We finally took the plunge and took a tour on the Dolly Steamboat. Dolly is a replica of the classic American sternwheel boat. It is docked on Canyon Lake, the smallest of the four lakes formed by hydroelectric dams that provide electricity to the Valley by the Salt River Project.
Canyon Lake is 130 feet deep at places – so I won’t be swimming to the bottom anytime soon. It is 950 acres, and surrounded by cliffs and mountains. There are several free camping areas – some accessible only by boat.
The tour is a 6-mile route. We saw bighorn sheep and nesting bald eagles. The mountains and cliffs were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. The cliff faces are painted with yellow, green and black patterns and streaks of lichens and “desert varnish”. Desert varnish is composed of bacterial microorganisms that stain the cliff sides.
We saw nesting bald eagles, and a couple bighorn sheep on the cliffs. Unfortunately my telephoto lens wasn’t strong enough to capture and decent shots of the wildlife.
Years of erosion created the Slat River, and man-made dams created the lake system. Canyon Lake is closest to Apache Junction, and a favorite destination of boaters. There is a swimming area and there are boat ramps available to the public.
The Dolly Steamboat offers several cruises. Ours was a dinner cruise, catered by the Mining Camp restaurant.The captain also acted as docent, providing a constant stream of anecdotes and history of the area, as well as an education on the flora, fauna and geology of the region. The bar offered mixed drinks and cold beer at not affordable prices.
There were plenty of small fishing boats, and canoes and kayaks and even a cabin cruiser on the lake that night. I was surprised to see Mallard ducks swimming along the edges of the lake, sheltered by the cliff sides. One cliff was comprised of petrified tree trunks – that was one helluva forest before this area became desert. So what was that you said about global warming? Our climate has been anything but static – and a hundred years is not enough to base any long term predictions of doom and gloom.
If you are into fishing, the lake boasts walleye, rainbow trout (yum), large mouth and yellow bass, and crappie. All of this less than a half hour drive from my house. The river divides the Superstition Wilderness from the base of the range that comprises Four Peaks. Four Peaks is home to the largest amethyst mine in the northern hemisphere. The mine is owned by the same man that is responsible for you being able to track your packages that are shipped via UPS or FedEx. The mine is accessible by helicopter, or by an extremely arduous climb up the side of the mountain.
North of Canyon Lake, you have Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake. Roosevelt Lake was created in 1911 (the same year that Arizona became a state) and was named after Teddy Roosevelt. It is 22 miles long, and more than 21,000 acres.
As we debarked the boat, we were treated to a wonderful moonrise over the mountains. It was a full moon, or close to it. One of the Dolly Steamboat tours is an Astronomical Tour. In the pitch black of the wilderness, you have a view of starts you never knew existed. That is on my agenda some time in the future. The lake is quiet in the daytime, and I imagine it is eerily so at night. To imagine the Pima tribes, and the Apaches that wandered these mountains hundreds of years ago adds to the mystique.
We learned from a Navajo friend who is a pottery artist, descended from a long line of medicine women, that Superstition Mountain is known as the Healing Mountain. Her mother was a renowned medicine woman who had never been to the mountain, but knew from family history that the mountain is home to herbs and plants that grow nowhere else, plants that have healing properties. Yet one more reason to cherish the wilderness, and to protect it.