Apache Trail History

The fascinating history of the Apache Trail west of Phoenix, Arizona will leave you mesmerized.

The Apache Trail: THE Lifeline of the Arizona Desert!

Little did mankind know the impact of an ancient migratory route through the Superstition Mountains used by the Salado Indians in 900AD.  The conception of the Apache Trail resulted in the birth, growth and development of what would become Phoenix, the 5th largest city in the United States today.

During the late 1800s, when farmers began settling in the townsite of Phoenix, the farmers utilized the prehistoric Hohokam canal system to transport water to their crops from the Salt River.  They soon realized that the inconsistent rainfall and irregular water flow from the Salt River would not ensure adequate water would reach their crop from year to year.  The discouraged farmers united and petitioned Congress for aid in constructing a dam on the Salt River to help regulate and guarantee a consistent flow of water so desperately needed to survive in the harsh and arid Arizona desert.  

In the early 1900s, manifest destiny prevailed with the U.S. Government encouraging settlement of the west.  President Theodore Roosevelt signed the National Reclamation Act in 1902 which would provide federal loans for construction of massive dams in the western United States.

Local Valley farmers pledged their land as collateral for these loans, and made plans to construct a dam at the juncture of the Salt River and Tonto Creek.  Before any work could begin at the dam site, an access roadway would need to be built.

The Apache Trail began its humble beginning as the wagon-haul road for the transportation of men, equipment, and supplies from the townsite of Mesa to the proposed construction site of the Tonto Dam.  

Construction of this 62 mile haul road began in August of 1903.  The announcement of the building of the Apache Trail and the Tonto Dam brought in approximately 1500 Apache and 400 Pima Indian laborers seeking employment.  The Apache’s brought their family members with them.  As they completed each section of the new roadway, they would construct their homes (wickiups) mile by mile.  The building of the Apache Trail was finally completed in September 1905 and construction of the Tonto Dam ensued.

Louis C. Hill was hired as the supervising engineer for the construction of the Tonto Dam.  Initially, the main purpose of the Dam was to control and regulate the water flow to the Valley.  As time progressed, Hill suggested the addition of hydroelectric generators to produce power and electricity.  Although this inclusion increased construction costs by several million dollars, he stood behind his belief that the sale of power to Arizona would be the ideal source of income to repay the cost of building the Dam.  Hill was correct.  Not only was the payoff completed in record time, a transmission power line to Phoenix via Mesa began delivering power to about 6 customers in 1909.

After completion of the Tonto Dam in February 1911, the Dam was renamed and dedicated to President Roosevelt.  It then became known as Roosevelt Dam.  Approximately 1600 people and a contingent of 30 Apache Indian laborers watched as Roosevelt pressed a button releasing the reservoir waters for the very first time. Some of the first water spilled was saved in a glass bottle.  In June 1915, an Arizona delegation including Governor George Hunt and 13 year old Esther Ross from Prescott, carried the glass bottle to the Brooklyn Naval Yard in New York.  The bottle was wrapped in a copper wire mesh provided by 2 of the local mining companies in Arizona, and was then used to christen the USS Arizona, United States’ most powerful battleship.  This bottle of water collected from Roosevelt Dam represented liquid gold for the State of Arizona.  Water was and will always be, sustenance for a land of promise and opportunity – Arizona.

As we look back on Arizona’s history, this meager footpath used by the ancient Salado Indian tribe laid the groundwork in the development of Arizona while the Dam set the cornerstone for supplying the life sustaining water and power to the city rising up from the desert floor.  This is OUR LIFELINE in the Desert!  

Roosevelt Dam still supplies much needed water and power to millions of full-time residents who now reside in the metropolis of Phoenix and its suburbs. Tourists from all over the world continue to flock to the area to gaze upon Roosevelt Dam and to experience the breathtaking beauty which abounds en-route along the Apache Trail.  

Both Roosevelt Dam and the Apache Trail played a monumental role in transforming a dry and hostile desert into the lush and prosperous land it is today.  While Roosevelt Dam maintains its distinctive roles of supplying water and power to Central Arizona, the Apache Trail is deteriorating daily after being closed following the flood damage caused in 2019 by Tropical Storm Lorena.  If not repaired and reopened, the Apache Trail will vanish as did our ancient Indian tribes and we will forever lose that valuable part of our Arizona history. 

Please send our letter to the Governor to repair and reopen Apache Trail.

Request to reopen State Route 88 and keep it in the Arizona State Route System.

Let it be known that we, the taxpayers and visitants of Arizona, are troubled about the current status of State Route 88 Apache Trail and wish to express our strong support for repairing and reopening the road to motorized traffic.

The Apache Trail State Route 88 is an indispensable State Route to the encompassing communities rendering valley residents access to an excess of recreation opportunities, including scenic driving, hiking, fishing, kayaking, watersports, and a chance to enjoy one of Arizona’s desolate wilderness areas. Aside from the recreation opportunities, there are hundreds of documented historical events along its Route. From the bloody Apache Wars to world-renowned Lost Dutchman Gold, Arizona State Route 88 is a gateway to experience the mysterious history of the Superstition Mountains.

The Apache Trail is part of U.S. History, and We, The People of Arizona, have a vested interest in State Route 88. It allowed the construction of the first water project under the Bureau of Reclamation, which enabled the settlement of Phoenix. We have paid for maintenance on the road since its construction in 1904. Today, over 115 years later, Arizona State Route 88 is designated as an Arizona Historic Scenic Highway.

Whereas the 2017 Low-Volume State Route Study by the Arizona Department of Transportation suggests the state does not consider Arizona State Route 88 part of the State Route system and recommends forfeiture of the road to “other entities,” including agencies of the federal government. Moreover, the 2017 Low-Volume State Route Study suggests lowering maintenance requirements, paving the road, installing dynamic speed signs, and other improvements that are not realistic after the 2019 Woodbury wildfire, and;

Whereas on August 30, 1954, the 83rd U.S. Congress approved Public Law 83.708 asserting, “the United States of America hereby quitclaims to the State of Arizona all its right, title, and interest in and to all that portion of the land lying within the right-of-way of the State highway designated on the plat of Victory Tract as the Apache Trail, said plat being recorded in the office of the county recorder of Maricopa County in book 31 of maps, page 6 thereof,” and;

Whereas the rockfall on Arizona State Route 88, a large metal gate, and No Trespassing signs have hindered valley residents from reasonably accessing the surrounding public lands for almost three years and have isolated a substantial amount of recreation opportunities. As a result, The People can no longer experience the most beautiful part of Arizona State Route 88, and;

Whereas Maricopa County Sherriff Deputies cannot promptly access Apache Lake Marina and the easternmost corner of their jurisdiction, coincidentally increasing response times for search and rescue efforts, and;

Whereas local businesses have suffered financially from the closure of State Route 88 and economic impact can be felt by surrounding cities and towns, and;

Whereas the Arizona Department of Transportation has made no effort to repair Fish Creek Hill and has stalled for almost three years, although $700,000 was approved by the legislature to start vegetation studies.

Therefore, I, %first_name% %last_name%, respectfully request Doug Ducey, governor of Arizona, Randy Everett, Director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, and the Arizona State Transportation Board consider the following:

  1. Utilize funding appropriated by SB1820 to start the necessary studies to reopen the closed 7-mile section of State Route 88.

  2. Clear the rockfall on Arizona State Route 88, designate the Fish Creek Hill portion as a “low maintenance” dirt road, and restore through motorized travel.

  3. Maintain the 7-mile dirt portion of State Route 88 at Fish Creek Hill until vegetation can regrow and ADOT can complete the studies funded by SB1820.

  4. Refrain from forfeiting to “other jurisdictions” the RS 2477 Rights Of Way to Arizona State Route 88 as mentioned in the 2017 Low Volume State Route Study.

  5. Assert the state Revised Statute 2477 right of way granted by historical law and governed by ARS 37-931 still valid under sections 701(a), 701(h), and 509(a) of the Federal Land Policy Management Act.

  6. Consider lowering the maintenance standards, acquiring grants and county road bonds, and partnering with cities and towns for future maintenance of Arizona State Route 88.

  7. The Arizona Department of Transportation keeps the public updated, including on social media, on progress on State Route 88, including all documents, determinations, and studies.

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This message was sent from an individual via a Call To Action on the SaveApacheTrail.com website. You may visit the page Here

976 Messages Sent

976 Gidget Navarro Tempe Our family lived driving Rt. 88 Historic Apache Trail
975 Andre Gib Mesa Preserve our history
974 PEDER THYGESEN MARICOPA Thank you for your consideration!
973 Robert Lincoln Sun City
972 Janalee Hauptman Peoria
971 John Murphy Buckeye Please do what it takes to reopen
970 Kristen Pedersen Scottsdale
969 Randy Olson Mesa