Pinal and Gila Ramble:
Superior, Globe and the Salt River Canyon
Ellen Jo Roberts
Globe, Arizona is a mere three-hours down the road from home, yet it seems like an alternate universe. An Arizona we could be living in here in the Verde Valley, if the mines were still open and operating. Globe and its neighboring cities, Miami and Superior, are all picturesque historic communities built by copper. There are a couple of roads down into Globe from the north and east. One route is Highway 188 via 87, and one route is 60 via Phoenix. U.S. Route 60, stretching from Virginia to western Arizona, has been gradually bypassed across the country by interstate travel. It is one of my favorite Arizona highways: a small town backbone winding its way through vintage towns and beautifully faded abandon throughout the state. It’s time machine that inspires the imagination.
Highway 60 takes you through Superior, a sun-baked dream at the base of Apache Leap. Located 65 miles east of Phoenix, the historic small town is nestled into wildly scenic granite formations. It’s like a movie set! That’s because it is a movie set! Many motion pictures, including “Eight Legged Freaks” and “U-Turn”, were filmed there along its picturesque vintage streets and dusty sunsets. Superior has the looks naturally that Hollywood always strives for artificially any time the script requires a seedy- offbeat- 20th century- small western town. Heavily Hispanic in population, Superior is all churches and bars, with an occasional artist hipster thrown into the mix. I love Superior as an unspoiled relic of days gone by, not ironic, and not polished. I secretly wish I could move there, and be a part of some bound-to-happen renaissance. But, it seems perhaps not the best place to find a job. The only place usually open on Main Street, other than a handful of antique shops, is the cantina, with cool musty air spilling out onto the sidewalk from its open doors and shady interior.
The Boyce Thompson Arboretum is probably the most well known tourist attraction of the general area. Founded in 1925 and since the 1960s managed by the University of Arizona and Arizona State Parks, the arboretum fills a long cozy canyon with an amazing array of desert botanic specimens. It’s renowned for its Australian forest of eucalyptus varieties. As with all Arizona State Parks, they allow dogs, on leashes, so your canine companion can stroll the park with you. From Superior to Globe is another 25 miles, including a pass through the Queen Creek Tunnel (1952), twisting roads surrounded by amazing rock, “the Top of the World” and then a gradual downhill into Miami. Though they are separate cities, Miami is often intertwined with Globe, and many of the local organizations wear the moniker “Globe-Miami”.
A collection of scenic highways springs forth from the area, providing additional adventure to the north and south. Highway 77 is a low slung 69 mile loop that connects Superior to Globe. Catching up to the Gila River via the Dripping Springs Mountains, and a town called Christmas, 77 is a fun jaunt for motorcycle gangs and car clubs. Passing through the communities of Winkelman and Hayden you can see active mining operations, mountains of tailings, and trains in action carrying ore.
We’ve been to Globe a couple of times in the past year visiting friends who are restoring a 101 year old home there, high on Noftsger Hill. The city is decorated with a great variety of vintage architecture, impossibly steep streets, and fantastic vistas. Founded in 1875 on land known by local Apaches as “Besh Baa Gowah” or “place of metals”, Globe supposedly earned its name from a globular lump of silver mined there. The Arizona Eastern Railway services the area mining operations, as well as shuttles tourists to the nearby Apache Gold Casino via their “Copper Spike” passenger excursion. Globe is the seat of Gila County.
The city’s downtown business district features many surprisingly serious buildings, glowering with Corinthian columns of sober stone. The neighborhoods, comprised mostly of wood frame houses perched high on cascading hillsides, seem somehow familiar and foreign all at once, as if we were in Mexico. Neighbors wave and chat, friendly to strange passers-by. Yard art and improvised construction abounds: dinosaur encrusted fence tops, castle-like viewing decks, eccentric gazebos, coated with brightly colored paint. Since 1985, Globe has had a Historic Home and Building Tour each year. The 2011 tour takes place on the weekend of March 5th and 6th.
Globe High School is notable for several of its past students: Arizona’s first woman governor, Rose Mofford, “Wonder Woman” Lynda Carter, and Anton LaVey, founder of the “Church of Satan”. What this says about Globe’s unusual mix of energies I’m not sure. Noisy trucks, strange noises in the night and beautiful ruins provoke a twinge of fear, like perhaps there is danger here. Globe’s sister city, Miami, seems a bit rougher around the edges, a bit seedier though similarly picturesque in its rural decay.
As the largest city in the area, Globe is a commercial center for Southern Gila County. It’s also a jumping off point for adventures on the Salt River. Up Highways 70/77, through the neighboring San Carlos/White Mountain Apache Reservation, the Salt River Canyon looms, an unsung beauty of giant proportions. Many know the river in its tame, below-the-dam incarnation, famous for subdued tubing trips nearer the sprawl of Phoenix. Others recognize it as that trickle that feeds into Tempe Town Lake.
The real Salt, above the dams and flowing in its natural unfettered state, is a special rarity and part of a dwindling desert family of perennially flowing rivers and streams. The river begins at the White Mountains’ Mount Baldy and en route south it gathers up the Verde, and assorted streams like Carrizo, Cibecue, Canyon, Pinal and Medicine Creeks. The “Salt River Project” is an Arizona utility company that gathers both water and energy from four hydroelectric dams along the Salt River. The National Reclamation Act of 1902 promoted the harnessing of the wild river for ranchers and farmers. Theodore Roosevelt Dam, the first of the dams, was completed in 1911 and created Roosevelt Lake just north of Globe. It was followed to the south by Mormon Flat Dam in 1925 (Canyon Lake), Horse Mesa Dam in 1927 (Apache Lake) and Stewart Mountain Dam in 1930 (Saguaro Lake). Above the Roosevelt Dam the Salt runs how nature intended, wild and jagged through a deep scenic canyon, much of it protected by the Tonto National Forest and the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache Tribes.
Seeing the Salt River Canyon for the first time can take your breath away. It’s several hours from everywhere, a lengthy detour to most, and for this reason, perhaps, seldom seen.
Mike Roseman is a river ranger for the Tonto National Forest out of Globe. “If the Grand Canyon was not in Arizona, the Salt River Canyon would be much more famous,” chuckles Roseman, known as “Rosie” to his pals. Previously a commercial river guide for Salt River Rafting, since 2004 Mr. Roseman has worked with the forest service, leading rafting expeditions on the Salt during the spring months when the water is highest. He emphasizes the importance of the Salt being protected, as one of the last free-flowing rivers of the southwest. “I don’t think a lot of the people in the Valley of the Sun even realize that the Salt is their lifeblood." He continues, “So many things change so fast in Arizona, it’s important to have and protect places like this. What the Salt River’s done for me is it’s a place where you can see Arizona’s soul.”
Mr. Roseman also mentions the importance of the White Mountain Apaches’ interesting and complicated history in the area, “They’re one of the few tribes to hold onto their ancestral lands. They kept their lands and have a living language.” Protecting the river with tribal permit use, the Apache are a significant reason for the river’s pristine wilderness. Its remote location also protects it from excessive use.
The river running season is dependent on seasonal snowfall. Though the ranger loves the high water seasons, of which recently they’ve enjoyed many, he says, “It’s probably good when there’s a drought year. It helps the area recharge.” There are several spots to access the river once Highway 70/77 switchbacks down to its shore. It’s a worthy stop for a camp out, a river excursion, or even just something short and simple like a pleasant picnic along its banks.
Superior, Globe, and the Salt River Canyon make for an epic loop of seldom seen scenic adventure.
Startling in both its remoteness and natural beauty, the region has much important Arizona history, and perhaps a key to its future in commodities both monetary and priceless.
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Ellen Jo Roberts was born during the month of March. She is celebrating 10 years of living in a historic brick home with Bike Daddy Chad, assorted pets, and vintage Volkswagens.
Read more about it at ellenjo.com