The Apache Trail

My 30-something daughter and I took a drive up Route 88, more commonly known as The Apache Trail, which connects three of four lakes along the the Salt River; Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake in Arizona. I had driven this route once before, nearly 40 years ago, while looking for places to camp.

Although it is a state route or ‘highway’, most of the ‘highway’ is unpaved, with a speed limit of 25 MPH, sometimes dropping to 15 MPH for much of the 30 mile drive between Canyon Lake, the lowest lake on this stretch of ‘highway’ and Roosevelt Lake at the upper end. 

Personally, I think it would be foolish to travel as fast as the posted speed limit for most of the drive due to blind hairpin turns along sheer drops of hundreds of feet, steep grades up to 10 percent, and one-lane bridges along this road!

One of many one-lane bridges along the Apache Trail.

On the plus side, much of the road is a bit wider than when I drove it nearly 4 decades ago, although there are still many parts where it is wise to pull to one side and stop and let opposing traffic pass you before continuing!

One of many blind curves and vertical drops along the Apache Trail.

The Apache Trail was an old stagecoach route, which had been widened from an old native American route. It was later widened to accommodate mule-pulled wagons laden with supplies to construct Theodore Roosevelt Dam.

Since we started early in the morning, we stopped for breakfast just past Canyon Lake at a place called Tortilla Flat, an old stagecoach stop. The walls are papered in currency, some from other countries, with notes written on them from those who left them. If you want a seat at the bar, you will be sitting on saddles!

Tortilla Flat, Arizona

Although it was overcast for most of the day, the views were still rather scenic.  The sheer ruggedness of the route, considered the most rugged in the state, provides some breath-taking views. The desert was rather green from the winter rains, and there were still wildflowers visible along portions of the drive.

The steep and narrow road (10-percent grade) leading down to Fish Creek along the Apache Trail.
I think this is a California Poppy, also called the Mexican Poppy.
These, I think are also California Poppy, and also called the Mexican Poppy.

If you decide to drive the 30 miles on the Apache Trail between Canyon Lake and Roosevelt Lake, plan plenty of time. Without stops, it will take you about 2 hours to make the 30-mile drive from Canyon Lake to Roosevelt Lake. Stopping for breakfast and several places along the way to take photos, it took us 4 hours to travel those 30 miles.

And this one I think is Lacy Tansy-Aster.

Once we reached Roosevelt Lake, we opted to head to Globe, Arizona for lunch. But first, we stopped at Tonto National Monument, which have cliff-dwellings that were occupied between the 13th and 15th centuries. There are two cliff-dwellings that can be toured. The upper dwelling is a 6-mile round trip and climb of around 500-600 feet in elevation from the starting point of the trail and requires reservations. The lower dwelling, about a 300-400 climb in elevation, is open to everyone. This is the one we toured.

Tonto National Monument – Lower Cliff Dwelling.

Although it is a paved trail, for those with disabilities, it is too steep for a scooter. We did see a few hearty folks push strollers up it. The Ranger at the check-in did warn these folks that it was doable with a stroller, but the trail was rather steep! By the looks of some pushing the strollers, I’d bet that they were thinking they should have stayed in the air-conditioned visitors center!

A view of Roosevelt Lake, looking back down the trail for the Lower Cliff Dwelling at Tonto National Monument.

In Globe, we stopped at Irene’s Real Mexican Food restaurant for a late lunch. This place has made Arizona Highways Magazine’s top places to eat in Arizona. I have been here before with my wife and her sister, so I knew my daughter would not be disappointed.

We made it back to my daughter’s house, which is not too far from our starting point, after nine hours and covered a mere 141 miles. Some things are best taken slowly!

Anyone that thinks that kids can get too old for a good, fun day-trip with their parents are greatly mistaken!

I should mention that the photographs are a mixture of images that both of us captured – but I’m not saying who captured what!

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