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Apache Trail: One of the most scenic, but treacherous roads in Arizona

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TORTILLA FLAT, Ariz. - Named after the Native Americans who originally used this trail to move through the Superstition Mountains, the Apache Trail, or Arizona State Route 88, winds through the Tonto National Forest northeast of the greater Phoenix area.

There are several tourist attractions along the way, like the Lost Dutchman State Park, the historic Goldfield Gold Mine and a one-time stop for thirsty horses, Tortilla Flat, now a ghost town restaurant and mercantile.

But the highway attracts more than tourists these days, especially after sunset -- like a scene out of a movie, some drivers use the winding treacherous stretch of highway to test their cars and their nerves as they illegally speed through Apache Trail.

It's more like a trail than a highway.  Roughly 40 miles of steep, winding roads through rugged mountains, deep ravines and over one lane bridges.

From Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake northeast of the valley, State Route 88, better known as the Apache Trail, is one of the most scenic, but treacherous roads in Arizona.

One graduate college student was killed, another injured last March on this very highway when their car plunged more than 200 feet into a ravine.

The trail is paved to a 0.5 miles past Tortilla Flat.  The rest is dirt, but it's still dangerous enough that the speed limit is just 15 to 25 miles per hour.

Just imagine it at 60 or 70 miles per hour -- in the dark.

"The speed limit is usually 15.. 20 to 30 miles per hour throughout the road and I estimate them going 50 to 60.. 70 miles per hour," said a witness. 

We talked to a woman who lives in the area.

"Quite desolate out here."

Fearing for her safety, she didn't want us to reveal her identity.

"I've seen people racing down the roads."

Because of what she's seen here after dark, after the parks and restaurants close, cars and sometimes motorcycles travel dangerously fast through this unlit, two lane cliff side highway.

"No, it's not safe at all.  They're jeopardizing their own lives and others as well."

We pulled into Tortilla Flat before sunset, then set up our cameras and waited.  It didn't take long for the first cars to come by.

They quickly accelerated up the curve just beyond the restaurant and then disappeared from sight.  Three cars rolled by in the first group, three more followed by more cars, a truck and two motorcycles.

People who live here call the Department of Public Safety or sheriff's deputies when they see these cars racing along.

"Cell phone service about two years ago."

But there's only so much authorities can do.

"I've told them the situation and they do the best as they can to monitor this area."

As you can see during the day, this is a narrow two lane road.  Bridges are wide enough for only one car at a time.  There aren't any places to pull over.  Off camera, authorities say there are not many places for them to set up a speed enforcement zone and virtually nowhere to pull over a suspected speeder.

"The road is very curvy, but the road itself is not dangerous, it's the people who drive it."

For those who plan on a sightseeing drive, the Apache Trail is not recommended for large motor homes.  The biggest RV rental company in America doesn't even allow its vehicles to be driven there. 

But the highway is safe if you don't speed and the scenery is spectacular.
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