Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Apache Traiil: scenic route through Arizona's Superstition Mountains

The Apache Trail

If you’re looking for a scenic drive through mountainous desert terrain, then the Apache Trail fills the bill. State Highway 88, the road’s official name, runs through Arizona’s famous Superstition Mountains, It is one of the most scenic drives in Arizona.

If you’re looking for a scenic drive through mountainous desert terrain, then the Apache Trail fills the bill. State Highway 88, the road’s official name, runs through Arizona’s famous Superstition Mountains, It is one of the most scenic drives in Arizona.

Apache Trail starts at Apache Junction, 35 miles east of Phoenix, and basically ends 43 miles later at Theodore Roosevelt Lake, though Globe, south on Highway 188, is considered the official end. 

The trail follows the route used by Apache Indians on horseback as they moved around the desert. Later, stage coaches would travel the road.  A more formal road was completed in 1905. It is Arizona’s first historic highway.

From high above, you’ll look down on the blue Salt River and several of its reservoirs, heavily used by fishermen and a variety of watercraft.  There are at least three boat launches along the way.

A majority of the road is dirt, with switchbacks and sharp turns, narrow and steep. The views, however, are absolutely amazing.  The road is essentially open all year, though you’ll probably want to avoid it during the summer rainy season because mud may make some places impassable.  March and April, before the weather gets too hot, is a good time to drive it because the landscape is ablaze with gaily colored wildflowers.

Driving along the Salt River

Driving the Apache Trail is to be savored, not rushed, though rushing it would be difficult since speeds are limited to 10 mph or 15 mph. It took us three hours to drive the dirt road portion of the trail. That included a stop for a picnic lunch at a lakeside campground, plenty of stops for photos and at pull-offs to allow oncoming traffic to pass by, and stopping for a traffic jam caused by an RV bus towing a car that broke down.

Because of sharp turns, steep hills, one-lane bridges and narrow roads, it’s not a good idea to take a large RV over the Apache Trail. Really big RVs make it difficult for smaller, oncoming cars to get by.

Awesome scenery along the Apache Trail

At the west end of the trail, you’ll pass by Tortilla Flat, Lost Dutchman State Park, Canyon Lake, the reconstructed ghost town of Goldfield, and the Superstition Museum/Apacheland.

Tips for driving the Apache Trail:

1.    Take along a picnic lunch to enjoy on the way. There are plenty of lookouts with picnic tables along the way.

2.    Take along toilet paper and hand sanitizer or water to wash your hands. There are several restrooms along the route, but none have water and most were out of toilet paper.

3.    If you don’t have nerves of steel, you may want to drive east from Apache Junction. This means you’ll have the inside next to the hills and mountains. If you drive west from Roosevelt Lake, as we did, you’ll be on the outside overlooking the canyons. Guardrails are few and far between. Most of the time there are just dirt berms between you and the drop-off.

You can see more photos of the Apache Trail on my YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VT5Sbd036ls.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Nogales, Mexico, draws tourists for shopping, drug smugglers and illegal immigrants

A small square near the border
Nogales, Mexico, beckons tourists from the United States hoping to score big bargains in the shopping arena or who want to score cheap dental care. It also beckons drug smugglers and illegal immigrants, both of which are arrested and/or deported on a daily basis.

The U.S. Border Patrol station in Nogales, Arizona, is responsible for 27 miles of boundary between the United States and Mexico. It is the second largest station in the United States.

This Sonoran city of about 150,000 people has a reputation tarnished by the drug activity and illegals trying to escape to the United States. Visitors are cautioned not to wander more than a few blocks away from the border crossing. Since most visitors only come for the day that is not a problem as dozens of dental offices and souvenir shops are right there.

Nogales is the second Mexican border town we’ve visited in the last two years. The other is Los Algodones, about eight miles west of Yuma.

A pleasant shopping area
 The two towns are quite different, both in demeanor and the variety of tourist goods they sell. The vendors are more aggressive in Los Algodones, while we thought the Nogales shopkeepers were much friendlier. In Los Algodones, there was a wider variety of merchandise available. In Nogales, we couldn’t even find a souvenir T-shirt, but we did find a wide variety of metal painted sculptures.

In either city, you will need to bargain hard for the best prices, which we thought were cheaper in Los Algodones. Ever since we moved to the Southwest, I’ve been taken with the metal sculptures and have been pricing them.
My $20 metal cactus
Since U.S. shops only accept stated prices, I thought th
ey’d be cheaper in Mexico where they’re made.  Not true. The asking price in Nogales was about double the price in the United States.

I finally found a small metal cactus that I liked and began the bargaining process – I honed my haggling skills living in China, where bargaining is a fact of daily life in street markets. The vendor wanted $95 – I asked if this was pesos, and it wasn’t. I offered $20, which he finally accepted after 15 minutes of arguing.

If you’re shopping in Mexico, don’t assume the $ sign in front of numbers means the price is in U.S. dollars. Always ask, since Mexicans use the dollar sign in front of pesos. We found a lot of money changing offices in Nogales, but shops and restaurants accept U.S. dollars.

The border at Nogales is a walk-across border open 24 hours a day. Be prepared to walk a few blocks from your car in Nogales, Arizona, to the border. On-street parking is metered, but there are several lots charging anywhere from $3 to $6 to park for the day.

Cattle skulls are a popular item

Shoppers check out the goods

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Arizona monument honors Melvin Jones, founder of Lions Club

Melvin Jones memorial
Seemingly out in the middle of nowhere on a highway through rural Arizona is a stunningly simple stone obelisk that reaches to the sky.

The obelisk is a memorial dedicated to Melvin Jones, the man who founded Lions Club. It is located along Highway 70 at Fort Thomas, the place where Jones was born in 1879. His father was an Army officer stationed at the fort and involved in fighting Indians. Fort Thomas is located between Globe and Safford.

In 1917, Jones, then a Chicago insurance agent, would found the Lions Club, a civic organization that spread worldwide with its major charter being sight conservation.

The Fort Thomas spire in his honor is 50 feet high. Memorial slabs flank the front. Behind them are more memorial tablets bearing the names of Lions Club members.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Goldfield, Arizona: replica of an old ghost town

Goldfield GhostTown
For about five years, Goldfield, Arizona, was a booming town with 4,000 residents. Then the gold played out and it became a ghost town.

Gold was discovered around 1892. It wasn’t a high grade of ore, but the mines were considered some of the richest in the world at that time. In 1890s dollars, around $3 million was taken out of the mines. That was a lot of money for that time. That figure translates to $80 million in today’s dollars.

By 1898, the gold had been mined out, and people left. The post office closed that year, too.

Located a few miles northeast of Apache Junction, Goldfield Ghost Town is a thriving tourist attraction. It’s not on the original town site, but nearby on the Goldfield Mill hill.

Old shovels artistically displayed
Reconstructed buildings include a saloon, a couple of eateries, church, sheriff’s office/jail and small shops. It’s free to wander through the dirt-street town, but the museums charge admission, and there’s a charge to ride the only narrow gauge railroad in Arizona.

Rusty mining equipment can be found throughout the town. This equipment is perhaps more interesting to see than the buildings, some of which appear to be very old.

Gunfights take place hourly on the town’s only street on weekend.  The gunfights aren’t as believable as those staged in Tombstone or Old Tucson, but kids will enjoy them.

The Superstition Mountain Museum and Apacheland buildings are just a mile away, so a visit to them and Goldfield could easily make a good day outing.

Goldfield Ghost Town

Gunfight at Goldfield

Old mining equipment

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Lake Roosvelt, Arizona, offers outdoor fun

Lake Roosevelt from Tonto National Monument
Roosevelt Lake is a welcome patch of blue amidst the dusty greens and browns that is a central Arizona.
It’s a man-made lake, at one time the largest in the world, that’s named for President Teddy Roosevelt. It was created in 1911 when the Salt River was damned. It’s since been eclipsed by Lake Powell and Lake Mead on the Colorado River. Still, it is the third largest lake in Arizona. When it was constructed, Roosevelt Dam was the highest masonry dam in the world.
The lake is 22 miles long, though not all of it is visible from Highway 188. It’s more than 300 feet deep at its deepest. It’s the first and largest of the lakes created on the Salt River.
If you want to see stunning views of the lake, head up to Tonto National Monument, just up the hill from the lake.
Lake Roosevelt is popular with outdoors recreationalists. Fishermen like it for the trophy largemouth bass as well as smallmouth bass, crappie and channel catfish. It’s also got some nice beaches for camping. Water sports enthusiasts enjoy waterskiing, jet skiing, swimming and general boating.
Roosevelt Lake is about 30 miles from Globe on Highway 188. Visitors coming from Phoenix can take Apache Trail, a scenic route that takes you through the Superstition Mountains; there’s a lengthy section of dirt road on this section of Highway 188.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Living in the cliffs at Tonto National Monument

Cliff dwellings -- National Park Service photo
If you dig archaeological ruins, then you’ll want to visit Tonto National Monument in central Arizona where the Salado peoples lived in cliff dwellings.

For 10,000 years, the Tonto Basin of the northern Sonoran Desert has provided a home to ancient peoples.  The most recent were the Salados, who blended the best of other Native Americans living in the region into their own unique culture.  While the Tonto Salados carved their homes out of the cliffs, the Salados built stone houses above ground just 25 miles away at Besh Ba Gowah in Globe.

There are two cliff dwelling settlements at Tonto National Monument. The lower dwelling is open all year round, while the upper dwelling can only be visited from November to April.

The Salads lived at Tonto for about 250 years from the 13th to 15 centuries. Then, like their counterparts at Besh Ba Gowah and the Hohokam at Casa Grande NationalMonument, they disappeared. They left behind their colorful pottery and high-quality weavings, which can be seen at the monument’s visitor center/museum. You can see an informative video about the Salados and Tonto on the upper deck of the visitor center.

Tonto National Monument, operated by the National Park Service, is open daily, only closing on Christmas Day.  Do note that if you’re visiting in the hot summer months, your footwear will be checked – flip flops are not allowed because they’ll melt on the hot asphalt walk up to the cliff dwellings.

The trail up is paved, making it handicapped accessible. It’s rather steep, so wheelchair users should make sure they have good brakes for the trip down.

It takes about a half-hour to get to Tonto from Globe. Take Highway 188 out of Globe.

The way up may be steep, but the views are great!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Many Westerns shot at Arizona's Apacheland Movie Ranch

Elvis Chapel
At one time Apacheland Movie Ranch had dreams of becoming the Western movie capital of the world. That dream went up in smoke, though a respectable number of Western movies and TV shows were filmed here in the decades before fire destroyed the movie set.

 Apacheland was started in 1959 on Apache Trail Road, a scenic byway that runs through the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, Arizona.

Apacheland suffered a fire in 1969, but the one that pretty much destroyed the movie set happened on Valentine’s Day in 2004.

When the blaze ended, the only buildings left were the chapel, the barn/stable and the gallows. They were moved 10 miles down the road to the Superstition Mountain Museum.

The chapel is known as the Elvis Chapel because it was featured in Charro!, a movie starring Elvis Presley that was made here. Inside, on the altar, you’ll find a life-size statue of Elvis. The chapel is a wedding venue; a docent says many couples choose to be married standing next to Elvis, though he can be moved aside for the ceremony.

Aduie Murphy Barn
The barn is known as the Audie Murphy Barn because of a shootout scene filmed for Arizona Raiders. Inside, you’ll find pictures of actors and actresses who starred in movies and TV shows filmed here. There’s also the buggy that Doc drove in Gunsmoke.

Besides Elvis and Audie Murphy, the list includes Steve McQueen, Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Clint Walker, Stella Stevens, Marty Robbins and Ida Lupino.

Stars at  Apacheland
Television productions include Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train, Gunsnoke, and Wanted: Dead or Alive.

Movies include Blood on the Arrow, Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Hunted and Broken Land.

The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., though it does close on major holidays.

To get there take the Idaho Road exit off Highway 60 at Apache Junction. Stay on this road until you get to Highway 88/Apache Trail Road. The museum is about three miles from the intersection.