Tonto National Monument
Exploring Arizona

Tonto National Monument

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Exploring the Tonto National Forest

On our quest to explore the great American Southwest we recently ventured into the Tonto National Forest.   We headed out east on the 60 from Phoenix toward Globe, AZ.    The drive to the Tonto National Monument takes over 2 hours from Phoenix.   The scenery along this drive includes cactus, mesquite, creosote bushes and large rock formations in a vast array of color.  On the way you will see Saguaro Cactus, Prickly Pear Cactus and the trickster of the cactus world the Cholla Cactus also known as the Teddy Bear Cactus (do not try to cuddle it) aka the Jumping Cactus.  Although this cactus looks soft and cuddly don’t let it fool you.  It isn’t called the jumping cactus for anything.  Its sneaky intentions may catch you off-guard as you pass by.

As you begin to drive east near Apache Junction you will see the Superstition Mountains out your left window to the North.  This mountain has been the base for lots of local folklore and treasure hunting over the years.   The Lost Dutchman Mine has been a source of conversation and inspired many explores to seek this infamous lost treasure.  We will be exploring the Superstition Mountains in more detail in future posts.

A change of scenery

As you start the ascent into the hills you will see the terrain changing from flat desert to rocky cactus-filled structures.  It almost reminds you of a scene from the movie “Cars”.  You will soon pass over “Queen Creek”  for which the town far to the southwest was named after.  Off to right, you will see the Boyce Thompson Arboretum just before you reach the town of Superior known best for its role in copper mining.   As you drive east toward Miami (Arizona, not Florida 🙂  )  you will see the large piles and formations from the copper mining operations.

Just passed Miami you will come to an intersection for AZ- 188 / Apache Trail.  We turned left and headed north towards Theodore Rosevelt Lake.  This lake is the largest reservoir within the borders of Arizona.  In 1911, Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the new dam to himself.  This dam created the lake we see today.  Driving past this lake is quite a different experience.  Humans are naturally drawn towards the water so it is odd to see such a large lake with virtually no inhabitants.  The lake is a popular spot for camping and bass fishing.


Make sure to look for the signs for the Tonto National Monument on the left.   This is a spectacular tourist destination.  Especially for those who love learning about local history.  The Tonto National Monument is actually two separate attractions.  Long ago during the 13th, 14th, and early 15th centuries, this area was occupied by the Salado people.  They built two magnificent dwellings in caves in the Tonto Basin.  The Lower Cave is open almost year-round.  (Check their website or call for hours).

Exploring the Caves

The Upper Cave is by reservation only to keep it protected and is much larger than the Lower Cave.   The hike up to the Lower Cave is not long but is fairly steep.  The trail is paved and can accommodate strollers (if you are brave enough ). Once you reach the very top there are steps up into the actual dwelling.  When you reach the top a ranger is there to greet you and is happy to answer any questions you have about the dwellings and the people who lived there.


The view from there is something to see.  The valley, the lake, the desert plants, and wildlife.   Next time you have a few hours to spare and want to explore the vast landscape and history of Arizona we recommend you take a trip to the Tonto National Monument.

For more information visit:

National Park Service

Happy Exploring!

The Bold Canyon Outdoor Crew

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