads started to deteriorate as the scenery got even more spectacular.
The road turned to gravel as we descended down the steep and narrow path. Gary, our RVenturous driver, seemed to get happier as the road got bumpier ... although neither he nor Doug seemed inclined to want to return here in their RVs to do some "off road" camping.
As the Apache Trail wound through the mountains, he skillfully maneuvered around the series of switchbacks that brought us to the canyon floor. It is amazing to think that this is the same route that stagecoaches used to bring people to Tortilla Flat in the early 1900s. The building of the Roosevelt Dam just down this road made this a booming area back then. During our 2 hour, 26 mile tour on the bumpy dirt road we enjoyed ...
taking in the scenic beauty of many overlooks,
gathering information about the many wonders of the Tonto National Forest that we were passing through,
taking a short hike to the overlook of Apache Lake,
and finding the jewel at the end of the rough road, Roosevelt Dam that forms the huge Roosevelt Lake.
Completed in 1911, the dam and reservoir helped turn the surrounding desert into a fertile area that helped expand the Phoenix area.
At this point, the road became paved again and led us to Highway 188 on the eastern side of the Superstition Mountains. As the sun set on the saguaros, we headed west to complete our circular journey.
We traded in our spectacular views of mountains, lakes, and cacti for an easier drive back home along the smooth Interstate.
The colorful sunset put the final touch of beauty on a wonderful day spent exploring with friends. And this, like all sunsets, holds the promise for even more spectacular days to come as we enjoy our time in the Arizona desert.
Until next time ... believe the promise of a spectacular tomorrow ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!