Postcards from the Edge (of the Superstitions)

Last week, at the Superior Antique Show, Liz and I picked up a handful of vintage postcards of the Superstition Mountain and Tonto National Forest area. Several were hand-colored, including this gem of the mountain as viewed from what is now known as Gold Canyon.

Gold Canyon is Apache Junction lite. Pretentious rich people did not like being associated with Apache Junction, so they created a fake name for their section of Apache Junction, built HOA neighborhoods and made sure their houses were priced out of range for the average Apache Junction resident. Segregation at its finest.

Until the 1970’s, most of this area was unimproved. Most roads were graded dirt with only the Old West Highway and part of the Apache Trail being paved.

Apache Junction is located at the intersection of the Apache Trail (Route 88) and Old West Highway (Route 60).

Incorporated in 1978, AJ has a long history. The Apache Trail was a dirt trail through the Superstition Mountains used by the Apache… big surprise there, eh? The Trail later became a stagecoach route, and was developed for vehicular traffic in the 1930’s to aid in the construction of dams along the Salt River.

The Apache Trail today is an 120 mile circular route winding through the scenic Tonto National Forest and along the lakes created by damming the Salt River. It encompasses Route 88, part of Route 188, and part of Route 60).

Roosevelt Lake

The section of the old Apache Trail, running from Apache Junction to Roosevelt damn is the most precarious and considered one of the more dangerous highways in the United States.

Roosevelt Lake, the northernmost lake in a series of four man made lakes, was created under the Theodore Roosevelt administration to provide hydroelectric power to the region. The going south and west, there is Apache Lake, Canyon Lake, and Saguaro Lake.

Tortilla Flats lies about a third of the way up to Roosevelt Lake. Tortilla Flats has a population of 6, and has its own postal zip code. Once a stagecoach stop, it is now a tourist destination.

Further up the Trail, the pavement runs out.The speed limit is 15 MPH for most of the way, and for good reason.  With mountain on one side, and severe drops on the other, coupled with a scarcity of guardrails and many sections only wide enough to accommodate one lane of traffic, the road is also unpaved. It can never be paved, as it is listed as an Arizona Historic Highway. 

One precarious section is Fish Creek Hill. A veritable graveyard of rusted automobiles; if you drive over the edge you will not be getting your vehicle back.  Volunteers for Superstition Search and Rescue frequently climb down the cliff and paint X’es on the roofs of cars that have ended their lives here. Most drivers do not survive the descent either.

Continue driving past the Roosevelt Dam and you will approach prehistoric cave dwellings. Now called the Tonto National Monument, these dwellings date back to 1300 CE. Built by a people known as the Salado, the lower edifice has 20 rooms, while the higher one has 40 rooms. Have a good pair of hiking boots of you want to explore these dwellings.  Also, be prepared for a three-hour drive up this 40-mile stretch.

It will take a good six hours to drive the entire route. Once you hit Rt 188, you will be happy to see pavement again.  188 will take you to Rt 60, and through the old mining towns of Globe and Miami. You will pass through Top of the World, Superior (another copper mining town) and finally back into Apache Junction. You will see a variety of vegetation and realize that every mountain has its own personality.

These postcards are now property of the Superstition Mountain Museum. The museum has one of the most in-depth collection of historic documents and photographs of the Superstitions and Jacob Waltz, aka the Lost Dutchman. Hopefully one day these documents will be made available on the web.  I took the opportunity to scan these before they placed in the archives.

I hope that this travelogue amused and educated you. Most of the route today has not changed too much from when these postcards were made, 50 to 100 years ago.



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