When Lemons turn into Lemonade

We left Lake Pleasant a bit reluctantly but were excited to be heading to a new location. We wanted to check out more of the Maricopa County Regional Parks. If the other parks were even half as nice as Lake Pleasant, we’d be happy campers. We knew we were running a risk traveling without reservations, but Al and I were still in flitting mode with no real destination in mind. Well actually, we did have a destination in mind but that wouldn’t be for several more days down the road. So for right now, we had a few days to fill up before that rendezvous with the Escapees group.

Salt River
The Salt River

March 17, 2012 – When we arrived at Usery Mountain Regional Park, we were told the campground was full, but we could boondock in their overflow lot until a campsite came available, which might be in the next day or two. We opted to stay in the overflow lot for the night which was nothing more than a paved parking lot located right next to the park entrance.  It wasn’t ideal, but we figured for one night we’d make it work while we discussed how we wanted to spend the next several days.

A=Lake Pleasant Regional Park B=Usery Mountain Regional Park C=Lost Dutchman State Park

It was still morning when we unhitched the RV in the Usery Mountain Regional Park overflow lot.  It was a lovely day and the sky was a beautiful bright blue. The sun was warm and the breeze light.  We absolutely must take advantage of this gorgeous day! Al and I packed a light lunch, drinks, loaded the dog in the truck, and headed up the road a piece. This funny expression was one of Al’s mom’s little phrases that always brought chuckles. Today’s destination; Saguaro Lake.

Wow! Al and I were awed by the beauty of Saguaro Lake. It’s a much more picturesque setting than Lake Pleasant. We found a quiet covered picnic table and enjoyed our lunch while admiring the view.

View of Saguaro Lake near our picnic table.
Saguaro Lake Marina

After lunch, we spent a little time driving around exploring. The marina rents various watercraft, and we were tempted to rent something the following day, but we wanted to see if we could get into a campsite at Usery Park first.

Startled!

It’s 6:30 in the morning when I awake to Bear’s restlessness. That dog’s internal clock is spot on. He’s ready for his walk at the same time every morning. Even though we were camped in a parking lot, we slept ok. I throw on some clothes, hook up Bear’s leash, and slip the camera in my pocket before exiting the RV. The cactus are blooming at this time of year, and I was hoping to capture a few photos of one particular pink bloom.

It’s a brisk calm morning. Bear and I stroll up the road that leads to an Archery range. I take in the amazing array of cactus and vegetation while watching bunny’s dart across the road. Since the sun isn’t fully up just yet, he and I are totally alone enjoying the landscape and fresh air. I’m in my own little world and daydreaming. Suddenly, I’m startled by some screaming girls in the distance. I realize it was spring break, but screaming girls at 6:30 in the morning just didn’t seem right.

I listen again and that’s when reality hit me … coyotes! And they didn’t sound all that far away, plus we were walking toward the commotion. Bear and I swiftly turn around making our way back to the RV. Photos of the flowering cactus will just have to wait. I have no intention of running into a pack of coyotes this morning.

coyote

Back at the RV, we eat breakfast and after a couple of cups of coffee, Al and I decide to move over to Lost Dutchman State Park. Our plans would be taking us there in a few days anyway to join the Escapees. So, we figured, why not show up early. However, before hooking up, Al calls the state park to verify that they indeed have room for us in their overflow area.

Al talks to the head ranger who informs him that no group is booked in the group campground prior to our Escapees group, and thus, gives us the okay to set up early in the group area that’s reserved for our Boomer’s Escapee rendezvous; our very first Escapees anything.

yellow poppies against a mountain background

Lemonade anyone?

Thirty minutes later, we pulled up to the fee station at Lost Dutchman State Park to check-in. Oops! The ranger had made a mistake, and yes, there was a private group booked that would be arriving the next day. We were allowed to camp in the group campground for the night, after that, we weren’t sure where we’d go. The ranger would leave the decision up to the incoming group whether we were allowed to stay or would need to go. The group campgrounds were the only overflow areas available at that time and overflow camping was only available when the group loops weren’t reserved.

We set up camp in a corner of the lot and knew we could stay in this spot for at least the night. The next day the ‘Superstition Square Wheelers’ would show up and determine our fate. The Superstition Square Wheelers is a local group of square dancers that share non-dancing outings a couple of times a year. 

Not only did they allow us to remain in our camp spot, they graciously embraced us and included us in activities. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade. What an incredibly warm and generous group of people. We had a wonderful time, and by Sunday morning, we were exchanging contact information and hugs good-bye.  But before we bid our new friends farewell, we embarked on an adventure that the group recommended.

Backcountry adventure!

On the far southeast side of the greater Phoenix valley lies Arizona’s oldest highway. This former stagecoach trail which runs through the Superstition Mountains was originally used by the Apache Indians thus aptly named The Apache Trail.

Apache Trail map

The Apache Trail is officially known as State Route 88 and links the town of Apache Junction with Theodore Roosevelt Lake.  The trail was developed into more of a road in the 1930s to support the development of dams along the Salt River creating some beautiful lakes in the process. There are a bunch of interesting sights and views along the way which necessitate lots of stopping.  Photo-op anyone?  Thus, the Apache Trail Circle Loop requires an entire day for the excursion. It’s also not for the faint of heart due to the condition and topography of the road.

From the state park, we headed north on State Road 88, aka The Apache Trail. As we entered the Tonto National Forest, the road starts to climb, twist, and bend. The scenery becomes more rugged and stunning with each mile.  March is particularly beautiful as the road is lined on both sides with yellow blooms from the brittlebush and desert marigolds.

Canyon Lake
One lane bridge over a Canyon Lake cove that we’ll need to cross.

Twenty miles north of the town of Apache Junction, we round a bend and are graced with the sight of an oasis in the desert.  Canyon Lake with its deep blue waters surrounded by rugged cliffs and rocky terrain is a pleasant and unexpected surprise. A few more miles up the road is the cute little town of Tortilla Flat; population 6.  In the future, we’ll need to stop here for lunch. We hear they serve up a great burger.

Beyond Tortilla Flat, the paved road turns into gravel. The gravel road is wide and in pretty good condition up to the scenic view parking lot. We loved the vista view and for those less adventurous this would be a good spot to turn around and retrace the journey home. But for us? We’re off on an adventure plus Al and I are used to driving unpaved mountain back roads with steep cliff drop-offs.  In other words, we already knew this stretch of road between Tortilla Flat and the Roosevelt Dam would be somewhat challenging.

As we continued beyond the scenic overlook, the road narrows and winds. This two-way traffic road narrows down to about a one to one and a half lane wide road. Those going downhill supposedly have the right of way and it’s not uncommon for the need for someone to back up to a wider spot in the road so vehicles can pass by each other.  Fish Creek Hill/Pass is the worst part of the journey with sheer drop-offs, very narrow road, lots of turns, and a steep elevation transition. Expect white knuckles!

Apache Trail
The Apache Trail runs through rugged desert terrain.
Apache Trail

One-lane bridges and a washboard gravel road add to the overall adventure. Once we reach Apache Lake, another beauty, the road becomes a little easier to traverse.  Due to the washboard condition of the road and our extra-long wheel base on the F-250, it’s slow going.  Two and a half hours after leaving Tortilla Flat we finally arrived at the Theodore Roosevelt Damn and Lake.

Now it was time to complete the circle and return home to the Lost Dutchman State Park. The majestic scenery continues from Roosevelt Lake to the active mining towns of Miami and Superior and passed the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The Arboretum looks worthy of a visit, but by this point in the journey, I’m photoed out, tired, and just ready to get home.  This one-day excursion was not long enough to see everything, and we made mental notes for things to see and do in the future.

Whether one is looking for solitude or a host of activities, this part of Arizona seems to offer it all. I remain awed by its raw beauty and fascinated by the plants and animals that survive in this harsh land. I find myself smitten with the landscape and left with a desire to explore more.
Apache Trail