Nestled amid the Tonto National Forest in the Superstition Range is an old western town, Tortilla Flat. Established in 1904, Tortilla Flat was the freight stop for all the supplies transported to and from the Roosevelt Dam. The town is only 18 miles northeast of Apache Junction and is a must-see destination for anyone interested in history or visiting the area.
“You have to drive through beautiful scenic views with twists and turns to get to us. So, part of the lure of Tortilla Flat is not just the destination, but the journey to get there,” said Katie Ellering, owner and self-appointed mayor of Tortilla Flat.
The rich history of the area is the lure of this tiny town. Visitors are transported into the past as they walk down the wooden boardwalk that runs through the center of the town. In the 1920s there were over 120 people living there after the dam was completed. At the time the area had a zoo and a schoolhouse for the residents and even a U.S. Post Office established in 1927 that is still in operation. Today, with a population of only six people, it is hard to believe that during the high season there are over 20,000 people visiting the town every month.
The western town has a mercantile with unique gifts and souvenirs. It features incredible artwork done by local artists. In their country store they have ice cream, homemade fudge their world-famous prickly pear, gelato and all kinds of fun old-timey candies and sodas. They also have a full-service restaurant, the Superstition Saloon. Ellering and her husband are foodies and have made it their mission to make sure they are delivering quality options for their visitors.
“We've had a chili recipe for over 80 years that is world famous. People love our chili so much that we sell the spice pack mix in the country store and I mail it out on a weekly basis. I get emails and calls where people tell me they need their chili fix especially when the weather gets cooler,” said Ellering.
They have live music, food and drinks seven days a week from Christmas until it gets too warm on the barbecue patio that operates on a first come first serve basis that they don’t close during regular hours for private events because so many of the regulars depend on it.
Tortilla Flat is a great hub for Arizona adventurers. The town has access to resources to explore the beautiful nature surrounding it.
“We also sell the day passes for Tonto National Park, in our country store, and in our mercantile. So, it's eight dollars for a day pass and you need the pass if you are in any of the labeled recreation sites,” said Ellering.
The area is extremely popular for people of all ages with the lure of history and all the outdoor activities like hiking, boating and fishing. If a visitor wants to spend the night, they can book the Tortilla Flat campground which is not affiliated with the historic site but is located across the street. Alternatively, there are various lodging accommodations in Apache Junction, just 35 miles away from the town.
Right now, Ellering is supporting the Save the Apache Trail efforts. Due to the fifth largest wildfire in Arizona history (which burned over 120,000 acres of wilderness) and the remains of tropical storm Lorena in 2019, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) closed a portion of the historic Apache Trail—which is home to a ton of recreational activities such as scenic driving, hiking, fishing, water activities and more. Currently, about 18 inches of topsoil are missing from the road surface and sections of the road are starting to collapse. Without immediate attention, the historic Apache Trail is in danger of sustaining more significant damage that could cost millions more to repair.
The Arizona Legislature passed SB 1820 this year, approving $700,000 for studies. ADOT claims that they must wait to complete soil studies before any work can begin. However, quick action is needed to make repairs for a better chance of restoring this land.
If you would like to get involved, sign the Save the Apache Trail petition here: saveapachetrail.com/#cta.
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