Tuesday, November 4, 1997

Canyon Lake: A Jewel in the Desert

November 4, 1997 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

One of the most beautiful lakes in Arizona is Canyon Lake located 12 miles northeast of Apache Junction. This man-made lake is located in spectacular canyon country and attracts thousands of people annually to the area. The history of Canyon Lake is a fascinating one.

The impoundment of Canyon Lake occurred when Mormon Flat Dam was constructed. Construction on the dam began July 1, 1923. It required about nine months to build the diversion flume to redirect the flow of the river and to excavate down to bedrock. The first concrete pour at the dam was on March 4, 1924. Mormon Flat Dam was completed on January 12, 1925. When the dam was completed it stood 225 feet above the bedrock and was 25 feet thick at the base and 12 feet thick at the crest. The dam was 320 feet long and 160 feet about the stream bed. There were 44,000 cubic yards of concrete used in the construction of Mormon Flat Dam. The dam was capable of impounding 98,000 acre feet of water.

In the Fall of 1924, there was a considerable effort to name Mormon Flat Dam after William J. Murphy, a Salt River Valley pioneer. The various farm bureaus in the valley failed in their attempt to name the dam after Murphy. Actually the dam and lake were named after a large valley flat that Mormon pioneers used to graze their cattle on near the Salt River. The water of the lake covers the valley flat today.

George Moody, with the help of Ben and Jess Cramer built a thirty-seven foot launch. This launch was christened the S.S. Geronimo. The Geronimo was equipped for fifty passengers and had a crew of five. The S.S. Geronimo was launched on October 3, 1925. This was the introduction of tour boats to Mormon Flat Lake, later to be known as Canyon Lake.

The Geronimo was 35 feet long, [and] had a 10 foot beam. It was powered with a 35 HP engine and could cruise at about 15 mph. The Geronimo was very popular with valley residents throughout the 1930s.

Charles Donofrio introduced hydro-boat racing to Canyon Lake in September of 1927. On July 9, 1928, a world-class speed race was held at Canyon Lake. Seth Smith of Mesa tried to break the world’s speed record in an outboard motorboat using an Evinrude motor. The world’s record at the time was 38.62 mph. Seth Smith was able to obtain a clocked speed of 37.77 mph on the mirror finish of Canyon Lake.

George Moody, the owner and operator of the S.S. Geronimo, was the man most responsible for the change of Mormon Flat Lake to Canyon Lake. The tradition of tour boats on Canyon Lake continue[s] today with the Dolly Steamboat.

Drive up the Apache Trail and enjoy the beauty of Canyon Lake, have lunch or dinner at the cantina, ride the Dolly or rent your own boat. Whatever you do, enjoy the beauty of this desert lake created by man.