Ghost Towns on the Apache Trail

Ah…the Old West. Have you ever thought it might be fun to go back and visit an Old West town, hang out in the saloon, watch a gun fight, ride some horses, or maybe even pan for gold?

If so, then you won’t want to miss visiting the Goldfield Ghost Town, which is located on AZ-88 (a.k.a. the old Apache Trail) near Apache Junction, Arizona. The Apache Trail is a twisting-turning road that winds through the Superstition Mountains. It has a rich history, but more about that, later. First, let me tell you about Goldfield.

The Gold Rush of the American West

As you may know, the Gold Rush in the American started in California in 1848 when John Sutter found a few nuggets in the water near his mill. The word spread of the discovery, and by 1849, there were so many prospectors heading out to California, they were called the 49-ers. By the end of the rush, almost 300,000 people had relocated to California.

However, mining for gold didn’t get popular in Arizona until 1893. Prior to that, Arizona was mostly known for mining silver and copper. Then, in 1893, silver was demonetized, and the price of silver and copper fell dramatically. After that, the silver miners started looking for gold.

Gold was originally discovered in the area in the 1880’s, but due to the Apache Wars (1849-1886), the mine wasn’t opened until 1892. The town of Goldfield sprung up around the mine, and soon, it was flourishing. In its heyday, the town boasted a population of 4000 people, and it had 28 buildings, including three saloons, a boarding house, a general store, a blacksmith shop, a brewery, a meat market, and a school house. The town’s post office officially opened on October 7th, 1893.

Unfortunately, the gold vein faulted, and the mine closed down in 1897. Once the mine closed down, the town died out. The town had a mild resurgence in the 1920’s, but then it caught fire in 1943, and what was left, burnt to the ground.

In 1983, a man named Bob Shoose came along and decided to bring the old ghost town back to life. He bought five acres of land around the town, and spent 5 years rebuilding it to look like the way it did back in the 1890’s. These days, there’s a mercantile, a saloon, a jail, an apothecary, a train station, a mine, a gift shop, and even a place where you can rent supplies to go pan for gold.

One of the great things about Goldfield Ghost Town, is that unlike a lot of tourist attractions, you can park your car and walk down Main Street free of charge. You can walk into the buildings, or even catch a gunfight. You don’t have to pay for anything unless you want to buy something at the gift shops, eat and drink at the saloon, or buy a ticket for a mine tour, a train ride, or a jeep tour. You can also go for a horseback ride or go panning for gold.

About 20 miles up the trail, see a second “ghost town”Tortilla Flats

About 20 miles further up the Apache Trail, is a little “ghost town” called Tortilla Flat. (That is, if you can call 3 little buildings a ghost town.) There used to be more buildings, but these 3 buildings are all that remain.

The 20 mile drive from Goldfield to Tortilla Flat is absolutely beautiful with plenty of breathtaking scenery along the way. Along the way, you’ll pass the Lost Dutchman State Park, breathtaking rock formations, and Canyon Lake. However, just to let you know, although the drive is beautiful, it does take about 90 minutes of driving to get there, because of all the twists and turns in the road. The speed limit is 40 m.p.h, but tere are a lot of hair-pin turns where you have to slow down to 25 or even 15 m.p.h.

(So, if you, or your kids, or your dog, get car sick easily…or if you have a fear of driving narrow, winding roads through the mountains… you might want to skip this trip.)

Once you get to Tortilla Flat, you’ll find that it has a neat little mercantile shop/ gift shop, a restaurant and ice cream shop. It even has a tiny little museum. During the cooler months, hey also have live music on the patio on the weekends.

The location of Tortilla Flat was originally a camping ground for prospectors who came to the area to prospect for gold. After that, it turned into a stagecoach stop. (In fact, it is the last surviving stagecoach stop along the Apache Trail!) After the stagecoaches stopped running, it served as a freight camp for the construction of the Roosevelt Dam. The town used to used to have about 100 people, but a flood damaged the town in 1942, and most of the residents moved away after that.

Today, in addition to being a tourist stop, Tortilla Flat is also a place some hikers like to visit, because there are trails that lead from the town that go up into the Superstition Mountains.

Driving Conditions along the Apache Trail past Tortilla Flat

After Tortilla Flat, the rest of the Apache Trail is unpaved. It’s about 20 miles from Tortilla Flat to the Roosevelt dam, and although many websites say you don’t need a 4 wheel drive, I once tried to drive it in my Nissan Versa, and let me tell you, that was one of the scariest drives I’ve ever had in my entire life. I will never do that again! (Needless to say, I chickened out and ended up turning around and coming back.)

A Brief History of the Apache Trail

The Apache Trail was originally a foot trail that wound through the Superstition Mountains. Obviously the Apache used it for traveling, but many people think it was used for centuries prior to that by the ancient Anasazi, as part of their trade route with the Hohokam. The Apache Trail was also used as a stagecoach trail.

In the 1890’s, Arizona area experienced the worst drought since the Civil War, so in 1902, the U.S. started a bunch of water reclamation projects, to try to protect the area against future drought. One of the first projects of the Water Reclamation Act was the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. The remote location chosen for the dam was a “logistical nightmare,” so they decided to turn the Apache Trail into a supply line.

The Apache Indians provided most of the labor for the project (about 400 people in all) and under the grueling summer heat and horrible working conditions, the 40 mile road was completed in 1905. After the road was built, the dam construction began, and Roosevelt Dam was finally completed in 1911.

On February 25, 1987, the Apache was officially dedicated as Arizona’s first historic highway.

Directions to Goldfield Ghost Town

The easiest way to get to Goldfield (from Phoenix) is to take highway 60 east towards Mesa and Apache Junction. Then you take the Idaho St. exit. About 5 miles up the road, you’ll pass the Old West Highway. Keep driving on Idaho St. for a few more miles until you see signs for AZ-88. Turn right onto AZ-88. Keep following that until you see the old, wooden water tower for Goldfield Ghost Town. (You can’t miss it.)

For more information

My next blog post…

My next blog post will be about The Lost Dutchman State Park, which is also located AZ-88/ The Apache Trail.

Stay tuned!

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