Yesterday, we packed a lunch and headed north to drive on the much-hyped Apache Trail. It’s a 40 mile section of AZ Hwy 88 that begins in Apache Junction on the northeastern edge of Phoenix and ends at Roosevelt Dam. Originally an old Apache route through the Superstition Mountains, it was cleaned up and developed in the early 1900s to haul building materials from Phoenix to the dam site. They left 22 miles of it unpaved and it goes through what is said to be some of the most breath-taking scenery in the entire country. Sold yet? We were!
We started in Apache Junction with an incredible view of Signal Butte.
Within a few minutes of turning onto Highway 88, we reached Goldfield Ghost Town, an original mining camp from the 1800s. It’s been restored and made into a really fun little street with a general store, shops, mining museum, stables and more. We enjoyed walking around our first real taste of the “wild west” and tried some delicious prickly pear fudge made from the fruit of a prickly pear cactus. (We also tried prickly pear cream soda, which tasted horribly like BBQ sauce. Total fail.)
After wishing we’d spent our $4 on fudge instead of cream soda, we were back on the trail and headed further away from Phoenix. We entered Tonto National Forest and stopped at a few scenic viewpoints. It’s funny that they have these pull-offs, because every inch of the drive could easily be considered a scenic viewpoint! We especially liked Canyon Lake, which was formed when the Salt River was damed. Seeing the beautiful water pool at the bottom of the desert canyon was beautiful.
Our last stop before the pavement ended was Tortilla Flat, a small grouping of a restaurant, general store and post office. We had heard about the store’s famous gelato, so I enjoyed the prickly pear flavor (a wonderful cross between strawberry and raspberry) and Charlie got the sarsaparilla (old-school root beer). We also picked up a sarsaparilla and a raspberry ginger ale to enjoy with our lunch. After lunch, we finally made our way onto the unpaved section of the trail. It’s only 22 miles from this point to the dam, but the road is so rough and twisty that you really can’t go over 10 mph for most of the way. That was no problem though, because we were going at a snail’s pace anyway just to enjoy the scenery!
Our home in Casa Grande is about 50 miles to the south of where we were yesterday, and the landscape colors are pretty muted. Everywhere you look, it’s washed out tones of beige, pale green and brown. I was expecting the same thing on our drive, but I was completely wrong! As the road wound further into the mountains, the rocks looked like they’d been sprayed with paint. There were endless stripes of reds, oranges, lime greens and yellows, all punctuated by deep green. The patterns on the rocks were incredible, and at one point we realized that this is Arizona’s version of the Vermont leaves we enjoyed so much!
It’s really hard to describe the drive from this point. The road hugged the side of mountains at time, wound through impossibly narrow canyons at other points, and passed lakes made by the dam. It is some of the most rugged and wildly beautiful land we’ve ever seen, and the only way to really share it with you is through pictures.
Anytime we spend a day out in incredibly beautiful surroundings like this, we’re always in awe that God created such scenery. It doesn’t seem to serve any purpose at all except to remind us that He is powerful and in love with beauty. If He can make all of this just for us to enjoy, then think of how much He must love us! If His hands can form all of these beautiful things, then think of how much more care and beauty He put into forming us! We have seen some beautiful places in our travels so far, and they’re all completely different from each other. We’ve also met some beautiful people who are equally different. The one thing the places have in common – the one thing we all as different people have in common – is that they were hand-made by God to show off His beauty and bring Him glory.
The Arizona desert is definitely serving its purpose of showing off God’s beauty. I want to make sure I’m fulfilling mine as well!