Friday, April 10, 2009

The Apache Trail and Tortilla Flat

Location: Tucson, AZ (where the call of the coyotes lulls you to sleep)

While we are now in Tucson, before we left the Phoenix area we took a drive on the historic Apache Trail. Once a stagecoach route through the Superstition Mountains (where the legendary Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine is said to lurk), the drive is now a gorgeous 40-mile trip on switchbacks and curvy mountain roads from Apache Junction to the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. Not -- I repeat, not -- a road for anything large like an RV!

We passed a few cars here and there, but the traffic was very light. We planned to have lunch in a restaurant in the small town of Tortilla Flat (population 6 -- and they actually have a post office and a voting precinct), but when we got there we had a surprise -- instead of a few lost souls around a dinette counter drinking oily coffee, we found the restaurant was filled with tourists!

People were dancing outdoors to a western band; they were panning for gold in the stream; they were eating "olde-time" candy and ice cream cones while sitting on benches; and they were dining on some of the hottest chili I've had in a long time.

The restaurant encourages patrons to write on dollar bills which are then stapled to the wall. I've seen this in a few restaurants before, but I have to say that none were as neatly stapled in rows and columns as Tortilla Flat! When we walked in, we saw this boy at the bar, finishing the scribbles on his dollar and eating fries. Interesting what sign he sat under, isn't it? (and it IS root beer he's drinking!)

Almost immediately after leaving Tortilla Flat, the road, which had been paved, became graded dirt. It narrowed, too -- a few times we had to pass cars going the other way, and it was a tight squeeze. For the most part, however, we had the road to ourselves.

That is, until John brought the car to a screeching halt (as much as a car can screech on dirt) because this Western Diamondback rattlesnake was in the middle of the road. I took these shots from the safety of the car, and decided that I really would not want to meet one of these guys on a trail! His rattles are clearly visible in the first photo. For scale, notice the size of the tire track under the snake's head in the second photo.


The road alternated between traversing high mountains and low valleys, always following turns, hills, curves, and switchbacks. It took hours to go the 40 miles, but it is one of the prettiest day trips anywhere. In this photo, you can just barely make out the continuation of the road -- it's that little whitish line about in the center:

At the end of the road lies Theodore Roosevelt Dam, a 1903 construction that dams the Salt River and creates the Theodore Roosevelt Lake. It is the world's highest masonry dam, and originally cost $10 million to build. By the time we got there, it was starting to get late so we took the "fast" way home, on interstates, even though it meant going many more miles around the mountains. It only took us 2 hours to get back.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Wonderful photos of the W-D rattlesnake. I love the black and white bands on the tail of this species. I have collected dragonflies from the small stream in your picture at Tortilla Flat. I got my only US specimen of the Filigree Skimmer at that site. Your write-up really made me want to be there again. Cheers and safe travels.