Arizona Guided Tours – An Apache Trail Experience

Steve Gerhart of Arizona Scenic Tours

Personalized, small group, guided tours of Arizona are the only way to go. If you find yourself in the Phoenix area, perhaps for a conference in Scottsdale, or an event at Glendale’s Westgate City Center, you can use your free time, whether a half day or a full day,  to explore Arizona via guided tour.

I recently did just that with Arizona Scenic Tours. Arizona Scenic Tours serves the entire valley with day trips, city tours and multiple-day tours. I chose a day trip along the Apache Trail just east of Phoenix because I had never ventured farther than a short hike in a Superstition Mountain Park. I was in the mood to explore and this trip fit my needs perfectly.

Although Steve Gerhart, the owner-operator, is very flexible and will design a tour just for you, I opted to take his standard Apache Trail day trip which includes the Dolly Steamboat cruise on Canyon Lake. Steve picked me up at Westgate and then we were off, in his comfortable van, to pick up a couple from Canada at a Scottsdale resort. There were to be just three of us that day although the van comfortably holds 5 passengers.

Off to Explore the Desert
By 9am we had collected the Canadian couple who were very excited about getting out in the Arizona desert. They had over-dosed on the Scottsdale shopping scene and were ready for a change. Within minutes, we were out in the Saguaro-studded desert, heading for the Apache Trail. Steve pointed out the different types of cacti and we learned about the mountains surrounding Phoenix. We were headed straight for the beautiful Superstition Mountains.

We turned up a smaller road and felt even closer to the cacti and the desert landscape. As one of the guests described how the desert reminded him of the Roadrunner cartoons of his youth, we agreed and looked out to see a real roadrunner zip across the road!

First Stop – Goldfield Ghost Town
Goldfield, 4.5 miles north of Apache Junction, on Highway 88, isn’t a real ghost town, but it is chock full of mining history, replicaGoldfield Ghost Town, Arizona buildings and fun. You can tour a real mine, wander through the quaint town, visit the saloon or shop for Arizona souvenirs.

I thoroughly enjoyed photographing the historic cars, rusty mining equipment and visiting the little church. We spent as much time as we wanted there. Steve offered us water and soft drinks from the cooler as we headed for our next destination.

The Apache Trail
The Apache Trail, or AZ 88, is a historic wagon road linking Apache Junction with Globe. You’ll ride, along winding roads, through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. If you do the entire route, you’ll be traveling 40 miles of steep, winding and mostly unpaved road.  If guests request, Steve will drive the entire scenic route.

Our day tour took us on the paved part of this beautiful road, across one-way bridges to Canyon Lake, which is one of four lakes formed after damming of the Salt River.

Dolly Steamboat Dock on Canyon Lake, Arizona

Dolly Steamboat Dock on Canyon Lake

We arrived at the lake and the Dolly Steamboat dock just shortly before the 12 noon nature cruise was to begin. We boarded, chose a table on the upper deck and got our cameras ready for the trip. As we headed out on the lake I realized that we were in for a real treat. Canyon Lake is an amazing place right in the middle of the Superstition Mountains. The lake is bound by 28 miles of cactus-studded shoreline with small water-filled rocky canyons to explore.

It was a beautiful cruise. Cumulous-nimbus clouds were building, hawks and vultures were circling, and the boat took us close to the massive canyon walls to look at embedded petrified wood.  Sometimes you’ll see big-horned sheep or javelina from the decks of the boat. I was happy with seeing and photographing the glorious scenery. In general, the cruise was relaxing.

Wild West Lunch
When the hour and a half cruise ended we were ready for lunch. It was only 15 minutes down the road at Tortilla Flat. Tortilla

Women's Room Art at Tortilla Flat, Arizona

Women's Room Art at Tortilla Flat

Flat is a fun little wild west town with scenic restaurant, gift shop and ice cream store. We lingered over enchiladas and salads, had fun taking photos of the wild west murals in the restrooms and the amazing decor in the restaurant (this defies explanation).

Superstition Mountain Museum
Again, we had an unrushed experience and headed back down the Apache Trail. Our next stop was the Superstition Mountain Museum. We had been hearing about the Lost Dutchman Mine and now we had the opportunity to find out more and see some of the belongings of the Dutchman, Jacob Waltz. Legend has it that Jacob Waltz has buried some of his gold out there in the Superstition Mountains. There are still people, to this day, who search for the treasure.

We enjoyed the little museum and walked the grounds to take pictures of the old church, now dubbed the  “Elvis Presley Memorial Church,” the barn and stage coach. Between the Goldfield Ghost Town, Tortilla Flat and the Superstition Mountain Museum, we all got a good sense of what the wild west was like in this area and took plenty of pictures as souvenirs of the trip.

Elvis Memorial Church at the Superstition Mountain Museum

Elvis Memorial Church at the Superstition Mountain Museum

It wasn’t long and we were back in Scottsdale. Even the drive in to town was scenic and it certainly was nice not to have to worry about traffic, schedules or driving.

Arizona Scenic Tours- Personalized Service
After taking this marvelous journey into the Superstition Mountains, I came away with an appreciation of how nice it is to have a knowledgeable guide, who organizes the trip and then does the driving in a comfortable van, with just a few other guests.

Steve moved to Arizona in 1982, and has been traveling around the state ever since. Formerly working in the corporate world, Steve balanced his life with day trips to all sorts of Arizona destinations –  Bisbee, Sedona, Prescott and all of the well-known places, plus some of the more obscure less traveled places like Walnut Canyon, Blue Ridge Reservoir, Wine Country, Wickenburg and the apple orchards north of there, the Walnut groves south of Tucson…. etc. Many of the “out of the way” places were discovered while on biking tours. Steve took his travel hobby and turned it in to a successful business two years ago.

I have taken bus tours, van tours and limo tours. Arizona Scenic Tours rates very high among my tour experiences. What many other tour operators cannot offer is Steve’s degree of flexibility. When you make your reservation, he will explore with you exactly what you would like to do on your trip. Once he knows that, he will custom design the trip for you.

Steve Gerhart, Arizona Scenic Tours

Steve Gerhart, Arizona Scenic Tours

Steve is also flexible in how he works with guests during the trip. He will tell you as much or as little as you wish to know. There is no canned narration. If you want to spend a little more time in an area, or make a few photo stops, that can be arranged.

Flexibility also extends to pricing and tour size. The trip I enjoyed is usually priced at $135. But if there are more guests, the price may decrease per person, for example. Arizona Scenic Tours can handle larger groups as well. My recommendation is that you just call or e-mail Steve and work with him. He usually can arrange something to meet a customer’s needs.

Bottom Line
Steve Gerhart and his tour company are highly professional, customer oriented and, as I mentioned, flexible. I certainly would travel with them again.

More Information
Arizona Scenic Tours

Photo Credit: Elizabeth R. Rose

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