Brian’s Travel Spot: The Apache Trail & Apache Lake

My Therma Cup and Travel Press look across Apache Lake, one of several reservoirs on the Salt River as it flows through the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.In 2018 and 2019 I made three visits to Arizona’s Apache Trail, an amazing road through the Superstition Mountains to the east of Phoenix, built in 1904 to provide access to the Theodore Roosevelt Dam, which was at that point under construction on the Salt River. The first two visits were during the same trip in January/February 2018, an initial taster drive to Canyon Lake and back, followed by driving the full length of the Apache Trail later on that week.

However, my love affair with the Apache Trail wasn’t over. On the second drive, I’d been over-ambitious, underestimating how long it would take to drive from end-to-end, which meant that I did the last part, from Apache Lake to the dam, in the dark. That left me with a sense of unfinished business, so on my return to Arizona in January the following year, I made driving the Apache Trail in daylight a priority.

As I had the previous year, I first spent a week in Phoenix for work, then hit the open road, this time on a week-long excursion through southern Arizona and New Mexico, starting with my drive along the Apache Trail.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Apache Trail & The Big Loop

My Travel Press taking in the views on the Apache Trail, looking along the length of Canyon Lake from its eastern end.My second visit to Arizona’s Apache Trail came towards the end of the same trip in late January/early February 2018. My first visit had been a taster, a short drive to Canyon Lake and back on Monday evening. I’d just flown into Phoenix from Miami and, after two weeks in Florida, was desperate to see the mountains.

I spent the rest of the week in a work meeting, finally escaping on Friday evening. I’d planned to spend the following week in northern Arizona, basing myself in Flagstaff. As on my first visit to Phoenix in October 2016, I could have set off after work on Friday to drive straight up I-17. However, my appetite for the Apache Trail had been whetted, so I decided to stay overnight in Phoenix, giving myself Saturday for a leisurely drive to Flagstaff.

Since I wanted to drive the length of the Apache Trail, the logical route would have been to follow the Apache Trail to Theodore Roosevelt Lake, then take SR 188 and SR 87 north before either following the backroads to Flagstaff or cutting across to I-17 at Camp Verde. Instead, I came up with an ambitious route that I called the Big Loop.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Apache Trail, Canyon Lake

The moon, rising above the side of a valley along the Apache Trail in Arizona, is momentarily suspended above a cactus.I’m not sure how much it comes across in my Travel Spots, but I’m not a great fan of driving. I drive when I must, but see it as a method of getting from A to B. Even on my big road trips, like 2017’s Grand Adventure, my week-long drive from Phoenix to San Francisco via Joshua Tree National Park, Los Angeles and the Californian coast, although I thoroughly enjoyed the drive, I can’t say I enjoyed the driving.

With that in mind, it says something when I actually recommend a drive. One such recommendation is Arizona’s Apache Trail, a steep, twisting road that follows an old stagecoach route through the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, a tortuous drive full of breathtakingly views. Sadly, in the summer of 2019, a massive wildfire, followed that September by floods, caused severe damage to the Apache Trail, forcing the closure of large sections of the road. When it will reopen is not clear.

I’ve driven some/all of the Apache Trail three times, twice on the same trip in January/February 2018 and again when I returned to Arizona the following January. Today’s Travel Spot is all about my first visit to the Apache Trail.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Goodbye to the Grand Canyon

My coffee, in the shape of my Travel Press and Therma Cup, takes in the views from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon near the start of the Trail of Time.Welcome to the final instalment of the latest Travel Spot, looking back to October 2016 and my first visit to the Grand Canyon. I’d started exactly a week before, arriving in Phoenix for the first time for work. Then, at the weekend I drove up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, acclimatising myself with a half-day hike along the Rim Trail to Hermits Rest before spending Sunday on a day-long down-and-back hike into the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail.

On Monday morning, it was time to end my all-too-brief visit to the Grand Canyon. After breakfast at the South Rim, I took an hour and a half’s stroll along the Rim Trail, this time heading east to Yavapai Point, following the Trail of Time. Then it was back to my car for the return drive to Phoenix. Rather than retrace my route, I drove east out of the National Park along Desert View Drive, stopping on multiple occasions to admire the view. From there, I carried on east to Cameron, picking up Route 89 for long drive south to the airport, where I caught my flight back to the UK that evening.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Bright Angel Trail

Descending in the Grand Canyon from the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse along the Bright Angel Trail.Welcome to the third instalment of the latest Travel Spot, which takes us back to October 2016 and my first visit to the Grand Canyon, part of a wider trip which took me to Phoenix for the first time for work. With a spare weekend at the end, and knowing nothing about Phoenix (a city I’ve since come to know very well), I decided to visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. This post covers my day-long hike down into the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, before I retraced my steps back to the rim.

I was staying in Tusayan, a small town just outside the southern edge the Grand Canyon National Park, having driven there from Williams on Saturday morning. That afternoon, I drove into the National Park for my first look at the Grand Canyon. To help get my bearings, and to acclimatise for my main hike on the following day, I took a leisurely 4½ hour, 13 km hike along the Rim Trail to Hermits Rest. Then, on Sunday morning, I drove back to the Grand Canyon to tackle the Bright Angel Trail.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Canyon

Rain over the Grand Canyon, seen looking north from Mohave Point on the Rim Trail, with the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon.Welcome to the second instalment of the latest Travel Spot, which takes us back to 2016 and my first trip to Phoenix. It’s somewhere I’ve since come to know very well but back then, knowing nothing about the city and being short on time, I gave it a miss. Instead, I used my spare weekend for another first: a visit to the Grand Canyon. Or, to be more precise, a visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, which is easily accessible from Phoenix. The North Rim, in contrast, is another three hours’ drive, since you have to get around and over the canyon! Alternatively, you can hike between the two, given a couple of days!

The first instalment of this Travel Spot covered my flight out, my first impressions of Phoenix and the drive to the Grand Canyon, where I arrived on Saturday morning, having split my journey overnight at the town of Williams. The Grand Canyon is somewhere I’d always wanted to visit and, as you will see, even though I only had 48 hours there, I was not disappointed, either with the canyon itself or with the two hikes I managed to get in.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Phoenix and the Grand Canyon

Making coffee with my Travel Press on the flight on the way to Phoenix, October 2016. Grinding by Knock.I made my first visit to Phoenix, a city I’ve since come to know very well, at the end of October, 2016. I’d not long since returned from my first around-the-world trip, travelling west-to-east via Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chicago. As a result, this trip, my last of the year, was rather hastily arranged. A rather concise affair, the whole trip lasted just eight days, in marked contrast to my return to Phoenix a few months later.

I flew in on the Monday, landing late in the evening, then spent the next four days in a meeting. However, I was determined to see something of the area and, knowing nothing about Phoenix itself, I decided that I would skip exploring the city and instead head north to the Grand Canyon, somewhere I’d always wanted to visit. I drove up on the Friday night, spent the weekend there, and then drove back to Phoenix on Monday afternoon to catch the evening flight home.

As usual, I’ve spread this trip over several posts, starting with this one, covering my flight out, my first impressions of Phoenix and the drive to the Grand Canyon, which included an overnight stop in the town of Williams.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part V

The sun, directly behind the lighthouse at Pigeon Point, on the California coast, south of San Francisco.Welcome to the final instalment of The Grand Adventure,  my week-long drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, which I undertook in January 2017. So far, The Grand Adventure has taken me from Phoenix to Los Angeles via the Joshua Tree National Park, followed by a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, with a stop at Hearst Castle and a detour around the Big Sur due to landslips, which got me as far as Santa Cruz on the northern edge of Monterey Bay.

This last post in the series covers my final day, which started with a quick exploration of Santa Cruz and was followed by the last stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, which took me north to San Francisco (where the highway continues north over the Golden State Bridge). However, it was the end of the road for me, as I had to return my hire car in downtown San Francisco. In the middle of a very busy Friday afternoon. Which, I’ll be honest, went about as well as could be expected. It was not, I have to say, my finest bit of planning. Before that though, I had some more coast to explore.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part IV

Enjoying a flat white at the Big Sur bakery, looking out over the mountains of the Santa Lucia Range in January 2017.Welcome to the fourth part of The Grand Adventure, my week-long drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, which I made in January 2017. I went from Phoenix to Joshua Tree National Park, spend a day hiking there, then drove to Los Angeles. After a day in the city, I took the Pacific Coast Highway to San Simeon, where I spent another day, this time visiting Hearst Castle. I had planned to carry on up the coast, through the Big Sur, to Santa Cruz and from there to San Francisco, but winter storms had washed out the road.

This led to a sudden change of plan. Instead of driving through the Big Sur, I doubled back on myself, cutting over the Santa Lucia Mountains on SR 46, before picking up my old friend US 101 for the drive north through the Salinas Valley on the other side of the Santa Lucia range. However, I was determined to see something of the Big Sur, so rather than carry on north to Santa Cruz, I doubled back on myself at Salinas, driving south down the Big Sur as far as I could go before turning around and heading up to Santa Cruz.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Hearst Castle

A view through the "Portal on the Big Sur" at Ragged Point Inn, looking north along the coastline.Welcome to another instalment of The Grand Adventure,  the week-long drive which I took from Phoenix to San Francisco, part of a larger trip to America in January/February 2017. The journey began with a drive from Phoenix to Joshua Tree National Park, followed a day spent hiking in the park. That evening, I drove to Los Angeles in the rain, then spent a day in the city before setting off on the last leg, following the Pacific Coast Highway all the way to San Francisco.

The first part of the drive took me as far as San Simeon, where I’d planned to spend the day visiting Hearst Castle, before carrying on through the Big Sur to Santa Cruz, my last stop before San Francisco. However, California had other plans for me…

Rainstorms had been battering the coast that winter, resulting in a large landslip in the Big Sur which had taken out the Pacific Coast Highway. Unfortunately, I only discovered this when I arrived at San Simeon at the end of my day-long drive from Los Angeles, leading to some hasty rescheduling that evening. The following morning, I’d worked out my new plan and was all set to go.

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