Day 110 – Arizona’s Apache Trail

Day 110 of Year Long Roadtrip Following Scenic Byways in the USA

Petey tried his hardest to meet Emma and Chance, Diane and Mike’s two cats, before we left for Arizona’s Apache Trail.  Fortunately for their sake they were too elusive for him, especially on the tile floors.  I’d be horrified if Emma and Chance, rescued from Mexico, met an early demise at Petey’s jaws.

Arizona’s Apache Trail

Lost Dutchman State Park

We made our first stop at Lost Dutchman State Park. The state park derives its name from Jacob Waltz, a shadowy figure who claimed to have discovered a gold mine in the Superstitions in the late 1800’s but never revealed its exact location.  Over the years, at least 36 treasure hunters have died trying to find the area.

We took a 1.5 hour hike along the Treasure Loop trail near the base of the Superstition Mountains.  The path led us past yucca, saguaro, prickly pear, and a variety of cholla cacti.  The mountain views were breathtaking, especially when the sun poked out of the clouds which created all sorts of contrasting colors on the jagged peaks.

The weather was quite nice; cloudy sky and cool breeze. Regardless, Petey appeared to be dying of thirst.  We stopped at every other bench along the trail so I could fill his portable water bowl.  I don’t know what I’ll do when it is actually hot!

Along the way, we finally spotted a Gambel quail. It seems like I’ve passed countless nature signs saying it is likely to see quail and jackrabbits, and have failed to succeed until today.

Needle Vista

After our walk, we continued a few miles up Arizona’s Apache Trail to Needle Vista, part of the Tonto National Forest, which offered a glimpse of Weavers Needle, a lava plug.  The needle served as a landmark for gold diggers hunting for the Lost Dutchman’s mine.

Arizona's Apache Trail

Canyon Lake

Further along Arizona’s Apache Trail is Canyon Lake where we simply rested a bit and took in the views.  I considered camping here, but a sign said “No Walk Ins”.  Given the time of year, I doubted if the campgrounds were full. I started to ask if they really wanted to turn down a paying patron, but decided since I was surrounded by national forest, I could find a spot easily.

Tortilla Flat

A mile and a half down the road, we found Tortilla Flat, a town with a permanent population of six that had swelled to at least fifty for the afternoon.  Tourists swarmed this old stagecoach stop, now a resurrected ghost town.  The town is nothing more than a restaurant/bar, a country store, and a souvenir shop.  I’m not sure what all the fuss is over, but I did stop in the country store to try the famous prickly pear ice cream.  I figured it would probably be the only time I tasted cactus ice cream.  It had a berry flavor.  While I ate ice cream, I preoccupied Petey with a chewy.

Getting to Apache Lake

Once I finished my afternoon snack, I hopped back in VANilla to conquer the unpaved road to Apache Lake.  I shifted VANilla into D1 and maneuvered the switchbacks at ten miles per hour. As we rattled around the turns and came to a portion of the road that was only a single lane I thought, is this a mistake?  Will I be able to make it 17 miles to Apache Lake?  Hopefully I won’t need four wheel drive.  I was thankful to be on the inside of the road, hugging the canyon walls, as opposed to climbing the mountain on the outside edges with only a wood plank guard rail between the road and a thousand foot drop.

The scenery, however, all but made up for the harrowing drive.  It may have been the most beautiful I’ve seen yet.  The colorful canyon walls towered above creeks and lakes below.  With a cloud covered sky, I could only imagine the beauty in the setting sun.  Anyone visiting Phoenix should make this drive…truly stunning!

Given the time it was taking to drive Arizona’s Apache Trail, I wondered if I should just pull off the road to camp on forest road for the night.  It turned out, I was too chicken to sleep on the side of the road, so I kept going.  Continuing on, I only saw a handful of cars conquering the challenge and relaxed tremendously at the sight of the first four–door sedan.  I convinced myself that VANilla has a higher clearance than that Saturn.  I would make it to the lake and with it being low season, I assured myself I’d find a place to stay.

Apache Lake

The view of Apache Lake was extraordinary.  I parked and checked at the front desk for available campsites.  If I didn’t need water or electric, I could park anywhere for $5!  Nice!!!  For the price, there was nothing better:  a restaurant, bar, store, motel, marina, and public showers!!!  Canyon Lake charged $25-35 for the same amenities without the same views just 20 miles away.  I recommend this place to everyone.  What a remarkable bargain!  I parked down by the lake for a while, hoping for a marvelous sunset, but the clouds were too thick, so I returned to the restaurant.

Dinner at Apache Lake

For dinner, I tried the chicken fingers at the recommendation of a patron.  He had been staying around the area for the last four months while he and a crew worked building support walls on the dirt road I just traveled.

The tanned face, long haired construction worker donning a filthy Cowboy hat asked, “Are you and your man camping”.

I looked around for my imaginary man and stuttered, “yes”.

He replied, “Well I was just asking because I have an extra bed and a shower if you need it.  It is supposed to get cold tonight.”

I politely declined saying, “My mutt’s in the van.”

“Well he can come in too,” he answered.

Every so often he repeated his gesture, and Tracy, the bartender and front desk clerk, vouched for him.  While a bed sounded nice, I knew I’d sleep better in VANilla, as it was only getting down in the fifties.  It wasn’t until the end of the evening when he finally walked around the bar, and with his hand rough as concrete, shook mine and introduced himself as Bill. That ended my lovely day on Arizona’s Apache Trail. ETB



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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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