Hometown Tourist

Hometown Tourist—Explore Apache Junction!

The Annual Arizona Renaissance Festival and Artisan Marketplace serves up family fun each February and March just outside of Apache Junction. Photo courtesy of Arizona Renaissance Festival.

The Annual Arizona Renaissance Festival and Artisan Marketplace serves up family fun each February and March just outside of Apache Junction. Photo courtesy of Arizona Renaissance Festival.

At the juncture of the Apache Trail and US 60 lies Apache Junction—“AJ” to locals. While most of it spills over into Pinal County, here are four good reasons to trek cross-county and check out this Old West outpost.

It’s where the West was fun—and where Elvis left the building.

Recognize the peaks towering—inaccurately—over Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral? That’s because the Superstitions were once slated to become the “Western Movie Capital of the World”! Apacheland Studios was imagined in the mid-1950s as an alternative to already-bustling Phoenix, where horns and air traffic interrupted filmmaking. In the 1960s and 70s, Apacheland hosted icons Audie Murphy, Lorne Greene—and even Elvis. The chapel constructed for his 1969 film Charro! survived two fires to be reconstructed on the grounds of the Superstition Mountain Museum, where it can be seen today.

It’s the (alleged) site of fortunes untold

The stories go back more than a hundred years, and with varying degrees of embellishment have one theme: a German prospector, Jacob Waltz, claimed to have discovered a rich ore vein in the Superstitions. Whatever he knew about the mine died with him and the story all faded from memory until the 1930s, when a fortune hunter searching for the riches turned up with two bullets in his head. Other mysterious disappearances followed and the elusive mine developed a reputation for being cursed. If you want to try your hand at finding it, the Internet is full of legends. If you just enjoy a good hike, find the real treasure of the Superstitions—its natural beauty—by visiting Lost Dutchman State Park.

It’s a great place for time travel

Huzzah! It’s always the 16th century in Apache Junction from February through March, where you can feast like Henry VIII, take in a joust and marvel at dragons…all from the comfort of Arizona’s own Renaissance Festival. The festival, which calls neighboring Gold Canyon home, boasts an artisan marketplace, a variety of shows from hard-core historical to pure whimsy, and games for the whole family. If a turkey leg and an afternoon of m’ladying isn’t your thing, head to Goldfield for a quasi-authentic ghost town experience. Goldfield’s mining boom dwindled as quickly as it peaked, but—rebuilt by a ghost town aficionado—it rose from the rubble almost a hundred years later. Now you can watch gunfights, tour the mine, ride the narrow gauge railroad and pan for gold.

If you like your adventure with a side of history—and mystery—Apache Junction is your town.

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