Tortilla Flat – An Arizona Legend

Tortilla Flat, Arizona.

Nestled in a small valley at what my father would have called “a wide spot in the road,” Tortilla Flat has a history that is mostly of legend. Tales of settlements go back to the prospectors and Native Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries. Historians, however, tell a different story. Looking at government records, a small settlement established as a freight camp near a small creek in the valley became a stopping point for workers constructing the Roosevelt Dam in 1903. Indeed, there was no road until Pima and Apache workmen completed the road to the dam. That road, now called the Apache Trail winds its way through the Superstition mountains and its legends have many more twists and turns than the road itself.

In what is now the Tonto National Forest, the Tonto Basin is a large valley where the Tonto Creek and its tributaries flow into the Salt River and a collection of dams and associated reservoirs. Before there was a Tortilla Flat, pioneers traversed the Yavapai Trail. With the nearby creek and flat, grassy area, it doesn’t take a great leap to assume that this location in the valley would become an overnight camping spot.

Today, Tortilla Flat boasts a full-time population of 6. According to the town’s website, the town was named by a pioneer in the Tonto Basin, John Cline. A couple of slightly variant stories speak to the naming of the camping spot. My favorite story is that Cline and others, a team of cattle drivers, traveled from the Tonto Basin to Phoenix for supplies. Upon their return, they were stranded by flash flooding there. They consumed all of their supplies while waiting for the water to recede and at the last had only flour remaining from which they made tortillas. From there, the location got its name. Cline, recognized as the person who named the location, was still alive and 95 years old in the late 1940s. Doing the math, he would have made that trip and named the area somewhere between 1867 and 1886.

Eventually the Yavapai Trail became the Apache Trail and, in 1904, the settlement became a stagecoach stop. Today you will find a restaurant, saloon and country store along with a few other attractions. On weekends, between Christmas and Easter, gunfights by reenactors provide historic entertainment. The troop even has a Facebook page here. Our visit here was mid-week, so we didn’t get the opportunity to see the show. The gallery below features images captured on a cool, somewhat rainy day at Tortilla Flat.


More information about Tortilla Flat can be found on their website here. A more detailed history of the area is also available on their site.

John Steiner

7 thoughts on “Tortilla Flat – An Arizona Legend

  1. All my time in and around Arizona, I never saw this town. Population 6? Wow. I hope, if I ever get back out thata-way, I’ll be able to visit. It looks charming.

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