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