Saturday road trip in Arizona

Kathryn and I haven’t had many Saturdays to ourselves lately. We decided to spend the most recent one doing a day-long road trip here in Arizona. I had some idea of where we were going when we went to bed Friday night, but I completely changed my mind Saturday morning.

Tortilla Flat

When I woke up Saturday, I remembered Kathryn had once told me she’d never been to Tortilla Flat, so I decided to go there first. Owing to the geography of Arizona, there’s no nearly straight route to Tortilla Flat from our Phoenix home, so we first drove the freeways to Apache Junction and then followed State Route 88.

The restaurant at Tortilla Flat
The restaurant at Tortilla Flat

We stopped at Tortilla Flat long enough for a cup of coffee at the bar, where we sat on stools fashioned like saddles. It was just after 9 am, and we had the place to ourselves. We chatted a bit with the bartender, who made an interesting suggestion about a scenic route to drive. So we changed our plans yet again.

Apache Trail

Tortilla Flat is situated along Apache Trail, also known as State Route 88, which connects Apache Junction at the south end with Theodore Roosevelt Dam at the north. The first part of the road is relatively well paved, although mountain switchbacks slow one’s progress considerably.

A vista along the Apache Trail between Apache Junction and Tortilla Flat
A vista along the Apache Trail between Apache Junction and Tortilla Flat

North of Tortilla Flat, the road is only paved for a few more miles, after which it’s graded gravel for the remainder of the drive to Roosevelt Dam. Some sections were graded better than others. The road has a lot of washboarding, narrow bridges, and some cliffhanging single-lane sections, so we had to adjust our speed accordingly. However, it was a gorgeous day and there was a lot of beautiful scenery. Going slowly had its advantages.

A canyon vista along the Apache Trail between Tortilla Flat and Roosevelt Dam
A canyon vista along the Apache Trail between Tortilla Flat and Roosevelt Dam

Roosevelt Dam

About ninety minutes after leaving Tortilla Flat, the pavement suddenly resumed, and we approached Theodore Roosevelt Dam from the downstream side. We found a picnic area with a view of the dam, so we decided this was a good time to eat the lunch we brought along.

Theodore Roosevelt Dam, viewed from the picnic area
Theodore Roosevelt Dam, viewed from the picnic area

Roosevelt Lake

A few minutes after leaving our picnic area downstream of the dam, we arrived at another picnic area on the other side, with a view of the lake and the State Route 188 bridge. We didn’t have another picnic to eat, but we did stop for photos.

Roosevelt Lake Bridge along Arizona State Route 188
Roosevelt Lake Bridge along Arizona State Route 188

After leaving the bridge, we did some reconnaissance of campsites in the area around the lake. I’m not going to give any specifics. There are some great spots that are shockingly underutilized, and I’m happy to keep them that way.

State Route 288

The bartender at Tortilla Flat had suggested we drive State Route 288 through Young and continue up to the Rim Country, so that’s exactly what we did. It was another gravel road like the northern half of the Apache Trail, although without the harrowing single-lane sections.

Vista along State Route 288, north of Roosevelt Lake
Vista along State Route 288, north of Roosevelt Lake

As we climbed further away from Roosevelt Lake, the canyon vistas gave way to stands of pine trees as we winded along gravel roads through the forests.

An unpaved section of State Route 288
An unpaved section of State Route 288

The drive continued like this through mid-afternoon as we followed State Route 288 through the community of Young, eventually connecting us to a forest road high in the Rim Country that brought us back to U.S. Highway 260. We then drove on to Payson, where we stopped for an ice cream before making the drive back to Phoenix.

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