We were set to explore some backcountry trails. Our journey took us up the Apache Trail, west of the towering Superstition Mountains that form an eastern barrier to the Phoenix metro valley. Our return route would take us through the southern tip of another range, the Mazatzal Mountains. There were sites to see and we needed to turn some dirt under our tires.
We started in the town of Apache Junction headed up State Route 88 onto the Apache Trail. This historical trail follows an aboriginal route used by ancient peoples traveling in and out of the Superstition Mountains. A good portion of the route is now paved, but there is dirt road and also offshoot trails along the route headed into other nearby areas.
Near our starting point is a number of old mine sites, including the Goldfield Ghost Town, where a reconstructed site with authentic mining relics has been established to give the look and feel of what the mining town might have been like in the 1890s. In this area is also where the legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine persists to this day. Named after German immigrant Jacob Waltz, the story tells of a rich gold mine that still lies hidden somewhere in the Superstition Mountains. Treasure seekers have searched these canyons looking for the lost mine since the late 19th century.
Our travels up the Apache Trail took us through picturesque canyons that rise here and allowed the formation of a chain of four mountain lakes with the building of four dams. The Theodore Roosevelt Dam at the top of the chain was the first to be built. President Roosevelt spoke at the dedication ceremony. He also commented on the region by saying "The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the Glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have. To me, it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created."
Once past the dam, we turned north on pavement up Highway 188 to turn off onto El Oso Road and locked our hubs. We followed the trail as it rose in elevation until the lakes were far below us in the distance. We climbed more than 3,500 feet as we continued southwesterly near Four Peaks. These towering summits rise from the desert floor in the Mazatzal Mountains to 7,657 feet above sea level. You can drive to an end parking lot at about 5,700 feet, and hiking trails continue from there.
We took a diversionary route off El Oso Road, seeking one of the mines in the area. There are two small mine diggings, the El Oso and Jolene mines, which were prospected mostly for tungsten in the 1930s and 1940s. We found the El Oso mine, which is a hard rock shaft running horizontally into a mountainside. From here we scouted some camp locations to note for future trips and enjoyed the commanding views from higher elevations.
Our trip out was scenic, with the impressive mountains in the Mazatzals and the giant geological piles of boulders strewn about on the hillsides here. Much of the trail is easygoing in even a stock 4WD, but we were seeking more history and backcountry exploring than we were challenge. Our trip over two trails was a great day and the dirt between our treads felt good.