Old West lore lives along Apache Trail - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Old West lore lives along Apache Trail

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Posted: Friday, August 5, 2005 7:30 am | Updated: 9:06 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The Apache Trail, more placidly known as state Route 88, is an 80-mile loop that starts in Apache Junction and travels to Globe before it meets up with U.S. 60.

The partially paved road (it turns to dirt after about 20 miles) is as littered with Old West attractions as it is with jewel-toned lakes, hairpin turns, sheer cliffs and such amazing red-canyon vistas that President Theodore Roosevelt declared it the "most beautiful panorama nature has created."

Day-trippers probably shouldn’t try to take in the whole loop in a day, but the first 18 miles is doable, filled with opportunities to roam an authentically re-created mining ghost town, ride a horse, train or steamboat, swim, fish, picnic or hike under the jagged 3,000-foot monoliths of the Superstition Mountains.

Along the way, pick up on the history lessons that permeate the trail, which was created centuries ago as a migration route of the Salado Indians and in the 1930s was partially paved to facilitate construction of the Salt River dams.

JUST THE FACTS

At the Superstition Mountain/Lost Dutchman Museum, 4087 N. Apache Trail, the curious traveler can learn everything from the geographic history of the range that local Indian tribes told fearful legends about to the most infamous and romanticized figure of the mountains: Jacob Waltz, also known as "the Dutchman."

The moniker, however, was a misnomer, explains George Johnston, president of the Superstition Mountains Historical Society.

"He was called the Dutchman because he was a Deutschlander (German)," Johnston says of the man who reportedly died in 1891 too weak to draw a map to his hidden treasure of gold in the Superstition Mountains.

"The story was, he either found a very rich gold mine of his own or one of the lost Spanish mines or a lost cache (of Spanish gold)," Johnston says.

Hundreds have since hunted for the gold — some never to return, others claiming to have found it but never with any gold in hand, Johnston says.

"There’s still people looking," he says. When they do, usually they start at the museum, which has the largest collection of books about the lost mine, as well as an assortment of maps, some more than 100 years old, and the 19 established "clues" to the treasure’s location. The volunteerstaffed museum is

open every day but Christmas.

FAMILY STYLE

Just a little farther down the trail is the Mining Camp Restaurant, open 4 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays through the summer. Starting in October, the restaurant is open seven days a week.

The restaurant serves its customers inside a large recreation of a mining-camp cook’s "shanty," made of ponderosa pine shipped from Payson. Since it opened in 1961, the restaurant has been serving roasted chickens, baked ham, steaks and barbecue ribs on big platters to bench-style tables. Big bowls of coleslaw, flavorful baked beans, freshbaked sourdough bread and raisin bread come as sides with cookies to finish the meal.

Make reservations by calling (480) 982-3181 or e-mailing

miningcampe@hotmail.com.

GHOST TOWN

Five miles east of Apache Junction is Goldfield Ghost Town, a five-acre re-creation of the actual mining town that blossomed in that location after a gold strike in 1892 and reached an estimated population of 4,000 before the gold ran dry.

Visitors can shop, take a 30-minute "mine" tour, arrange for a horseback ride, circle the town on a narrowgauge railroad or even get married in the Old West chapel. Dining opportunities include the Mammoth Steakhouse & Saloon, open for lunch all week and for dinner 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.

Owner Jay Zingler says he went for as much authenticity as possible, including his recreation of an 1890s gold mine, where tour guides explain 100-year-old prospecting techniques.

"This is the only authentic (re-creation of a) ghost town in the Valley," Zingler says.

The water tower actually sits on the foundation of the first Goldfield water tower, he says. The ice cream shop, where guests can sample prickly-pear-flavored ice cream, has a corner that constitutes the only remaining structure from the original mining town, adds Johnston.

TORTILLA FLAT

Travel 18 miles along the Apache Trail — passing Lost Dutchman State Park and picturesque Canyon Lake — and you’ll find yourself at Tortilla Flat, a onetime stagecoach stop that now harbors a restaurant with "the best hamburgers in the state," according to historical society president Johnston.

Sit down in a "saddle" bar chair inside the rustic Superstition Saloon and you’ll find yourself surrounded by money. Some $40,000 to $50,000 in single dollars papers the walls of the restaurant, part of a tradition that started decades earlier with construction workers from the Salt River dams. When the workers left their poker winnings at the restaurant one night, the owner pinned the money to the walls with their names on the bills, says restaurant staff member Karen Frederick.

All the original bills burned up in a fire that swept through Tortilla Flat in 1987. But the tradition started again when the rebuilt restaurant opened a year later. Now the only spaces not covered by bills are the very tops of high walls.

And there aren’t just dollars. According to the restaurant, there’s currency from 67 countries on the wall.

ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

Anyone interested in learning more can check out either the Arizona Leisure Web site, www.byways.org.

Local expedition companies also offer guided tours — or, if you happen to know Johnston personally, it doesn’t hurt to travel the Apache Trail with a historian at the wheel.

MORE ONLINE

For more information about some attractions along the Apache Trail, visit

www.superstitionmountainmuseum.org,

www.goldfieldghosttown.com,

www.miningcamprestaurant.com,

www.apachetrailtours.com,

www.apachejunctioncoc.com,

http://ajnet.ci.apache-jct.az.us

For more information on the Apache Trail itself, visit

www.byways.org/browse/ byways/usfs.html

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