The Coast News Group
It’s not unusual to see neighbors of Goldfield Ghost Town, 25 miles east of downtown Mesa, riding through the desert. The historic town, which sits along the scenic Apache Trail (Route 88), gives visitors an idea of what it was like in the 1890s after gold was discovered in the Sonoran Desert. Photo by Jerry Ondash
Columns Hit the Road

Plenty of twists along Arizona’s historic Apache Trail

A half-million dollars.

That’s what’s plastered on the walls at Superstition Restaurant & Saloon and it’s all in $1 bills. They cover every square inch of the interior of the eatery, one of a handful of buildings that make up the micro-town of Tortilla Flat, Arizona, population 6.

The town is one attraction along historic Route 88, known as the Apache Trail, which runs northeast out of Mesa. The trail is considered one of the state’s most scenic drives.

It’s also one of the most twisty you’ll ever drive, so take whatever you need to make it to this “authentic remnant” of an old Western town that began in 1904 as a stage stop in the Tonto National Forest.

We stopped for lunch and chatted with the town’s mayor and co-owner, Katie Ellering.

“I always win elections, probably because I sign the voters’ paychecks,” she jokes.

$1 bills cover nearly every surface at the Superstition Restaurant & Saloon in Tortilla Flat, population 6. The historic micro-town, once a stage stop, is a favorite destination along the Apache Trail (Route 88). The scenic drive begins just east of Mesa, Arizona. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

And that half-million dollars?

We wonder whether the walls can actually hold that sum, but our server confirms that it is possible because new bills are continually laid over older bills.

We look more closely and sure enough; there are plenty of places where the dollars are four- and five-deep. Many are marked with signatures, messages or a little artwork, and be assured: Removing them would be painstaking.

Business at the restaurant is brisk and many of the patrons are, like us, headed to Canyon Lake, just 2 miles west of Tortilla Flat, for a cruise on Dolly Steamboat.

Canyon Lake is one of several reservoirs created by damming the Salt River to provide water for the Phoenix Metro’s nearly 5 million residents.

The lakes double as recreation areas, and the scenic, 90-minute cruise around the lake’s perimeter in double-decker Dolly provides an up-close view of colorfully striated rock cliffs and formations created millions of years ago by volcanic forces.

Our boat captain and narrator points out various rock configurations and encourages us to “suspend your beliefs and let your imagination go” in order to visualize faces, animals and historic figures in the rock, including elephants and Johan Sebastian Bach seated at his piano.

We even spot a couple of bald eagles sitting on their nests atop narrow chimney-like formations. We can just make out the birds’ iridescent-white heads that contrast with the clear, cobalt sky. 

Drive the Apache Trail (Route 88) northeast out of Mesa to get to Canyon Lake where Dolly Steamboat departs several times a day to cruise the prehistoric perimeter of the lake. Photo by Jerry Ondash

Other stops along the Apache Trail, which showcase Arizona’s history, include:

Goldfield Ghost Town — Visitors can circumnavigate this 1893 gold mining town on the Superstition Scenic Narrow Gauge Railroad and hear the history of this once-booming settlement that supported 4,000 people.

The town was revived with private money in 1984, and tourists can take a mine tour, or wander through the restored brothel, bakery, livery, jail, post office, restaurant/saloon and the Church on the Mount.

Period artifacts throughout provide plenty of backdrops for selfies.

Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum — Elvis artifacts pop up in unusual places, and this museum is on that list.

A movie prop that was built for the 1969 Elvis Presley western “Charro!” the Elvis Memorial Chapel began as a fixture at Apacheland (built 1959), a nearby movie ranch that saw dozens of big names — Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Ronald Reagan — ride through its streets.

Other highlights on the museum’s 14-acre property: walking tours, a model railroad and recently renovated exhibit gallery.

For more photos and discussion, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.

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