Cowboy and Indians from A to Z

The Apache Trail to Zane Grey Country

From behind the wheel of a car stuck in traffic in Phoenix, it is all too easy to forget that the Old West is still out there among the cactus and ocotillo. On the eastern edge of the Valley of the Sun, just beyond the last stoplights in Mesa, rise the Superstition Mountains, which among treasure hunters the world over are among the most fabled of peaks. It is here, hidden among the rugged cliffs and canyons, that the Lost Dutchman Mine is believed to hold its riches of gold.

Today, these mountains mark the start of a fascinating loop tour that spends a good deal of time on graded gravel roads and passes through some of the most spectacular and remote country in the central part of the state.

This tour starts on the outskirts of Apache Junction on a road known as the Apache Trail. This road, gravel for most of its length, skirts the northern foothills of the Superstitions and climbs up through scenic desert hills to the Roosevelt Dam. Near the start of the Apache Trail, you'll find both the Lost Dutchman State Park and the family-oriented "ghost town" of Goldfield. At the former you can hike up into the Superstitions, while at the latter, you can pan for gold, tour a mine, ride a horse, and wander the streets of a reconstructed 1890s mining town. Along the Apache Trail, you can also stop in at the old stage stop of Tortilla Flat and have some prickly pear ice cream.

The Apache Trail reaches its eastern terminus at Roosevelt Dam, the largest masonry dam in the world. Just south of the dam you'll find Tonto National Monument, the site of the southernmost cliff dwellings in Arizona. Continuing south from the monument, you'll soon come to the turn off for the town of Young, which lies at the end of a 34-mile-long gravel road. Set in Pleasant Valley, between the Sierra Anchas and the Mogollon Rim, Young is one of Arizona's most remote communities, and, in the latter part of the 19th century was the site of a bloody feud between the Graham and the Tewksbury families. The feud started in 1886 when the Tewksburys brought sheep into Pleasant Valley, which had previously been exclusively cattle country. Over the next six years, at least 18 people would die in this classic range war between cattlemen and sheepherders.

Although Young's main street is paved, the gravel returns on the north side of town and continues for another 22 miles before reaching Highway 260, which lies at the top of the Mogollon Rim, a 2,000-foot-high escarpment that stretches for more than 300 miles across northern Arizona. It was in this region, near the town of Payson, that Western writer Zane Grey had a cabin, from which he fished the lakes and streams of the area. He also used the surroundings as inspiration for a number of his stories. In Payson, you can learn more about Zane Grey at both the Rim Country Museum and the Zane Grey Museum of Payson.

From Payson, which lies at the foot of the Mogollon Rim, the route climbs, through the small mountain communities of Pine and Strawberry, to the top of the Rim. You then descend to the town of Camp Verde, which is the site of the reconstructed Fort Verde, a military fort established in 1871 to protect settlers from Indian raids. The fort is at once lonely and genteel and stands beside the green riparian woodlands along the Verde River. From Fort Verde, head south back to Phoenix.

The Route:
Spend your first night in Phoenix. The next day, head east on Highway 60, the Superstition Freeway to Apache Junction and head north on Highway 88, the Apache Trail. This road soon becomes gravel, and though narrow and winding is usually passable in a standard passenger vehicle. When the Apache Trail reaches Roosevelt Dam, continue southeast toward Globe on Highway 88. If it's late in the day, you could get a room in Globe. Then, take Highway 288 north through Young to Highway 260. Go west on Highway 260 to Payson and spend the night. The next day, visit Payson's two museums before heading south on Highway 87, the Bee Line Highway, to Phoenix.