We went for a drive on Friday down the Apache Trail. It isn’t actually a trail. It starts off as a two lane paved road (State Highway 88) here in Apache Junction and heads northeast to Tortilla Flat. The road is twisty as it goes through the mountains and edges along Canyon Lake. Canyon Lake is beautiful turquoise blue reservoir. You wouldn’t think there would be enough water in this desert to sustain a reservoir, but there are actually three that we would pass on this trip. There are a couple of one lane bridges across forks of the reservoir. We stopped at Tortilla Flat to take some pictures. I only took two and my battery died. It had been a little wonky lately, requiring recharging after every photo expedition. And it was the battery that came with the camera when I bought it about 5 years ago, so I should have known enough to buy a new one when it started showing signs of age. So there I was in the middle of beautiful, picturesque country with no way to take pictures. Damn!!! You will have to make do with my word pictures. Not the same, but then, even a camera can’t capture the hugeness of the mountains, the breadth of the sky, the chill of the breeze or the warmth of the sun.
Teddy Roosevelt said “The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have, to me, it is most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful.” Well said.
As we headed out of Tortilla Flat the road dips and a stream flows across the pavement. We splashed through and continued on our way. A few miles later, the pavement ends. The Apache Tail becomes a well-maintained two lane gravel road. The mountains are quite rugged, huge lumps of red rock with saguaro and prickly pear cacti, creosote and jojoba bushes growing with tenacity in the sparse dirt. The saguaros here are bigger than down at Why. They are fatter (more full of water), have more arms and tend to be about 5 to 15 feet taller. They are also greener. We stopped at an overlook at the top of the mountain to enjoy the view. The mountains spread all around us, a rusty red with their scant vegetation giving them a greenish tint. Then we began our descent of Fish Creek Hill. It isn’t a hill. Someone had a sadistic sense of humor when they named it that. It is a mountain. The sign at the overlook says it is the steepest, narrowest section of the Apache Trail. And that is true. It is reportedly a 10% grade, which is plenty steep. The road narrows to one lane with occasional wide spots to use when you meet someone going the other way. (Surprisingly, this happened more often than we expected.) The trail traverses one face of the mountain which forms a canyon. It winds down the mountain, with the rock face rising up on the right and a sharp drop off on the left. You wouldn’t like it, Mom. There is a bit of a guard rail along parts of the mountain; it is well beat up and there are spots where it has been broken through.
We descended v e r y c a r e f u l l y. Richard was driving, and I was craning my neck looking up at the sheer rock wall. When we reached the end of the canyon, the road curved around to the left onto the facing wall and continued downward. We could look across the canyon and see the road we had just traveled looking like a diagonal scar on the cliff face. And we could see the remains of three vehicles that had gone off the edge and lay crumpled halfway down the mountainside. They looked extremely beat up and we wondered if anyone had survived their falls.
When we reached the bottom of the canyon, there were cottonwoods, sycamores and willows along Fish Creek. And quite a bit of water in Fish Creek. Don’t know if there were any fish in it. We didn’t bring our rods and reels, so we didn’t check it out. The road widened again and Richard says to tell you that you should be reading this while shaking your head up and down to simulate the washboard effect of the road. It was so rattley that the Jeep tried to slide sideways a couple of times. The trail criss-crosses the creek bed with more single lane bridges. Looking up at the mountains, one section had ragged spires poking up, like a prospector’s snaggley teeth. Then we began climbing again. There were several times the road seemed to curve around in nearly a complete circle as it hugged the side of the mountain. After we reached the top we could look down and see the second reservoir, Apache Lake. This one was muddier than the first. After a couple more miles we came to a turn-off to a marina. Not only had people brought boats out on this road, there were even a few RVs there!! We decided against taking our house out there. We assume that the boats and RVs arrived coming from the opposite direction so as to avoid taking them over Fish Creek Hill, but it is still a rugged drive of about 15 miles of winding, washboard mountain road for them.
We continued on, traveling up and down, winding along the Salt River until we finally reached Roosevelt Dam and pavement. Yay, pavement!! We stopped to admire the dam and eat lunch. We had hard-boiled eggs, celery sticks, cheese, chips and sody-pop. Yummy! The dam was built of bricks in 1911, and remains the world’s largest masonry dam at almost 300 feet tall. The dam was refitted and reconstructed between 1993-1995. The old dam was raised seventy-seven feet and is covered with concrete, making it look like a modern dam. Roosevelt Lake is the largest of the three reservoirs, and is just as gorgeous a blue as Canyon Lake. There is a large marina with extra large houseboats at the town of Roosevelt; and several RV parks along the lake shore.
From the dam we turned south on highway 188 and stopped at Tonto National Monument. No, it is not monument to honor the Lone Ranger’s sidekick. It is a Salado Indian cliff dwelling. They have a trail up to the ruins, but we decided to pass on it. It is a one hour round trip hike with an altitude change of 350 feet. A little out of our league. After that we continued on to Globe, and then turned west on US Highway 60 and drove on home. All in all, it was about 130 miles, and took us about 7 hours.
You can look at some pictures taken along the Apache Trail at http://www.americansouthwest.net/arizona/apache_trail/photographs.html and
http://www.amwest-travel.com/awt_apachetrail.html (these are really good)
if you find yourself having photo withdrawals.
And I have managed to post a handful of miscellaneous pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/campory57104.
For a history of the Apache Trail, go to http://www.ajpl.org/aj/superstition/stories/History%20of%20Apache%20Trail.pdf
The second picture on this site is the trail going down Fish Creek Hill. You can see the battered guard rail. It looks the same now as it ever did.