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Published: March 15th 2019
With the weather still overcast, we hooked up and took our leave of Lost Dutchman SP. We were in no hurry, as this would be our shortest camp-move of the trip. It’s only about 12 miles to Tortilla Flats, but what a difference those few miles make.
Nice as it is, Lost Dutchman is like camping in a city park, while up the twisty roads and over the ridges to the Tortilla Campground, it’s practically wilderness. We found a good spot open, with great southern exposure for our solar panel, and we were all set.
The drive in was no problem, I actually enjoyed snaking Moby and Fred around the many curves. The guy we were camped next to said there were 116 curves, to be exact, but we didn’t count. Cathy seems to be getting used to these roads now, there were no yells, she never covered her eyes with her hands, and I only heard that tell-tale “rapid intake of breath” once or twice — real improvement!
The campground is on a fairly gradual canyon-side, just west (walking distance) of the “Tortilla Flats Outpost” a gift shop/bar/restaurant that does tremendous business with day-trippers from Phoenix. The
views there are stunning, surrounded as you are with cliff sides, mesas, and mountains. All this, and pretty good cell service too, with a tower right over us. Four bars on our I-Phones, but of “Extended” 3G service. I’m not sure what that means, but in practice, it seems to mean a strong signal, but slow speeds.
Our one definite goal while here was to boat on Canyon Lake, just about a mile west of our campsite. We had first seen it last year when we camped at LDSP. My interest goes back longer though. A few years ago, when our son Scott was living in Salt Lake City, Cathy and I had flown out to visit him. Our flight out was routed through Phoenix, and as luck would have it, I had a window seat. As we approached the airport, I saw below us a string of lakes I knew nothing about, so I had to do some research on them. These were the lakes of the Salt River System, and as we’d already checked out Roosevelt and Apache, now it was time to see Canyon.
We planned on staying a few days at Tortilla, so we
checked “Weather Underground” to see what would be the best day for boating. It was crazy windy the day we arrived, and later on looked windy too, but tomorrow called for only 6mph from the north — ideal.
So we headed over there in the morning, got the boat down off the truck, rigged up, and were on the water by 10. It was cold, by AZ standards, there had been a light frost on Moby, and with the surrounding mountains blocking the early sun, it was best not to get too early a start. We were bundled up and comfy though as we headed out across the wide part of the lake, the section you could see from the road. It was beautiful, there were high bluffs on the north side, and the sky was cloudless, an intense, dark, cobalt blue.
We headed toward the downstream dam, then turned east, to follow the original Salt River Canyon, for which this lake is named. If we thought (and we did) that the main lake was lovely, we had no idea of what was to come. For mile after mile the canyon twisted and turned, with all manner of
impressive rock formations towering over us. It was breathtaking, after a while, my neck began to hurt from looking up so much. As Cathy pointed out, it was probably even more beautiful than it usually is, as the recent rains meant that everything alive was in bloom, so many flowers everywhere, and the hillsides were quite green.
We pushed on to the very end, right up to the floating boom below the upstream dam, the one that forms Apache Lake, where we boated last week. This meant going past the floating buoys marked “UNMARKED HAZZARDS AHEAD”. We saw a few rocks, but missed them. We did make a little “ground contact” while nosing up into a fast-flowing tributary stream, but we were at minimum speed, so no harm done.
The shores were mostly sheer, and rocky, but on the way in we had spotted a great “shore lunch” spot, so we headed back there. At the bottom of a steep wash, there was maybe 50’ of sandy beach. We pulled up, set up our little camp chairs, sat in the warm sun and took it all in. Earlier, we had seen almost no boats, but now we saw a few go by. We enjoyed our sandwiches and drinks, and just chilled for a while.
I did a bit of a scramble up the rocks above our beach to get my obligatory “Sportboat Shore Lunch” shot. The pitch was steep, but climbable, and I was sorely tempted to go higher, but my traveling partner and wise advisor reminded me from below to not “do anything foolish, we’re a long way from help!”
After a spell, we loaded back up and retraced our steps. We nosed into a few places that caught our attention on the way in. Back at the main lake, we crossed over and went up under the one lane steel truss bridge we crossed on the way in. It led a ways into a very tight and interesting canyon, but we ran out of navigitable water after maybe a quarter mile.
Then we headed over to the marina and slow-putted up and down all the rows of slips, just looking at boats. Understand that we are boat people, and we are starved for this after a long Northern Winter. Mostly we found what you would expect here, though a higher percentage of “actual boats” over houseboats than at Roosevelt. The real surprise was a WOODEN Chris-Craft cruiser — what a long a strange trip from Algonac for that old girl!
Back to the ramp then, and another pack-up. It was very quiet at the camp. Tortilla Outpost wisely closes at 6PM. Sending drinkers home late on that road back to civilization would be a mistake. It was calm enough that we finally made a campfire. We have been lugging a plastic tub full of pine cut-offs from my building project this whole time. Funny to be sitting about a fire made with Amish-cut eastern white pine way out here. The smoke didn’t smell “like victory” but it did smell like home.
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