Monday, December 8, 2014

Apache Trail Circle Route, Part 3 of 3

December 1, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Apache Trail, or AZ. 88 as it is officially known, links Apache Junction with Globe via Theodore Roosevelt Lake, through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest; 40 miles of steep, winding and mostly unpaved road past magnificent scenery of twisted mountains with dense saguaro forests and several deep blue lakes.
Once you clear the divide and continue the drive, your next spectacular view is the blue water of Apache Lake, shimmering below the towering cliffs of Goat Mountain and Four Peaks.  Goat Mountain has become a sanctuary for transplanted Desert Bighorn Sheep.

When Apache Lake was filled in 1927, it permanently closed a portion of the Apache Trail. The “Trail” was closed for six months until a new road could be constructed.  A tugboat and barge were used to move traffic up and down Apache Lake until the new road was completed.  Apache Lake has a fine resort and restaurant.

Fourteen miles from Apache Lake turnoff you can see the spectacular new look of Roosevelt Dam completed in 1996.  Beneath this facade of slip-form concrete is the original masonry dam constructed between 1906-1911.  President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated this dam on March 18, 1911.  The dam was refitted and reconstructed between 1993-1996.  The original dam was raised seventy-seven feet.  This new facelift has changed the appearance of Roosevelt Dam forever.  A towering blue suspension bridge now dominates the view toward Roosevelt Lake from the dam.

As you continue your drive you will soon be looking out over one of the largest man-made reservoirs in America.  This is Roosevelt Lake. On April 8, 1927, one month prior to Charles Linbergh’s solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean, an Italian aviator and his crew landed at Roosevelt Lake in a seaplane named the Santa Maria. Commander Francesco de Pinedo had planned to fly around the world.  He and his crew had just flown across the Atlantic Ocean from Italy to Roosevelt Lake.  It was here at Roosevelt Lake tragedy struck.  A carelessly tossed cigarette ignited gasoline that destroyed De Pinedo’s seaplane at Hotel Point on Roosevelt Lake.

Just up the road is the entrance to Tonto National Monument. This national monument has an excellent interpretive center on the ancient Salado culture.  A visit to the monument is well worth your time.

It is twenty-five miles from Tonto National Monument to U.S. Highway 60-70 between Globe and Miami.  The scenery along this portion of State Route 88 is typical Sonoran Desert. As you drive along Pinal Creek you will see a typical riparian setting that includes large Cottonwood, Sycamore and Arizona Willow trees.  The mountains to the southwest contain a tremendous amount of low- grade copper ore.  This ore supports several mining operations east of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Driving west along U.S. 60-70 toward Miami, there is a towering bank of mill tailings on the right side of the road.  These tailings are the result of milling (crushing) thousands and thousands of tons of copper ore from the mines in the area. There is also a towering black bank that is composed of solid slag from the smelting process that reduces copper ore to copper.  When the smelter was still in operation it was quite a light show when they dumped the molten slag off at night. The glow would radiate for miles around as slag flowed down the almost vertical walls. 

Miami is an interesting old copper mining town. Many of the buildings date to about 1915. It is worth turning around and driving east toward Globe to visit the Clara Woody Museum (Gila County Museum) on the right side of the  highway between Miami and Globe.

Driving west on U.S. Highway 60-70 toward Superior, the towering pine-covered mountains on the left are the Pinal Mountains. The highest peak in the group is Signal Peak, 7,812 feet above sea level. The U.S. Army used this peak   as a heliograph station during the Indian Wars from 1871-1886.

As you cross Pinto Creek Bridge, on your right you can see a massive open pit operation at the Pinto Valley Mines.  Eight miles west of Miami you will arrive at a divide known as Sutton’s Summit between Miami and Superior.  A short distance west of this divide is the old Craig Ranch (Pinal Ranch), sometimes incorrectly called the “Top of the World.” 

The “Top of the World” was a dance hall started in the 1920’s during prohibition along a portion of the old highway. The Pinal Ranch was originally settled by Robert A. Irion in 1878.  His stepson, Dudley Craig, continued the ranching tradition after his stepfather’s death.

Next you’ll descent into Devil’s Canyon, a beautiful region filled with rock formations that would please anyone’s imagination.  As you emerge from Devil’s Canyon you will see the Oak Flats Campground on your left. This road also leads to the Magma Nine Mine hoist house. The shaft below the Magma Nine mine hoist is approximately 4,000 feet deep.

Descending from Oak Flats through Queen Creek Canyon is one of the most spectacular drives in Arizona. It was here in Queen Creek Canyon that the highway department had such a difficult time building a road. 

Look carefully for portions of the old road as you drive through the canyon. As you leave the mouth of the canyon you enter Superior, Arizona, another mining town. Superior is an old copper mining town whose origins date back to the turn of the century. The mill and smelter on your right was built in 1915. A narrow gauge railroad was constructed between Superior and Webster on the Southern Pacific line some thirty-two miles away. The narrow gauge was replaced by a standard gauge in 1921.

Two miles west of Superior is the world famous Boyce Thompson Southwest Arboretum. This botanical garden exhibits arid land plants from around the world. The arboretum bookstore has one of the finest selections of books on the Southwest and they also sell many varieties of desert flora.

The big mountain with towering cliffs located immediately south of the arboretum is known as Picket Post Mountain.  This mountain also served as a heliograph station during the territorial Indian Wars.

At Gonzales Pass, a few miles west of the arboretum, we leave Tonto National Forest again. While descending Gonzales Pass, keep an eye out to the north, and you will spot a pointed peak on the northern horizon. This pointed peak is known as Weaver’s Needle. The needle was named after Paulino Weaver, prospector, guide and mountain man who frequented this area in the 1830’s.

This same landmark serves today as the focal point of the legendary Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Also, the “needle” named in 1853, served an an important landmark along the Gila Trail.

Once you are down on the desert floor you will soon cross the tracks of the Arizona Magma Railroad. The Arizona Magma Railroad ended all regular steam engine revenue runs in 1965. One of the railroad’s steam engines was used in the spectacular Hollywood motion picture titled “How the West was Won.”

You can no longer stop at Florence Junction.  J.W. Willoughby opened the Sun Kist Service Station at Florence Junction on June 14, 1923. George Cleveland Curtis opened Apache Junction for business some sixteen miles up the road on February 2, 1923. Curtis opened Arizona’s first zoo in Apache Junction in July of 1923.

As you motor toward Apache Junction on your right is Superstition Mountain.  This giant monolith dominates the eastern fringe of the Salt River Valley and Apache Junction is the gateway to the central mountains of Arizona.

When you complete this final leg of the trip you join an alumni of thousands who have motored this great “Apache Trail Circle Route” and have been mesmerized by the spectacular beauty and adventure of this trip.