By Jamie Killin
While Arizona has come a long way from its Old West roots as Phoenix becomes one the country’s largest and fastest-growing cities, there are still places that hold a piece of Arizona’s timeless history and transport its visitors back to simpler times, when the not-yet-state served as a mining destination within relatively unexplored land. One of these places is Tortilla Flat, a Western town in the Tonto National Forest approximately 30 minutes outside of Apache Junction. The town’s history dates back to 1904 when it was established as a stop along the Apache Trail and as a settlement for workers who hand-built the Roosevelt Dam.
Over the years, Tortilla Flat has had several iterations – even rebuilding on the opposite side of the road from where it presently sits after a flash flood in 1943. More than four decades later, Tortilla Flat was forced to rebuild yet again, after a 1987 fire that began in the restaurant engulfed nearly the entire town. However, the history hasn’t been all disaster – the town has welcomed famous guests including the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt, Clark Gable, John Wayne, and Barbara Streisand. It’s also been home to a zoo and even served as the backdrop of Western films, as well as helping to inspire the book “Thunder God’s Gold,” and subsequent film, “Lust for Gold.”
Today, the town is a family-friendly attraction and relic of Arizona’s past. It is a fully independent town and has six residents that call it home. Residents and frequent visitors of Tortilla Flat have seen recent upgrades to the town property including a revamped menu at the Superstition Saloon and Restaurant and new decorative touches. The town continues to maintain its history as it looks toward its next 100 years, refreshing the look of property, partnering with more local vendors for the mercantile, and remaining a family-friendly destination.
During a trip to Tortilla Flat visitors can enjoy scenic mountain views just minutes away from Canyon Lake, taste southwestern cuisine at the restaurant and saloon, shop Arizona-inspired gifts at the mercantile, or try prickly pear gelato at the Country Store – known for being the largest purveyor of prickly pear gelato in the world, as well as a destination for necessary goods and one-of-a-kind food items like prickly pear honey and cactus salsa. Before leaving, all Tortilla Flat visitors should try some of the town saloon’s famous chili, which has been made using the same recipe for 80 years and is now incorporated into Tortilla Flat’s Killer Chili Dog, Chili Burger and the classic Killer Bowl of Chili.
Tortilla Flat also boasts a museum that is an exact replica of the schoolhouse where the local children gathered to learn in the 1930s. While exploring the small museum, guests will learn about the development of Tortilla Flat, including the history of its owners dating back through to early 1900s.
Take a journey out to the Wild West and visit Tortilla Flat, open seven days a week. For more information, visit tortillaflataz.com or call 480-984-1776.