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Arizona Backroads
Posted On 01/10/2010 13:42:26 by Aktray

This was one of those impromptu “let’s hit the road and explore” kind of trips. We had the weekend to ourselves and the Arizona backroads were calling. We threw the bikes and a cooler in the Titan and headed out. It turned out to be a very memorable weekend adventure.

As with all such trips, fighting your way out of the city takes longer than the actual backroads drive. Especially if you rear end a Lexus on the way out like I did. No damage to the truck, but the Lexus needed some work. I gave the lady my number and we continued out of town.

Once out of Phoenix, the stress started to fade away. The long straight stretch of Hwy 60, otherwise known as Superstition Freeway, in early summer was brutal. We hung a left and headed toward the Superstition Mountains looming in the distance.

The first stop was Saguaro Lake. Looked like a fun place to bring the ski boat, but for this trip there were too many people. We were looking for quiet solace and exploring the back country. We moved on through a wild and wooly town called Tortilla Flat and then on to Canyon Lake about 10 miles farther. Tortilla Flat was an interesting place. It used to be an old stage stop in 1904 and was now a restaurant and saloon. It looked like fun, but we didn’t get a chance to stick around. Canyon Lake was very picturesque, but still too busy for us. Next up was Apache Lake. Now we were getting somewhere. We drove a road that was so winding, narrow, and steep that it had everyone on the edge of their seats.

Apache Lake is really just a very long and deep river set inside a steep canyon. It is runoff from the grand Roosevelt Dam built in 1911. Above the damn is the huge Roosevelt Lake. At one time it was the largest artificial reservoir in the world. Apache Lake below the dam had no boats on it. Very few people were there, and it looked like a great place to fish and a peaceful place to camp. A lot of wildlife in the area.





We found a side road that drove up into the badlands and parked the truck. We mountain biked up through a desert wash about 5 miles. Zach’s bike turned out to be too small for the venture. It didn’t have the gears needed to traverse the variable landscape and patches of deep sand. He was obviously ready for a junior mountain bike. We later did a lot of research and found some really good deals. Check them out here and compare.





We spooked a herd of javelina. They were everywhere up there. You could even smell them. We saw roadrunners and countless other birds. No snakes, thank goodness.

After several hours and a picnic lunch, we raced each other back down and kept riding past the truck to the lake shore. It was an extremely peaceful place. We marked this spot down as a future camping spot should we ever wander that way again.

We loaded the bikes back in the truck and continued to the dam. An awesome site as it loomed suddenly up from nowhere. One of the most impressive dams we’ve seen. Right behind it is a giant suspension bridge linking the north and south shores for Hwy 188. It was fun to drive across it. We liked it so much we drove back across it and headed south to Windy Hill.





We found a rundown dumpy place that had vacancy and rented a cabin. The lake was very popular that time of year with a bass fishing contest and accommodations were hard to come by.




We had a lot of fun at this dumpy place. Sometimes the dumpy places are more fun because you can cut loose a little. As long as no windows get broke, it’s fine. We parked the bikes inside so they wouldn’t be stolen. Played card games and had a pillow fight. The kids were having a blast. The next morning Zach went out and fell in a nasty pond full of duck crap. He earned the name “Duck Crap Zach”. The name didn’t stick quite as well as the crap did. One shower later and we were back on the road.

We headed up to the Salado Indian Cliff Dwellings. Very impressively preserved ancient dwellings in the side of a cliff overlooking the lake. They were inhabited by the Salado Indians in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. These were a very advanced and peaceful people that lived in the cliffs as protection against more violent tribes to the south. Then they mysteriously disappeared with no trace except for their pottery and dwellings. Some say they were finally wiped out by the violent tribes. Others say that drought drove them off into other lands. I told the kids, they heard we were visiting so they all ran and hid behind the cactuses. If you look closely, you can see them peek around to get a look at us. It freaked Zach out, so mission accomplished.

Amazing that 300 years in a place and then you are no more. That is about 12 generations. Longer than the age of the United States of America. Kind of puts our lives in perspective.





Onward we went… north along the lake… back over the awesome suspension bridge. The third time not as exciting as the first two. “Duck Crap Zach” didn’t even look up this time. We explored many a little town along the lake. Their sole economy dependent on sport fishing. Plenty of places to buy bait and beer. What more does one need?

We moved north past the lake along Tonto Creek into the Tonto National Forest, which should more adequately be called the Tonto National Desert. Our next stop was a secret swimming hole we heard about. With sketchy directions we made it to the trail head. Parked the truck, and biked 3 miles in. When the trail got to steep and rocky, we ditched the bikes in the bushes and hiked the additional mile into Tonto Creek.



Let me tell you, this was really cool. In the middle of no where is this healthy river flowing out of the northern reaches of the state down into the desert forming these amazing pools and waterfalls surrounded by granite and sandstone. It felt like we were in one of those old western movies and expected to see an Indian boy fishing or women bathing. Great swimming holes (although you can tell from our sweatshirts that it was too cold to swim) and it looked like if you hiked north, you could sneak up on some good trout holes. We had a lot of fun biking and hiking into this paradise, and getting the chance to linger in a place that brought immediate relaxation and peace of mind.





The most amazing thing to us was that this part of our journey was only a short one hour car ride out of Phoenix. We don’t live in Phoenix anymore, but we definitely plan to go back there when we get the chance. We will wait until midsummer so the cold water will be refreshing. We plan to drive the RV and establish a base camp at Jakes Corner RV park. Then head out early in the morning for a day excursion to the swimming holes.

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