By Jill “MamaBug” Frier
If you’re heading east towards New Mexico and want to venture off the beaten path and avoid the extreme traffic on I-10, consider taking a trip down the Old West Highway. This historic route between Apache Junction, AZ, and Lordsburg, NM, runs through the Superstition Wilderness on US Highway 60, over the Salt River Canyon between Superior and Miami-Globe, and through the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. It continues east through tiny Arizona towns like Bylas and Safford, moving east on Highway 70 to the tiny town of Duncan, ending in Lordsburg, New Mexico.
The road winds through mountains, farmland, and history on a mostly two-lane road through the eastern part of the state. Here are a few of the places on the Old West Highway that we recommend visiting near the Phoenix area.
One of the most spectacular, and heart-pounding, side trips you can take from the Old West Highway is the Apache Trail. Arizona State Route 88 is a mostly unpaved, steep and winding road connecting Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake in the Tonto National Forest. The Apache Trail, named after the Apache Indians who once used this as a regular trade route, passes through desert, mountains, lakes, and forests in the Superstition Wilderness, on the way to places like Lost Dutchman State Park, Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, the Roosevelt Dam and the Tonto National Monument.
Use caution because the Apache Trail winds steeply through 40 miles of rugged desert mountains, past deep reservoir lakes, and the narrow, winding road is unpaved from just east of the town of Tortilla Flats all the way to Roosevelt Dam. Be prepared for steep cliff drops and few safety barriers. The trail is not for the faint of heart, nor is it recommended for large RVs or trailers, but the scenery along this road is breathtaking.
Lost Dutchman State Park
Lost Dutchman State Park is located at the base of the Superstition Mountains, about 40 miles east of Phoenix. The park is named after a legendary lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountain Wilderness, and is known for breathtaking scenery, trails, and wildlife. It’s also famous for having a fantastic wildflower bloom in the spring and one of the most challenging hikes in the Superstition Mountains, the renown Siphon Draw Trail that takes hikers to the top of the rock wall surface of the Flatiron.
Tonto National Monument
Nestled in the cliffs overlooking Roosevelt Lake, the Tonto National Monument allows visitors to hike up hilly terrain to see ancient cliff dwellings in the pristine setting of the Tonto National Forest. The Lower Cliff Dwelling is open to the public year-round, accessible by a paved, but fairly steep path up the mountain. Check in at the Visitor Center and be sure to begin your hike before 4:00 p.m. to make sure you make it back down the trail before dark. The Upper Cliff Dwelling is only accessible by a three to four-hour guided tour, so plan ahead to book your tour in advance.
Superior had its origins as a mining town, drawing prospectors and mining companies to the area. Fortunately, one of those settlers was Colonel Boyce Thompson, who founded one of our favorite places to visit in the area, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. Established in the 1920s, the 323 acres of the Arboretum is both the oldest and the largest botanical garden in Arizona. The Arboretum features flowers, trees, and plants from deserts around the world, set into the sheer cliffs of mountainous terrain through a high desert forest next to a flowing stream. The Arboretum is on Highway 60, just outside of Superior, and a beautiful spot for a day trip or a place to stop when you travel down the Old West Highway on the way to Globe.
Globe is a great town to visit to get a taste of the historic Old West Highway and Arizona’s Territorial history. Whether you want to visit ancient Indian ruins, see the historic downtown, shop for antiques, or enjoy the works of local artists, Globe has a little bit of everything. Our favorite stop in Globe is the ruins of Besh-Ba-Gowah, a 200-room prehistoric Salado masonry pueblo overlooking Pinal Creek. The site is located in a small city park and includes a museum and gift shop with excavated items like prehistoric pottery, stone and woven artifacts.
As Arizonans, we live in a state that is full of natural wonders and beautiful scenery all year round. Many of these fantastic places are in or near the Phoenix area, so take time to visit different parts of the Sonoran Desert near you and enjoy the Arizona wilderness up close. Be sure to visit Ladybugsblog.com for more ideas and information about places to visit and explore everywhere in our great state.