Surprises are good

Superstition Mountain I love it when life brings a surprise, especially good ones, surprises without drama, unless it is just the drama of the landscape.  Last week when we arrived in Phoenix at the Royal Palm, life did just that.  As I wrote previously, on Wednesday afternoon we read about the fifteen best things to do in Phoenix, and didn’t even finish reading the list when we decided to travel the Apache Trail, Arizona Highway 88.  I wonder how many bloggers pored over those old Arizona Highways magazines as much as I did in my youth.  I would read every story, ogle every red rock photo of Sedona in awe, wonder at the flowers in the desert.  Today reminded me of an Arizona Highway day.

downtown Goldfields Getting out of Phoenix, however, takes a fairly long time.  The huge valley is wide and sprawling, with freeways bisecting the city and Highway 60 taking off toward the east and Apache Junction.  After many miles of hot desert, we arrived in Apache Junction, another sprawling metropolis populated with RV’s and what are actually called “Travel Trailer Parks”.  The community has been high on the list of places to be for snowbirder’s, maybe just a hair below Quartzite in the winter.  We only traveled through, with the Apache Highway as our destination.

Long before we reached the town, however, the mythical Superstition Mountains rose against the eastern sky. Highway 88 is a pleasant 2 lane highway, with the actual mountain itself on the eastern edge of town.  Before we had traveled any distance at all, suddenly there appeared what seemed to be some kind of ghost town.  We whipped around to get back to the entrance.  Sure, it was probably a fake, and probably very commercialized, but it looked fun, and the buildings looked really old and authentic.

great lemonade on a hot afternoon The built up commercialized town of Goldfields didn’t disappoint us one bit.  Especially when we found the tall glasses of frozen lemonade to ward off the afternoon heat.  I had a bit of a time tracking the history of the town, but eventually found out that it was indeed a real ghost town, where many of the buildings were reconstructed, but much of the machinery was from the original town.

After wandering around and enjoying the views, be again got on the Apache Trail heading east toward Roosevelt Lake.  When  I say the day was a surprise, it was because I had never heard of the Apache Trail until a casual mention by Wes last week asking if we had driven that road.  Here is a quote from Theodore (not Franklin!) Roosevelt: “The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the  Rockies, and the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have. To me it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created.”  Well, coming from Teddy, one of my favorite historical heroes, it must be really something, since he explored so much of the world and saved so much of it for our viewing pleasure.

Apache Trail (28) Initially the road was paved, two lane highway, a bit winding, and steep in places, but not unmanageable.  As we continued east, however the vistas got bigger, the canyons deeper, the colors brighter.  After taking many photos of blooming cactus and distant mountains, we reached the unpaved portion of the road.  Another 22 miles were ahead of us before we again would travel on pavement at Roosevelt Lake.  I have to say that Roosevelt Lake was another surprise, since in all the blogging about the world of Arizona, I don’t remember ever even hearing of this place. 

Apache Trail (43) I think it took us about 7 hours to traverse the entire route to Globe and connect again with Highway 60, and it was enchanting every single moment.  The most exciting moment was rounding a steep long curve and seeing the face of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam looming right in front of us above Apache Lake.  I somehow had no clue there was a dam there, although a closer inspection of my maps would have shown them.  All that water in the desert, silly, of COURSE there is a dam there, and a big one.  This dam was built of bricks, yes bricks, and is the largest masonry dam in the country, probably because they don’t do that any more.  It was started in 1903 and completed in 1911, and the Apache Trail then became a tourist route for scenic drives.  Can you imagine those old cars on this road??

Mar 30 Apache Trail Once beyond the dam, the beautiful vista of Roosevelt Lake opened up before us, with the Roosevelt Bridge framing the view.  Another wonder, this bridge was built to route traffic across the lake so that repairs could be made to the dam.  Someone said that the dam is almost always in some state of disrepair and repair.  The graceful bridge is listed among the 12 best in the United States, along with the Golden Gate and the Brooklyn Bridge. Again on pavement, we traveled quickly east past the Tonto National Monument, too late to go up the road behind locked gates and view the cliff dwellings, another surprise, since I hadn’t heard of this place either.  Arizonan’s will probably think I must have been under a rock to miss all this, but in all my years of traveling the southwest, I never learned of these places.  What a treat to find an unknown world right under my nose.

Mar 30 Apache Trail1 I wished for more time to go into the visitor centers, to see the cliff dwellings, to learn more about the building of the road and the dam.  We intersected Highway 60 about 3 miles west of Globe, and it was almost dark, so the scenic highway was merely fantastic silhouettes and shadows as we hurtled down the steep canyon back to the great salty valley that is home to Phoenix. Once again on the freeway, we were subjected to the erratic, speed demon fast, pass you in the right lane going 80 kind of traffic that seems to be the norm around Phoenix.  Once again we drove into a dark campground and found the cat waiting patiently on the dash, meowing at us indignantly.

It was a great day of driving and short hikes taking photos, and being back in the wild world of the Arizona desert mountain landscape.

Eventually the internet will smile on me and I will have a connection that will allow me to upload the photos to Picasa.  For more vistas of the highway, check here.

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

9 thoughts on “Surprises are good”

  1. Loved reading about your day on the Apache Trail! We did exactly the same drive (with almost exactly the same reaction) about 10 years ago, before we were fulltiming and way before I knew anything about blogs (they probably hadn't been invented yet!). It is a fun drive, isn't it? TR was close to right, but he probably hadn't been to Capitol Reef. 🙂

    Sounds like your trip so far is everything you had hoped. I, on the other hand, am working on finishing our taxes, which I am not in such a big hurry to finish since we owe money (as usual). Have fun on our behalf, and safe travels.


  2. Dam good post today!..thanks for sharing your drive of the Apache oh man..I need to stop reading so many blogs..our list is growing of places we must see!! we have to add this one too!!!. 🙂


  3. I have a stack of Arizona Highways magazines and wonder if I will be able to go on all of the hikes and trails that I read about. So many places to go…..


  4. We made the same drive back in 2001 when we visited Phoenix for the first time. Our reaction was pretty much the same as yours; we did manage to fit in the short hike to the Tonto cliff dwellings … our first time seeing anything like it and enjoyed it very much.


  5. Sounds like you had a perfect day and drive. We really love that area. In 2005 we stayed at Lost Dutchman State Park at the foot of Superstition Mountain. We also went and saw the Cave Dwellings which were very interesting. Got a beautiful view of Roosevelt Lake from them. We didn't go to the dam though and now looking at your photos I wish we had.

    Kevin and Ruth


  6. Well, hey…we missed that too! Something to check out another time for sure! Now that you've made it sound so wonderful!

    God bless all the waiting kitties……


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