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Day Trip: A one-of-a-kind Arizona experience awaits Old West aficionados, travelers at Tortilla Flat

photo of tortilla flat
Pictured above is Katie Ellering, owner of Tortilla Flat, which was founded at the turn of the 20th century that today offers a testament to the Old West as the site of the oldest operating stagecoach town in Arizona. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
Tortilla Flat offers rare glimpse at authentic Old West stagecoach community
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Found northwest of Apache Junction along the Apache Trail is a place known as Tortilla Flat — a historic landmark where visitors to Arizona and those who call the Sonoran Desert home cherish the history of the western frontier during the days of the Old West.

“We are a true part of Arizona history — I think that is a great thing to be a part of,” said Katie Ellering, the self-proclaimed ‘Mayor’ of Tortilla Flat. “The views out here are absolutely unbelievable. It makes us feel special and we know because we are because the visitors from all over the world tell us there is nothing else like it here.”

Founded at the turn of the 20th century, Tortilla Flat offers a testament to the Old West as the site of the oldest operating stagecoach town in Arizona.

Ms. Ellering, who has owned the property since 2018, tells the Arizona Digital Free Press patrons from far and near can experience a one-of-a-kind destination along the Apache Trail at Tortilla Flat as the property features a museum, restaurant & country store, and mercantile gift shop.

“We have had this place now for several years, since September 2018,” Ms. Ellering said, pointing out a few improvements made to the overall grounds and structures of Tortilla Flat. “We have local artists who we have hired as curators of the museum — it is a really wonderful place because both our patrons and staff really care about this place.”

A point of pride for Ms. Ellering is the revitalization of the museum property, which was built to illustrate the original school house that was part of the original stagecoach settlement.

“We have met people from all over the country recalling where their grandfather was out here during the years of operation and you find people have a lot of passion for this place,” she said. “There is a lot of local folklore around this place like stories during the ‘Gold Rush’ years. There is a ton of history here — it really is a part of Arizona history, there is nothing like it in all the world.”

An excerpt from the history of Tortilla Flat:

In the beginning … Tortilla Flat was a small grassy valley in the Superstition Mountains, with a babbling creek running through it. Nature placed the Flat between mountain passes that came to be used by the early Native Americans on their way to and from the central Arizona mountains and the Salt River Valley. The trail their journeys created became known as the Yavapai, or Tonto Trail.

Ms. Ellering explains the site of Tortilla Flat played a pivotal role in the development of Phoenix into the metropolitan community it is known as today.

“They came from all over the world because this was a destination for the railroad,” she said of the very early days of Arizona tourism. “A lot of tourists still come out for the view, for the activities and for the history. This is a very unique place, just like the Old West, as we get people from all walks of life.”

An excerpt from the history of Tortilla Flat:

In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain. An influx of Mexican prospectors poured into the Superstition Mountain region. Don Miguel Peralta was a wealthy landowner and miner from northern Mexico. Reportedly, his expeditions recovered immense quantities of gold from the Superstitions in 1847 and 1848. All but one member of the expedition was killed in a battle with the Apaches at a site commemorated as Massacre Grounds, located at the west end of the mountains.”

Ms. Ellering says the Legend of the Lost Dutchman continues today — and Tortilla Flat stands as a testament to the mysteries and adventure of the Old West.

“The staff here are like family, we have employees who have been here more than 30 years,” she said of the renowned restaurant found on premise. “We want Tortilla Flat to survive another 100 years.”

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