Exploring Apache Trail's history, beauty, and danger

- It's one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in Arizona. The so-called Apache Trail, also known as Arizona state highway 88, is also one of the state's most dangerous.

The road stretches from Apache Junction in the East Valley, and into the Superstition Mountains. Besides the view, there is also a lot of Old West history to be taken in along this stretch of road.

"We decided to resurrect it. I had no idea it was going to grow into what it is today," said Robert Schoose, the owner of Goldfield Ghost Town. "This is it. I'm stuck with it."

Schoose has been at the town for 32 years. Better known as "Mayor Bob", he is the majority owner of the town.

"Goldfield was here in the early 1890s," said Schoose. "It was definitely a town site. They lent out lots."

Goldfield was also a working gold field.

"Produced about $3 million in gold," said Schoose. "The whole district did."

A rich gold strike, in addition to the legend of the Lost Dutchman mine, brought in prospectors from all over.

"The Mammoth Mine, which was the richest, produced about a million and a half," said Schoose.

What's left of the mine is now a tour, and Goldfield is a big hit with 4th graders who study Arizona history.

"4th graders study Arizona history, and their teachers find this very educational for them. They bring them out here quite a bit." said Schoose.

There's also a museum, and other oddities like water flowing uphill in the town's mystery shack, a zip line, a bordello (or a recreation of one, in any case), as well as a bar and steak house, where people might see the bartender playing a game of shotgun chess.

Shotgun, as in the bartender is holding a shotgun.

"Take your time man. Take your time and check everything out," said Rich Grant. He and his family from Gold Canyon are regular visitors.

"My family has been up here for 35 years. Love it. Love it. It's old time out here. It's western man. The Old West, got to love it," said Grant.

For more Old West, people can head further east down the Apache Trail. After passing Canyon Lake, one of the most popular water getaways in the state, it's Tortilla Flat.

"Tortilla Flat has been around since about 1904. It was a stage stop," said Mark Bowman, the general manager of Tortilla Flat. "Started off as two little tents. When they started building the dam, there were a lot of people living here who were working on all the dams."

Now, it's the scenery and the restaurant that bring out thousands of people during the winter and spring, every day.

"We've got restaurant and saloon. We have 48 tables in the restaurant. We have an outdoor patio right next to that that's open day after Christmas through Easter," said Bowman.

Inside the restaurant, dollar bills, thousands of them, hang from the walls and ceiling. It's all related to a fire in 1987 that destroyed the restaurant and a nearby motel.

"While it was being rebuilt, people started sending dollar bills in to put them up," said Bowman. "Some of those original from 1988 when we reopened are still up there. After that it, just sort of snowballed."

They're not worried about thieves, as Bowman said they are stapled pretty good.

Further down the Apache Trail, the highway narrows, and then turns to dirt. Tight hairpin turns above steep canyons are not for the faint of heart, especially considering the rescues and recoveries that have happened here.

In March 2017, a minivan plunged from the highway, about 150 feet down a cliff. The driver was rescued, but not all are so lucky.

Another driver spent two days at the bottom of the canyon before crawling his way back to the road for help. In 2014, a man died and another person was rescued, when their car plunged 250 feet off a notorious stretch of the highway known as Fish Creek Hill.

Highway workers, however, who are improving the paved section of highway this spring and summer.

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