A Highway with History
Approximately 39 miles long, the Apache Trail’s winding road leads to some of the state’s most scenic views and is right in Phoenix metro’s backyard.
The best adventures take you on winding paths, rocky roads and to places you’ve never been. When I was staying in Arizona this past January I found an adventure that did just that.
I discovered the Apache Trail — a nearly 40 mile stretch of winding paved and unpaved road that takes travelers deep into the Superstition Mountains just outside of Phoenix, Az.
On a whim, my boyfriend Brandon and I decided to take the drive, thinking it would get us out of his apartment for a few hours.
In my dark blue Nissan Versa we drove about 20 minutes east of Phoenix in to Mesa. We followed signs half covered in the overgrown desert flora to the Apache Junction, and hoped we weren’t lost. We found an old mining settlement, Goldfield, and signs for the Apache Trail, Arizona’s oldest highway and first historic highway, according to the office Apache Trail website. It was named after the Apache Indians who first used the trail to navigate the Superstition Mountains.
We had made it, I guessed. It looked disappointing. It was just dirt and some bushes; but we drove on figuring that we were already there so we might as well keep going.
After coming around a tight turn the scene quickly changed. The hills began to get rocky. They began taking steeper inclines and declines — huge rocks jutting out and in. The hills were covered in cactus and other desert flora.
We drove up the cracked, paved hill, seeing the Salt River peaking out over the rocks. We made the first of many stops on our trip at the top of a hill looking out over the water. The Apache Trail was showing its true colors, the deep reds and browns of the mountains and the dark blue of the water; we stopped for the obligatory tourist selfie.
Back in the car we kept driving; more excited and energized by the sight of the water. The winding road traveled along the water’s edge. Peering out the other window of my Versa was the rocky mountain covered in greenish/yellow moss and cactus.
The view soon changed from the glistening water to rough and rugged hills, deep green brush and giant cactus. Still beautiful, the desert was in full winter bloom. As we drove the road was quiet with only a few other travelers passing us every now and again.
We came upon Tortilla Flat, a former stop for travelers in the early days of the trail and now a tourist stop. We wandered around the gift shops, and stayed a bit longer for the live music pouring out of a tiny restaurant selling burgers and hotdogs. The restaurant had old wooden floors and walls, it looked like an saloon straight out of a Western flick.
Soon after we left Tortilla Flat, the road became bumpy and unpaved as we got further along the trail, but it was nothing my now dusted blue Versa couldn’t handle. Further along was a deep canyon; the narrow trail weaved in and out of the canyon’s crevasses. Within the mountainous walls of rock were small and large cracks and holes undoubtedly filled with unseen desert life.
All along the Apache Trail were turn-offs for us to stop and and explore, touch the water or sit and take in the breathtaking views; but it wasn’t until the end of our journey that we were really taken back. At the end of the trail The Theodore Roosevelt Dam sits towering and rock solid at 357 feet. Completed in 1911, the Roosevelt Dam holds back an estimated 100 acres of salt water.
The dam’s purposeful stature paired with the beautiful colors of the Superstition Mountains makes the Apache Trail undeniably beautiful. Tucked away behind the mountains, the winding trail takes travelers to a whole new place, one filled with breathtaking sights and a rich history of the Arizona landscape.