The Apache Trail and Christmas among the Cacti

Our guide book describes the Apache Trail as “a wonderfully scenic route that runs for 45 miles up to Theodore Roosevelt Lake, which was created by the damming of the Salt River in 1911”. We’d obtained a leaflet (the pictoral map on which turned out to be complete and utter fabrication as far as distances or terrain were concerned), so off we went…..

Within a few miles we came across Goldfield Ghost Town. We’d previously picked up a leaflet for this as well and had identified it as a “tourist ghost town” rather than a “proper ghost town”. As it turned out, they didn’t actually charge you to go in (presumably making their money from the myriad of tours – narrow gauge train, horseback, down a “mine” etc etc – on offer as well as the extensive shopping opportunities). It was surprisingly good fun to look around (I particularly liked the breeze-block shell half way down the street, which will presumably be a wood-covered “original” building in good time for the 2017 tourist season). We did have Calico Ghost Town (which seems to be a similar offering) on our itinerary for later in the trip, but having seen Goldfield we decided that we could probably now cross Calico off our list…..




Continuing on our way, we arrived at the small trading outpost of Tortilla Flat, which was a stop on the old coaching route. In the shop we did manage to get some information on camping from the elder of two assistants; the website information we’d found had been patchy and not overly informative, but we’d come across mention of a Tonto Pass for camping at National Forest campgrounds in the area. We managed to confirm that there were such campgrounds by Roosevelt Lake and that the pass was available to buy for $8 – so we got one there and then rather than risk not being able to get one later in the day. A good move as we didn’t come across any further establishments and by the time we got to Roosevelt Lake, the visitor centre was well and truly closed (and of course there is no way to actually pay at the campgrounds).

One key point that neither our guide book nor the Apache Trail leaflet bothered to mention was that most of the route is on gravel. As we discovered, there are some steep gradients and tight bends, and it does get narrow in places…. In the first picture you can see our road crossing the hillside then snaking away into the distance at much lower altitude. At this point we were wondering what we’d done….



A few more pics, the last one taken moments before a guy came the other way in a pick-up truck with a trailer and a boat on it…… aarrgghh!





Thankfully the road didn’t get any narrower and although it seemed a heck of a long way, we made it and saw some spectacular scenery along the way.




The next picture reminds me of the phase the Daily Mail website went through recently of posting pictures with tiny, almost impossible to find things in them (“can you see the two climbers on this rock face?” and the like). Later in the afternoon, as we were getting closer to Roosevelt Lake, we heard a coyote howling. Mark managed to spot it. It’s directly above the “12” in the date at the bottom of the photo, about half way up to the skyline….




After a while, it trotted off and disappeared from view.

Sod’s Law: I turned my camera off and at that point it ran across the road just in front of us! Oh well…..

I was ecstatic when we suddenly hit tarmac again just as it was going dark a few miles before Roosevelt Lake. We found our campsite, having first accidentally first found the “horses are compulsory” campground where each pitch came with a small enclosure to house said beast. We had a peaceful night’s stay, and even remembered to display our Tonto Pass as instructed.


When we heard the usual inspection (generally involving a ranger driving around very slowly) first thing the next morning, Mark was sufficiently awake to announce the arrival of the Lone Ranger….. In the usual way of things, we saw two coyotes having a morning trot round the campground…..


We’d arrived too late the previous afternoon to go and look at the Tonto National Monument, so we went there first thing in the morning before leaving. It which was within a mile of the campsite and was another cliff dwelling, though this time one you could actually go into (rather than look at from a distance as at Walnut Canyon). The local indians here are referred to as the Salado indians after the nearby Salt river, and built these dwelling between 1300 and 1450 AD, so later than many of the other things we’ve seen. The wooden beams in the cliff dwelling are, we were assured, original.







Mark asked the ranger about the Tonto name and she explained that the story behind it is that when the Spanish reached what is now Arizona, they met the Chiricahua Apache and asked about the indians in this region. The two groups of indians spoke different languages so couldn’t communicate between themselves and the impression the Spaniards got from the Chiricahua was that the indians in this region were bonkers (tonto) – and the name came to refer to the region itself.

We now had a long 4ish hour drive South West to Organ Pipe National Monument, right down by the Mexican border, where we were planning to spend 2 nights and Christmas Day. We drove through all kinds of weather conditions, starting with bright sunshine, progressing through thick dust (with associated poor visibility) then more torrential rain. Thankfully Mark decided that the time had finally come for him to fill K.A.C. with petrol (we’re using my Halifax card for most shopping so I normally do the refueling as I’m out and about anyway sorting out prepaying, which is how things work over here), donned full waterproofs (this petrol station had no canopy) and off he went….   result!     🙂


We had a relaxing Christmas Day, deciding that we’d had enough of unpaved roads for the moment so would give the long driving loops a miss and instead wander one of the short walking trails with information boards explaining about the various plants, including the Organ Pipe Cacti for which the place is named…..



We did have a short drive down to the Mexican border, just for a nosey….. There was plenty of pre-Donald fencing in evidence….



We had no great trappings of Christmas, not having come across anything at all resembling Christmas Crackers, sprouts, mince pies or Christmas cake. We’d managed to find a pre-cooked turkey breast and a tin of cranberry sauce, so with potatoes, carrots and peas that had to do. Thankfully Mark is very easily pleased and took great pleasure in snapping the head off his Xmas Penguin…..