Echoes from the Road

Scott August's journal from the road
while on tour through the Southwest.

Arizona, March 2004
Phoenix, Prescott and Flagstaff

Day 1. Tonto Nat'l Monument.
While in Arizona for my appearances at Casa Grande and the Smoki Museum I decided to take some time to explore some of the places I hadn't visited yet. I arrived a day early with plans to drive east of Phoenix, up the Apache Trail to see the cliff dwelling at Tonto Nat'l Monument in the Superstition Mountains.

Arizona was experiencing record high temperatures for that time of year, with highs in the uppers 90s and so the day dawned clear and warm.

The area east of Phoenix has some of the fastest growing towns in the country but soon we were off the main highway and on to a small two-lane road. Quickly we left the city behind. The desert was just beginning to bloom and the Saguaros, Ocotillos and all the other plants of the desert were a deep green. The road began to climb and twist through the mountains and soon we came to the first of three reservoirs, or human-made lakes, along the Apache Trail, Canyon Lake. The water was a deep, dark blue and was like a turquoise jewel set in the browns and greens of the Superstition Mountains.

We left Canyon Lake behind and the road became even more windy and twisting and soon, as we had been warned, the pavement stopped and the road became dirt! Higher and higher we drove. One moment we were at the bottom of a narrow canyon, the next clinging to the side of a cliff. The vistas were incredible. In every direction were tall mountain peaks that had been sculpted by time and weather. Between these were deep narrow canyons, whose bottoms disappeared from our view. The road, although well graded, was still rough and it was with pleasure that we arrived at the second of the three lakes, Apache Lake. We stopped and took a welcome rest, enjoying the fresh air and perfect quiet of the day. Suddenly we heard the cries of Ravens pierce the air and in the distance a group of four ravens were playing on the breeze over the lake. As I was telling Tracy about how on several occasions I had seen pairs of raven playing together, one even flipping upside down beneath the other and grabbing each others claws, when suddenly, two of the ravens over the lake flew right by us and, as if on cue, one flipped upside down beneath the other and they joined claws, with wings pulled in, falling to the earth until at the last moment, they released their grip and took flight again.

From that point the road became much rougher as it wound it's way down into a tight canyon along side a river. The car shook violently as the road became more and more tortured. Just as we thought we had reached our limits of endurance the pavement started again and we were suddenly at the base of a huge dam: Roosevelt Dam, behind which lies Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Roosevelt Lake the largest of the three lakes along the Apache Trail, lies in the Tonto basin which was the home of the ancient Salado culture. The Salado made some of the most beautiful polychrome pottery during prehistoric times and were the builders of the Tonto cliff dwellings, which lay a few miles beyond the dam.

The cliff houses lie high above the basin, tucked into limestone cliffs, overlooking the lake and surrounded by a forest of Saguaro and Ocotillos. During our visit only the lower dwelling was open to visitors, so we made the short, steep climb up the trail, and at the top the lower ruin was waiting for us. Set deep into the cave, the rooms stood,silently looking out over the lake and the rest of the Tonto Basin. There were T-shaped doorways, eroded walls of Caliche with roof beams exposed, tight narrow hallways and a dark, cave covered plaza area. All around were signs of the people that had once lived in the pueblo. In the plaza area there are holes where the occupants had pounded into the rock floor as they ground nuts and seeds. The ceiling of the cave was covered with the soot of ancient fires and in the Caliche plaster on the walls, the finger prints from the hands that built them were still visible. As we explored the ruins we couldn't help but wonder about the people that had once lived there. It was a beautiful experience and we didn't want to leave, but time was running out and we needed to get back to Phoenix.

Day 2

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