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Tortilla Flat, Apache Trail - Arizona

Photo by Mike Plagens

The road beyond Tortilla Flat is increasingly steep and narrow. Many choose to stop here and enjoy the old-style tavern and crowds of tourists and Sunday drivers. Sunday, March 8, 2009.

View Larger MapThe blue-wave icon indicates the point where Fish Creek crosses the Apache Trail. Parking is limited at bridge, but more areas to park are available about ½ km east. The Goldfield Mountains, trekker icon at left, rise to the northwest of Apache Juncion. The trekker icon at right indicates Fish Creek described on Page 1.


The drive out Apache Trail to Tortilla Flat is a favorite for residents and frequent visitors to Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona. The scenery is spectacular along the way - vistas of lakes, mountains and succulent desert cacti. Then at Tortilla Flat there is a great stopping point with food and beverage available in the Old West style saloon. This first stretch of Apache Trail is paved in smooth asphalt and is a favorite for bikers and Sunday outings. Two one-lane bridges and a few precipitous drop-offs make for an exciting drive. Beyond Tortilla Flat the road is gravel and in places so narrow that passing often requires one vehicle to pull to the side and stop.

A Tonto National Forest campground located at Tortilla Flat also. It lacks lake-front access and so is less congested than similar campgrounds in the area. Several of the slots can accomodate recreational vehicles.

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Field Trip: March. 14, 2009 - Tortilla Creek

The area around Tortilla Flat can be explored on foot. There footpaths up and down the creek and a 1 km paved, strollable road leads down to the campground. A large evergreen tree across the street from the tavern is an Athel (Tamarix aphylla), a kind of tamarisk and is not native to the Sonoran Desert. Birds, wildflowers and butterflies were in abundance as were tourists.

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Common Birds

Generally in order of abundance:

  1. Verdin --Sp,Su,F,W
  2. Northern Cardinal -- Cardinalis cardinalis -- Sp,Su,F,W
  3. Rock Wren -- Sp,Su,F,W
  4. Canyon Wren -- Sp,Su,F,W
  5. Turkey Vulture -- Sp,Su,F
  6. Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- Regulus calendula -- F,W
  7. Gila Woodpecker -- Sp,Su,F,W
  8. Warbling Vireo -- Sp,Su,F
  9. Phainopepla -- F,W,Sp
  10. Black-throated Sparrow -- Sp,Su,F,W
  11. House Finch -- Sp,Su,F,W
  12. Wilson's Warbler -- Sp,F
  13. Canyon Towhee -- Sp,Su,F,W
  14. Cactus Wren -- Sp,Su,F,W
  15. Ladder-backed Woodpecker -- Sp,Su,F,W
  16. Northern Flicker -- Sp,Su,F,W
  17. Brown-crested Flycatcher -- Myiarchus tyrannulus -- Sp,Su
  18. Gambel's Quail -- Sp,Su,F,W
  19. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher -- Polioptila melanura -- Sp,Su,F,W
  20. Curve-billed Thrasher -- Sp,Su,F,W
  21. Greater Roadrunner -- Geococcyx californianus -- Sp,Su,F,W

Gambel's Quail

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Curve-billed Thrasher

House Finch

Common Shrubs and Trees

  1. Desert Hackberry (Celtis pallida)
  2. Canyon Ragweed (Ambrosia ambrosioides) - mostly along the washes
  3. Wolfberry (Lycium spp.) --
  4. Catclaw Acacia -- Acacia greggii
  5. Wait-a-minute Bush -- Mimosa aculeaticarpa biuncifera
  6. Giant Reed -- Arundo donax
  7. Goodding's Willow -- Salix gooddingii
  8. Velvet Mesquite -- Prosopis velutina
  9. Prickly Pear -- Opuntia engelmannii
  10. Buckhorn Cholla -- Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa
  11. Wright's Buckwheat -- Eriogonum wrightii
  12. Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa)
  13. Foothills Palo Verde -- Parkinsonia microphylla
  14. Triangle-leaf Bursage -- Ambrosia deltoidea
  15. Joint Fir -- Ephedra aspera
  16. Parry Dalea -- Marina parryi
  17. Blue Palo Verde -- Parkinsonia florida - down towards campground
  18. Desert Ironwood -- Olneya tesota - campground area
  19. Huisache;Sweet Acacia -- Acacia farnesiana
  20. Chain-fruit Cholla -- Cylindropuntia fulgida
  21. Trixis -- Trixis californica
  22. Desert Senna -- Senna covesii
  23. Turpentine Bush -- Ericameria laricifolia
  24. Desert Christmas Cactus -- Cylindropuntia leptocaulis
  25. Goldeneye -- Viguiera deltoidea
  26. Engelmann Hedgehog Cactus -- Echinocereus engelmannii
  27. Bigroot -- Marah gilensis
  28. Colubrina -- Colubrina californica
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Photo © by Michael Plagens

Giant Reed is an invasive, exotic weed that becomes established in riparian corridors in the Sonoran Desert. Quite a number of these plants are established along Tortilla Creek.

Butterflies - (observed March 8, 2009)

Funereal Duskywing

Spring Azure

Arizona Powdered Skipper

Snout Butterfly

Common Buckeye

  Southern Dogface
  Two-tailed Swallowtail
  Sara Orangetip
  Leilia Hackberry Butterfly

Early Spring Wildflowers - (observed Mar. 8, 2009)

White Flowers

  1. Spreading Fleabane -- Erigeron divergens
  2. Peppergrass -- Lepidium lasiocarpum
  3. Bigroot -- Marah gilensis
Big Root

Pink/Lavender Flowers

  1. Yellowthroat Gilia -- Gilia flavocincta
  2. Desert Lavender -- Hyptis emoryi
Yellow-throat Gilia

Yellow Flowers

  1. Desert Marigold -- Baileya multiradiata
  2. Goldeneye -- Viguiera deltoidea
  3. Sweet Acacia -- Acacia farnesiana

Orange Flowers

  1. Desert Globe Mallow -- Sphaeralcia ambigua
  2. Orange Fiddleneck -- Amsinckia intermedia
Orange Fiddleneck

Blue/Purple Flowers

  1. Purple Bladderpod -- Lesquerella purpurea
  2. Blue Fiesta Flower -- Pholistoma auritum
  3. Blue Dicks -- Dichelostemma capitatum
  4. Lupine -- Lupinus sparsiflorus
  5. Parry Dalea -- Marina parryi
Purple Bladderpod

Greenish Flowers

  1. Triangle-leaf Bursage -- Ambrosia deltoidea
  2. Canyon Ragweed -- Ambrosia ambrosioides

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