Back with part 3…with the content I promised in part 2…
So highway 60, a.k.a. The Superstition Freeway, takes a 45 degree turn to the southeast upon leaving Apache Junction. There is a big freeway topology issue at this point in the road…
…it stops being a freeway.
Civilization at times also seems to stop here as well. There are two major things of note in this particular stretch of highway. The speed limit drops from 65 to 55 mph. Also, there are traffic lights. Now don’t get me wrong, these lights are using an on-demand trigger system. This means about 90% of the time, you can just keep going. But in this stretch, you see about four potential signs of life along the highway (including the Gold Canyon fire department, a Jack in the Box, a McDonald’s in a convenience store, and an urgent care clinic). Ok, so I exaggerate a little bit. You talk to long time residents and they say this corridor in the east valley is prime for a population explosion. I guess besides the goal of beating the Dallas Cowboys when their coach DOESN’T mess up, the valley has a goal to beat the Dallas population, by which I mean the metroplex. Yes, you, too, Fort Worth, Arlington, Irving, Mesquite, and Weatherford.
So yes, basically if you understand how it is to be in Dallas, Phoenix is practically the same.
I guess if Phoenix sent that 10% over to Dallas, they may actually get regular rain in the summer? Oh wait, that’s why it’s good to be in the desert. Monsoon season means rain in the summer.
After you pass by the Queen Valley 55+ community, it’s finally all desert at this point. The speed limit is back to 65 mph. You go over one set of railroad tracks with no crossing gate. You also go over an overpass at the turnoff for Florence.
Oh, and all this stretch of road? 30 minutes to drive at legal speeds and all green lights. Ugh. (Oh wait, I’m having a part 2 flashback!!!)
So now the highway starts to turn back to the east. Instead of traveling by the mountains, you now start to enter the mountains. You also enter Tonto National Desert…um, oops, I mean Forest.
But wait, come and see it for yourself!
Tonto National Forest, at least in this area, is all scrub brush and cactus. Even if you take in to account that cactus plants are technically classified as trees, there’s no canopy created…the thing that makes most people say forest. Bless the infinite wisdom of our federal government!!!
Oh, but you go far enough north, let’s say, to Payson…you might see a site like this…
After entering this protected area, you really start to climb in elevation.
From where we started this trek in Apache Junction (1722 feet), to Gonzales Pass, back down to Superior (2888 feet). I can’t find an elevation for Gonzales Pass right now, but 400 feet above Superior is a conservative estimate. So you travel at least 1500 vertical feet up to get to the pass. The pass itself is unremarkable, except for the abundance of saguaro cactus you will see.
As you pass by Picketpost Mountain, a very distinctive formation, you come across the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. Tara and I went there the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a huge park with many different arid and semi-arid types of plants not only from this area of the world, but also from a similarly arid area on the other side of the world…the Australian Outback! We will definitely be going back to explore further. We didn’t even cover a third of the park during our one visit.
By the time you have come upon the arboretum, highway 60 is just a “shell of its former self”. Gone is the divided highway. Say hello to a two lane road. From this point, it’s only another couple of miles or so in to Superior. There are a number of things about old town Superior, including helicopter tours, but it can count as one of those stops in the middle of nowhere. It’s not the World’s Biggest Ball of Earwax or the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine. It is the World’s Smallest Museum containing “artifacts of ordinary life”.
What’s in store in part four?!? Devil’s Canyon and Top Of The World!