Monday and Tuesday, March 20-21, 2023—Wild Horses and Desert Canyons

Monday afternoon, we met for the next to last HH (happy hour.) “Arkansas” happy hours provide a great time to visit, eat hors d’oeuvres, and enjoy an adult beverage or two with other Arkansans, but the number of attendees is dwindling as couples end their winter and return home. Also on Monday, Kay and I have been participating in “our street’s”neighborhood” Monday night pickleball.

The wind was howling in Casa Grande on Tuesday, March 21, so Kay and I opted to do a day trip to the Salt River area in Tonto National Forest near Mesa, Arizona, where the winds were not to high, but it was misting rain. Our goal was to view and photograph the wild horses of Salt River. We slowly passed by the 7 recreation sites where the wild horses have historically been observed: Granite Reef, Phon D Sutton, Coon Bluff, Blue Point, Pebble Beach, Saguaro Lake, and Butcher Jones. These 7 recreation sites are all within 13 miles of each other, only taking 20 minutes to get from the first (Granite Reef) to the last (Butcher Jones). There were no wild horses at any of these sites, but the landscapes were great.

We traveled further north and east on the North Bush Highway, and then veered north away from the river and Saguaro Lake. Near MP 35, we noticed a number of cars parked on the side of the highway. Sure enough, a few wild horses were coming into view on top of the hill, and they grazed towards the highway. As we watched we noticed several scattered bunches across the entire hill side.

In addition to photographing these magnificent creatures whose genes date back to the 1600s in this area high desert flowers were in bloom and presented great photo ops.

We were particularly drawn to the Cactus bloom and the Desert Globemallow, aka Apricot Mallow.

Bush Highway, we traveled south to the small city of Apache Junction, then northeast on East Apache Trail. Apache Trail is a scenic byway designated in 1998. It is approximately 39 miles long, winding in and out of some of the most awe-inspiring country in Arizona—or for that matter, in the West. A couple of years ago, we drove the section from Roosevelt to Globe, and a couple of weeks ago we drove the section from Globe to near Apache Junction (we had also driven this route a couple of years ago.) Today, we closed the loop by traveling the drivable portion of the Apache Trail from Apache Junction to Fish Creek Hill Overlook/Rest Area (MP 220). Note: Due to the potential for severe flooding from areas burned in the Woodbury Fire in June 2019, a 5-mile, unpaved section of the Apache Trail from the Fish Creek Hill Overlook/Rest Area (MP 222) to MP 227 (near Reavis Trailhead Road) remains closed for public safety reasons, due to extensive roadway damage and rock debris.

The first main attraction (4.5 miles from Apache Junction) on the Apache Trail was a reconstructed 1890s ghost town, Goldfield Ghost Town. The second main attraction was Lost Dutchman State Park. It gets its name from a longstanding legend about a lost gold mine within the mountains that was discovered, then lost to time by an infamous “Dutchman.” Even today, treasure hunters continue to scour the Superstitions looking for the lost gold. Next was Canyon Lake. It is one of three man-made lakes along the Apache Trail, and by far, the most scenic. Dramatic red rock cliffs surround the lake. Following Canyon Lake was the small town of Tortilla Flat. Founded as a stagecoach stop along the Apache Trail in 1904, Tortilla Flat is one town that’s refused to be swept away by the desert sands of time. The saloon and restaurant are famous for their hamburgers, a fact we didn’t know until later. And then, Fish Creek Hill presented itself. The drive from Tortilla Flat up to the Fish Creek Hill Viewpoint is quite challenging but very scenic. We stopped at viewpoints along the way for dramatic photos of the Sonoran Desert vistas.

Three miles east, the road passes above a short slot canyon with pools and dry falls. The road forded Tortilla Creek, up to our running board, and then soon after, the paved section ends and a narrow gravel track continues to Fish Creek Hill Overlook/Rest Area, where the road was closed.

After turning around, we traveled back to Casa Grande, winding up a great day.

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