Road trip along Apache Trail and seeing cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument (#12/419)

So today we’re off to explore Tonto National Monument, but it’s gonna be a little bit different today so stay tuned and find out why. Normally when we go and visit a National Park Unit, we’ve researched everything in advance and we know exactly what we’re going to do that day. We’ve certainly got an idea of it at least and we’ll check it with the Rangers and things. Today though, we’ve got a bit of a different situation. Last night we arrived at this boondocking spot, which is beautiful. It’s a really stunning spot we’re in here. There are mountains all around. Yeah, we were surrounded by the Superstition Mountains. It’s a little rocky, getting in here. Four-wheel drive is on. But we have absolutely no signal here whatsoever. And therefore we’ve been unable to plan the trip like we normally would. Now we have actually been to Tonto National Monument before. It was, what, a couple years ago that we came here? And when we were here we did a road trip. We have this book that has some great road trips in there. And so we decided to do the road trip and one of the things on the way was Tonto National Monument. We happen to be camping literally on part of that road trip. Just a stop along there. So we thought: why don’t we do the road trip again? And hopefully at some point this morning we’ll get some signal and then we’ll actually be able to work out if there’s anything we need to know before we get there. But the reality is I think that Tonto is probably less than an hour up the road. So why don’t you come with us today and join us as we go around Tonto National Monument and we find out what it’s all about. The book is called “The Most Scenic Drives in America” and we have done quite a few road trips from this book, especially when we lived in California and wanted to go somewhere for a long weekend. It describes the road trips and things to see along the way. We’ve really enjoyed them actually. The route that we’re doing is called the Apache Trail and it’s a 145 mile circular loop trail or road on the east side of Phoenix around Tonto National Forest. Now most of it is paved but where we’re starting from just near Tortilla Flat, very soon after we get the unpaved section, which we’re hitting right about now. And this is 22 miles of unpaved dirt road. But I remember this from last time and the scenery around here is just stunning. Although it looks like there’s some washboarding. Yeah, I’m looking forward to the section where there are canyon walls right next to the road. That was very cool. I think we’d probably bring the trailer along here, but you just have to take it slow. I think. OK, I would bring the trailer.
You would do it, I don’t know! Diana’s like my common sense voice that says “probably shouldn’t do that.” Oh, it’d be really really really slow. It would be pretty slow along here. Most of the journey is paved so of the 145 miles it’s only about 22 miles that are unpaved. But then you wouldn’t be able to do a loop. Exactly, and actually that one of the things the book does say is although it’s only 145 miles kind of plan for the thing to take you all day. Because not just sections like this that can be slower. A lot of the speed limits around here are very low. We’ve had a lot of sections just driving through here so far that have been 25 miles per hour. So we’ve just reached the summit there of Fish Creek Hill and I think the book said something about a really dramatic descent, right? Yeah, one lane road with twists and turns as it plunges 1,000 feet in just mile and a half. Feels like we’ve crossed through into like another world in here. [Music] We’re now down in the bottom of the canyon I guess here still on the unpaved road. As you can probably hear and see it’s a little bit bumpy still. We’ve definitely got some washboarding. We’re only doing 15-20 mph taking it nice and steady, but we’re surrounded now by Saguro cacti and it’s just pretty cool. Like a really cool landscape. I love seeing Saguaro, so I guess we have descended into elevation where Saguaros live. Behind me is the Apache Lake But the wind is pretty cold, so we’re gonna get back to the car and let’s keep rolling. [Music] We’re at the next stop on this drive, which is the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. First built in 1911, it was then reinforced in the early 90s to cater for the fact that a much larger flood than originally thought possible could actually sweep through this area. So they raised the height by 77 feet. It’s a really, really monumental dam. At the time when it was first built, it was the largest masonry dam ever built and the lake that it created was the largest man-made lake in the world. Nowadays there are larger dams out there, but this one’s still pretty impressive to look at. Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Dam is really responsible for the Apache Trail that we’ve just driven along and if it weren’t for that, they wouldn’t have needed the trail to transport all the materials and things up here. But we’re right now just pretty glad to be off that road, the unpaved road. This is the point where we return to pavement and it should be a lot smoother from now on. After here, the next stop is the Tonto National Monument. Looks like we are just about to turn into the cliff dwellings here at Tonto National Monument. It’s just a few miles after the dam back there. Yeah, I don’t think we told you what Tonto National Monument is about. It’s a set of cliff dwellings. Some of them you can get to on a self-guided tour that you can walk up to. I think there’s a 28-room sort of cliff dwellings there, but the the upper cliff dwelling, I think it said in the book, is only available on the Ranger led tour. So I doubt we’re going to be lucky enough to have timed it to get on that. It did say reservations required. Which is one of the reasons, we normally try and plan these in advance. This time just circumstances and lack of signal last night, we just, we didn’t get a chance to plan this one like we normally would. And normally we plan things, you know, at least a week in advance. We thought we would be in this place for a week so would have plenty of time but it turned out there’s no signal. So we would go to a different boondocking spot, but they’re actually quite far from here and we’re already on the road that leads to Tonto, so we thought we’ll just visit Tonto first and then head back towards Phoenix and south. At the Visitors Center we learned that these cliff dwellings were built around 700 years ago, which is the same as Casa Grande Ruins. But these were built by what they referred to as Salado people which is that period. The Salado people I think were named because we’ve named them that because of the Salt River which is known as the Rio Salado. And so they they chose to live up in the cliffs as opposed to down in the Tonto Basin. Let’s refresh our knowledge of the desert plants that we learned at Saguaro National Park. This plant behind me is a Jojoba, and here another one is a Palo Verde. You can recognize it by its green bar. And we obviously can’t miss the big Saguaros. It’s quite amazing to see the snow-capped mountains in the background. Yeah. The trail from the Visitor Center up to the Lower Cliff Dwellings is only short; it’s only a half mile or so. But you climb 350 feet. So even though it’s paved, it still can be a bit of a climb. The cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument were inhabited by people of the Salado culture; a group living in the Tonto basin between 1250CE and 1450CE. The archaeological data tells us of a diverse community, made up of groups of people from the Ancestral Puebloan, Ancient Sonoran Desert people and the Mogollon who all moved into the area. Some of the doors in this village were later either altered or filled in. Look for the filled in door in the lower section of the right wall. Over there.
Yeah. The round holes higher up in this wall, mark where the beams are the upper story roof once rested. You can see them up at the top. Yeah Above them an extension forms a parapet wall which would help keep children from falling off the roof as they ran and played. In the first half of the 14th century the Salado took advantage of the rich desert environment, hunting, gathering and farming. Water was available at an ancient spring and the Salado people were generally in good health. They created elaborate pottery and were expert weavers, shown by the rich archaeological record. But between 1350CE and 1450CE, life became harder. The region became more arid, the water table fell and the area was ravished by a pattern of alternating floods and droughts. as As the resources that people relied on began to deplete the inhabitants moved from small villages into larger consolidated communities. But eventually it became too much and the once fruitful Tonto basin was all but uninhabitable. According to the oral history of associated tribes, their ancestors migrated away from the area, eventually ending up in places that their descendants now call home. We have visited Gila Cliff Dwellings, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument and now Tonto National Monument. Looks like most of them were built around the same time, around 700 years ago and they were abandoned about 100 years later. Scientists don’t really know exactly why but one theory is…. [wind noise]
haha, we can try and see what happens! And one theory is…. It’s a little windy! Yeah, one theory is that there was a 200 year drought and the whole area of Southwest the population diminished and the Indians moved away. And they think that these cliff dwellings here at Tonto were built by the what was it, the Ancestral Puebloan people? Yup. As far as we can remember Gila Cliffs were built by the Mogollon and then Casa Grande was built by the Ancient Sonoran Desert People. Yeah, and I think a lot of the cultures came to a bit of a mixing area here. It was a good cultural center and the term the Salados is almost just kind of name that’s been given to to those different cultures that mix together here. So it’s quite interesting to to get that perspective on like how the different cultures did their own thing in different buildings. But then somewhere like this you’ve got almost influences from several different areas. He was saying that some of the pottery that was made here has been found hundreds of miles away. Yet at the same time here they found seashells and they found macaw feathers and other things that clearly aren’t from this local area. So there was definitely trade between these peoples. I think it’s really interesting having been to all three areas that talk about Indian history. Yup. I think it kind of gives more a rounded perspective and it keeps you…
I think now I remember things better because they’re related. And also joining the dots. It’s the things that you see in one place, you can then sort of compare and contrast those to what you see elsewhere. I know one thing that I took away from here was the Gila Cliff Dwellings were really quite carefully built. The stonework was quite impressive and things Whereas here it was saying they didn’t really care about the stonework because they just rendered the entire thing in plaster afterwards. So actually the stonework inside the walls is pretty crude even by 14th century standards. And I found that interesting: that there were these different ways of doing things, different priorities and goals and techniques and…. Different ways of living perhaps. Casa Grande, they were pretty much farmers. They did build these extensive irrigation systems versus here yes, they did farm some things but they also persisted from the land here. Yes [Music] After leaving Tonto National Monument, we stopped for lunch just a few miles down the road at what was it called? Boston’s Lake House Grill, I think. Lakeside Grill. Lakeside Grill. And it’s nothing fancy, just like a little sports bar, but we had some food in there. I had a steak, you had some shrimp. We are now heading back round on the circular route again back round to Apache Junction. There are a couple of stopping points along the way. We’ve just driven through these beautiful canyons that you actually remembered from last time didn’t you? Yeah. And so we’ve been having beautiful views as we’ve been driving through there. There’s also a stop that we’ve just passed for an arboretum. We are not going to stop there. We’re going to head back into Apache Junction today. The reason for that is we’ve got no cell signal as we said up at the boondocking spot, and we’ve just got a few things we need to catch up on so we’re gonna go and put ourselves in a Starbucks for a while. And then we’re also going to head over to Planet Fitness. If you haven’t read our blog post about that, make sure to go and check that out. Planet Fitness is something that works great for us, not just as a gym, but also somewhere to go and shower. So we’re going to enjoy a long hot shower in the Planet Fitness gym as well. From Apache Junction the last section of the circular route, the Apache Trail, is actually heading back along the road that we drove yesterday when we drove to our boondocking spot just past a Tortilla Flat. One section of that road just after Tortilla Flat itself was actually flooded. The road was underwater. And it wasn’t a lot of water. We’re talking maybe what, four to six inches or so? And it wasn’t flowing fast, but it was kind of just flowing off the side of the road. That was a little nervy going through there with a trailer behind us. I wasn’t planning on fording a river with the trailer. Certainly not this soon into owning one. Yeah, so we stopped a little bit and we watched other cars come by and see how they’re dealing with it. Yeah We definitely wanted to see that non kind of trucks and things to go through and we saw a Ford Focus go through and we thought well if if they can do it we’re probably okay doing with the trailer. And it was fine. There was no issue there. But just bear that in mind if you are going to do this route in winter make sure that there haven’t been any heavy rains recently because you may find, not just there but other places as well might be washed out. And in terms of bringing your RV to the Tonto National Monument. There is a limit of 45 feet of total length, so we wouldn’t have been able to bring our truck and trailer up to Tonto National Monument. They have three RV parking spots. So not much either. Yeah, I probably wouldn’t do Tonto as a stopover with the RV unless you want to bring it all the way through for the whole road trip. Yes. So we’re just leaving Tonto National Forest now, that’s completed the section of loop that’s there and It’s pretty well just a pavement drive through some beautiful scenery all the way back round to Apache Junction. The goal for today is to visit Tonto National Memorial No, sorry, it’s the monument. And again. Wait here. It’ll look weird if you just walk off. Right, we’ve just forded a river with the trailer. I guess that wasn’t too bad. It looks scarier than… I hadn’t realized that we actually had a boat on the trailer. We don’t even need one. We can do water crossings with our trailer. We got this.

7 Replies to “Road trip along Apache Trail and seeing cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument (#12/419)”

  1. Nice video! I lived in Southsea and Lee on the Solent for 11 yrs. My hubby is a Brit… but we are back to US now… miss National Trusts and my dear friends… did I mention fish and chips? LOL

  2. Hello Diana and Matt! I truly enjoyed this video, the scenery and presentation made it so enjoyable along with a brief history of what was seen. I spent 16 years living and working in Europe (Germany and Hungary) and I could not even begin to fathom making a video journal of all my travels there. The time, logistics, cost, research and so many other factors are overwhelming! You make it look easy and you are making it truly entertaining and the scenery is just gorgeous! Thank you again both for sharing your travels and whetting our appetite for the videos yet to come!

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