Exploring Arizona 1 – Apache Trail and Roosevelt Lake

As I mentioned in my post about test trips, I drove the Apache Trail a couple times when I used to visit Arizona for work.  I’ll quote myself to share a relevant part of that post:

About two years passed between my first test trip in California and quitting my job to travel full time. Over those two years I imagined, many hundreds of times, being free of work and moseying around North America. I imagined being able to settle in to camp for a week or more at a time. I imagined sitting around relaxing, reading, writing, hiking, watching the stars, and so on. In many of these daydreams, I was in Arizona. I was out near Sedona. And, most common of all, I was along the Salt River.

There are more beautiful places for sure. And there are countless places as nice as along the Salt River. But because I had been here on a test trip and because of how I felt while driving the Apache Trail, those feelings had me thinking back to it, and looking forward to it.

Arizona – Excursions from Phoenix

At the end of 2016, I’d just crossed the border from California to Arizona. I spent a couple weeks near the border, by Ehrenberg and Quartzsite, and attended the RTR, where I did a fun little “Rigs of the RTR” photography project.

After the RTR, I came to Phoenix. I had decided to make Phoenix my home base for the rest of winter.  I’ll to spend about 10 weeks in and near the city. I expect to spend half the time inside the city, and half on excursions of about a week each. Most of these will be within 50-80 miles of Phoenix.  As the weather warms up in the spring, I’ll go further north and stop coming back to Phoenix.

Ok… on to trip 1:

Apache Trail

My first excursion, as you’ve likely guessed – included driving this beautiful stretch of gravel and dirt. The Apache Trail is a 40 mile stretch of Highway 88 from Apache Junction to the dam at Roosevelt Lake. The southern half is paved, and the northern half is a well-maintained gravel road.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

There are some tall tales about this area. When I told my Grandma who lives in Phoenix that I’d be going on camping trips, she said “ohhhhhhhhh, don’t go out in the Superstition Mountains!”. The Apache Trail passes through them. The tales are mostly centered around gold mines, buried treasures of which old mysterious maps give vague directions, and murders of miners, treasure hunters, and some of the original teasure owners. The biggest of these tales is about the “Lost Dutchman’s Mine”. This is the most talked about and most searched for lost mine in North America. There are over 100 books and maps about the mine. Adventurous go-getters have been searching for the mine for over 120 years, with as many as 8,000 people searching in some years. Many have died while doing so.

There are numerous fascinating stories and tales all wound together. Some of them are definitely fact. Some are fantasies and deception.

A few excerpts:

From Wikipedia:

The legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine centers around the Superstition Mountains. According to the legend, a German immigrant named Jacob Waltz discovered a mother lode of gold in the Superstition Wilderness and revealed its location on his deathbed in Phoenix in 1891 to Julia Thomas, a boarding-house owner who had taken care of him for many years. Several mines have been claimed to be the actual mine that Waltz discovered, but none of those claims have been verified

 

But – a warning – if you’re searching for treasure out here, you might wander into Hell:

Some Apaches believe that the hole leading down into the lower world, or hell, is located in the Superstition Mountains. Winds blowing from the hole is supposed to be the cause of severe dust storms in the metropolitan region

 

From a website about Tortilla Flat (a little outpost of a town along the Apache Trail)

Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish explorer in America in the early 1500’s. During an expedition to Florida, he was shipwrecked on a Texas island in 1528. There he was enslaved by the Indians. He escaped and made his way into the Southwest and eventually into Mexico by 1536. His wanderings brought him in contact with the Pueblo Indians, and his later reports in Mexico gave rise to the legends of the Seven Cities of Cibola, — or the Cities of Gold. These legends were the catalyst for bring Spanish explorers and prospectors into the Arizona territory. As part of the Coronado expedition into Arizona for the Seven Cities of Cibola, Marcos de Niza traveled westward along the Gila River as far as what is now the Phoenix metropolitan area. He may have been the first Spaniard to see the Superstition Mountains.

What has all this to do with Tortilla Flat, you ask? Because of it’s location, Tortilla Flat, even presently, is affected by the search for gold in the Superstitions. Each Spanish expedition inspired other expeditions looking for the vast wealth in gold. In the late 1600’s through the Mid- 1700’s, Jesuits priests were located throughout the Southwest. Allegedly, the Jesuits had amassed a fortune in gold and didn’t want to share it with the King of Spain. The king, convinced of treachery, ordered the deportation of all Jesuits in 1767. However, before their departure, they supposedly hid their treasure in various places throughout Southwest and according to legend, the Superstition Mountain region was one of these hidden places.

In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and an influx of Mexican prospectors poured into the Superstition Mountain region. Don Miguel Peralta was a wealthy landowner and miner from northern Mexico. Reportedly, his expeditions recovered immense quantities of gold from the Superstitions in 1847 and 1848. All but one member of the expedition was killed in a battle with the Apaches at a site commemorated as Massacre Grounds, located at the west end of the mountains.

If this sounds interesting, here are some links to get you started:

 

My Searching Expedition

I was on a search alright. But not for gold. I was searching for a perfect campsite along the Apache Trail. For the campsite I’ve daydreamed of hundreds of times. I did little research, figuring I’d go by memory and probably just find the right spots.

Like the treasure hunters, I came up short. But I didn’t die! There aren’t many nice camping spots along the road. A couple are right near the bottom of the big cliff that you drive down if you’re traveling northwards. They’re down at the bottom of this picture:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Ok.. look at the front of the van up by the windshield. Then track just a bit to the right. See that little branch off from the road with a white and red speck? That speck was a pickup with a camper and his hood up – a sign that he was settled in camping – putting the hood up is a method to try to prevent rats from nesting in the engine bay. Further north on the road, maybe 100 meters, is another good camping spot that had a car in it as I passed. They were likely out hiking or treasure hunting. Or maybe down in hell.

These two spots are the best free campsites along the Apache trail. That’s just according to my opinion right now, which is based on limited understanding of the area. Next time I drive this road going north, if one of these spots are open, I’m definitely stopping there.

This is a shot of the road as it continues down:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

See how the road sort of disappears in the distance, and turns back around? There’s something cool down there right at the horseshoe turn:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Did people used to live in that cave/overhang? It would be a decent spot, with that river right below.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
This place calls out for me to hike back along the river. Next time I drive the Apache Trail, I’m going to.

I continued along, hoping to find a spot on or overlooking the salt river. Further north, on the last few miles before the dam, the road parallels the river pretty closely. I’d seen campsites during my test trips when I was just passing through this road and daydreaming. Now that I was looking to actually stop and camp, what I found is:

  • The campsites off the west side of the road – towards the river, are all sites where you have to pay (I don’t stay at those)
  • There are a few roads going east off of 88. Everything on the east side of 88 is all just normal (free) dispersed camping. The one I explored wasn’t so great. Lots of hill walls would block the sun this time of year (a problem for my solar electrical system), and there weren’t any good views for as far as I walked up it.
  • There are spots right along the road where you could stop and camp. Some of them have nice views. There’s a lot of traffic on this road though

I made it all the way to the dam without finding a spot that felt right. So I continued up past the dam and went to the Tonto Basin Ranger Distric Office. It’s a really nice visitor’s center, as nice as most National Parks have. I got some information and a bunch of free maps/papers, and headed over to the only free campsite along the lake (Bachelor’s cove). I stayed there for a few days, and then moved up to a Forest Service road that climbs the hills overlooking the lake. I stayed up there for a few more days.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
My campsite for the second half of the week. My van is one of the specks down towards the lake. (I was still about a half mile from the lake)

I went on a few bike rides and hikes. My first trip up the road I camped on was on my bike. But past a certain point the road is so steep that I had to get off and walk a lot of. Later, I hiked all the way up. I also went on a bike ride over to and back down the Apache Trail. I remembered to take my GoPro! You may want to watch it at 2x speed to make it less boring.

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Some parts are a lot steeper than they appear here

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Lunch at the top of my hike: a sardine sandwich and an apple.

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Those mountains you keep seeing in the background are the “Four Peaks”. They’re the highest mountains in this small area, at about 7,500 ft. (Roosevelt Lake is 2,000ft)

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Bonus – Ever wondered what’s inside a cactus?

I had assumed it was all just a wet mass. Sort of like a melon. Well, no. Inside some cacti are a system of sticks/trunks/branches:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

 

Camping near Lake Wenatchee

Camping near lake Wenatchee

I finally slowed down a bit for 4 days of camping near lake Wenatchee. I found a wonderful free campsite right next to a river.

Driving from Spokane to Leavenworth (WA)

I’d decided to drive a lot and pass quickly through a lot of area in order to get to Seattle without stopping in a different place each night. Here’s the route I took. The drive from Lakeview to Coulee City was the best part by far.

Route through eastern washington

Driving in eastern washington

Dry Falls

DRY FALLS

DRY FALLS

Camping near Lake Wenatchee

I drove into Leavenworth and stopped at the Ranger/Visitors station to ask about camping spots. Leavenworth is a very touristy town with an old German theme. In some parts of the town, every single building was build in the same style and follows a consistent design theme – even down to the exact same typeface being used on all the signs. It’s kind of cheesy, but it looks nice. I admire their ability to stick to that decision and get all occupants to follow the design theme.

The lady at the visitors center had told me about a few free improved campsites a bit past lake Wenatchee, so I decided to check them out before going further into the National Forest. I found a spot in one of those sites right next to a river, so I parked there. The campsite, and the entire area has a lot of trees, but the spot I parked in has a clearing above, and with the river being west of the van, I’d get full sun for about 6 hours a day.

I stayed in this spot from Thursday to Sunday. I went bike riding most days, and hiking one. It felt great staying in the same place for a few days. The weather was nearly perfect. I spent a few afternoons sitting in the van reading a book with the doors open and a nice breeze flowing through.

Camping spot:

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

Tea, reading, and note-taking.

 CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

Had a pretty good view of the stars. I saw a few small meteors but didn’t connect that it being August, they were probably early parts of the Perseid shower.

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

This kind of shooting is about the only time I wish I had a newer camera – one that could shoot at higher ISO with less noise. My camera has a tough time capturing the stars well without the exposure being so long that the stars move too much.

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

Pen cleaning and re-inking

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

I went for a few bike rides but didn’t take any pictures of that. I do have some video from it, but I’m WAY behind in dealing with my video clips. The dirt roads out in this area are great for riding.

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

The vegetation near the banks of this river was very thick. I was wishing I had some shoes that I could use to walk the river in. (I ended up buying some sandals that will work for this once I got to Seattle)

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

I spent a couple afternoons like this

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

On Sunday, my last day there, I went for a hike up the trailhead that starts right by the campsite.

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

It went up to this lake. Can’t remember the name.

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

CAMPING near lake Wenatchee

Next up: Seattle. I’ll be there for two weeks to visit an old friend and his wife and bum around the city.