ON & OFF THE BEATEN PATH :: The Apache Trail & Roosevelt Lake

by David Daugherty on September 28, 2011

On a very hot September day, I decided to take a drive to Tortilla Flat. My friend had brought me there once before and I knew that I wanted to photograph the Superstition Saloon. I had lived in Apache Junction while in the Air Force and had been to Canyon Lake a number of times but had never made it any further than the lake. Stopping along the way and taking pictures of the landscape in this area was fulfilling. I really love this area and have always been amazed by the desert. Driving past the Superstition Mountains made me think about how many prospectors ventured up there looking for gold, never making it back home.

Canyon Lake is a beautiful body of water nestled in the Salt River Canyon. I have spent a whole day on the lake with my friend Bryan (the Hippie) and had taken my son when he was younger. There is a nice restaurant with a patio overlooking the lake and the Dolly Steamboat at Canyon Lake, which takes you on a 90 minute tour or “nature cruise” all around Canyon Lake. So as much as I wanted to stick around the lake and take a lot of pictures, my plan was to get to Tortilla Flat before a big lunch crowd would make getting some shots inside the Superstition Saloon impossible.

Now, I had lived in Arizona for a long time but when my bartender asked me if I was going to take in a drive on the Apache Trail, I didn’t know what to say. I had no plans to and I had never made the trip before and had a lot of time after photographing the saloon. So I decided why not? She told me that the paved road would end soon and I asked if it was wise for me to drive the trail in my little Mitsubishi Eclipse but she told me it would be no problem. I thanked her and headed out on a pretty incredible adventure. I really had no idea what I was in for or what was ahead of me but I was willing.

The Apache Trail officially begins in Apache Junction, right at the intersection of State Highway 88 and State Highway 60. Highway 88 veers left and you continue past the Superstition Mountains. What I didn’t know was from this point I was about 45 miles from the end of Apache Trail. Once you get to Tortilla Flat, there is about 5 more miles of a 2-lane paved road and when that ends, you are on an unpaved, one-lane road for the next 30+ miles. If you take the Apache Trail make sure you bring plenty of water and have a good vehicle because cell phone service is nonexistent. I wasn’t prepared but except for the beautiful scenery, it was (gratefully) pretty uneventful and relaxing. I truly believe this is one of the most scenic drives I have ever taken.

At about 10 miles outside of Tortilla Flat, I came across a rest stop with some walking trails to look out over the canyon. From there, the drive became very exciting as I drove down the canyon, dropping around 1,500 feet within 3 miles! Apache Lake is about 6 miles from this point and it is awesome! I had never been to Apache Lake and after seeing this beautiful body of water in the middle of the desert, I wished I had. It was amazing, to say the least, and the next time I go, I think I might do something I am not too fond of… camping! It was a relaxing stop yet a very busy area. You would be amazed at the size of the trucks carrying huge boats to put in the lake and how they make it around these canyon roads. I was having a hard enough time with the Mitsubishi!


At this point you are about 18 miles from Roosevelt Dam.

Right here I was very close to Roosevelt Dam and almost to the end of the Apache Trail. After traveling 35 miles in a matter of 4 hours, I felt that there couldn’t be anything more spectacular than what I had just seen. But I was wrong. Coming up on Roosevelt Dam is breathtaking. The massive dam supplies water to the area lakes, notably the man-made Roosevelt Lake. You just don’t expect to see this much water in the desert. Beautiful views and a great place to jet ski, picnic and just have a great time. If you have any time at all and you are visiting the Phoenix area, I urge you to take the time to drive the Apache Trail. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you have never had a chance to truly experience the desert. My bartender’s tip turned out to be one the best things about The Superstition Saloon!

Roosevelt Dam.

Standing on Roosevelt Dam looking out over Roosevelt Lake.

 Next Up: The Road to Scottsdale

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tony Bellatto October 1, 2011 at 5:04 pm

This post means your move out to the dusty trails of the west has been complete i hope!!! good luck out there buddy!!


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