The Apache Gold Casino is a tourist’s mining claim waiting to be found.
You hit the mother lode after an exciting drive up the highway that twists through the Arizona mountains, past mining towns and hiking trails, only an hour-and-a-half scenic drive from Phoenix.
“Go show doe tay,” “Welcome,” Running Water told me as I entered the casino on the San Carlos Apache reservation. (In the photo to the right, Running Water, “Tuxenn,” poses in front of the casino. A local artist created the Indian Brave standing guard.)
Running Water is her real name. White soldiers renamed her family way back when, so she also answers to the name of Cathy Case. Honestly, I prefer Tuksann (“Tuxenn”) which is Running Water in Apache. Amazing—I was at the casino for less than 24 hours after discovering it during my Arizona tour and I was already learning the language!
Hospitality director Michelle Perez gave me a wonderful tour of the resort. There is something here for everyone. They have an equestrian event center called the Pavilion which also serves as a concert hall with big-name bands. (In the photo to the left, Michelle Perez buys me a Coke.)
They have rodeos in the event center too, and, as the tribe works hard to be a leader in the community, the center has served as rainy-day backup for graduation events for area schools. The Pavilion features a new barbeque restaurant, fancy dressing rooms for the performers, and an indoor arena big enough to host the National Western Stock Show.
The Apache Gold Casino and Resort is celebrating its recently completed spa and fitness center. This is not a club with two treadmills. The Apache know how to dream big and build it like they dream it. The center has the latest equipment, with a poolside view. It is a great place to spend some time after dining in the buffet.
There is also an RV park for those who bring their bedroll on wheels. The park has pull-through spots for the big rigs. I’ll bet they could figure out how to accommodate a tent camper if someone asked. They have a huge lot for overflow traffic and buses, so there’s no need to exclude anyone.
Golfers will enjoy the course at 3,200 feet; it was designed to blend into the native desert. There are two 600-yard par-5 holes, and five par-4′s which provide one heck of a challenge. The hills rise up above the course 20 to 50 feet, with pungent sage and mesquite trees dotting the countryside. The par-3 14th hole is a modified Redan hole at the top of a 90-foot ridge. The views are spectacular and the course is a blast!
It is only a five-minute walk from the casino to the golf course, but the tranquility and beauty of the desert strike you, just as the casino clangs with excitement when you enter it. It’s a contrast of two worlds just minutes apart: one, full of excitement as players mine the one-armed bandits, trying to strike it rich; the other full of the beauty of the desert, including rattlesnakes by the way, but quiet, serene, calling to the golfer and hiker who need a place to be still.
Casino Rendering Prior To Construction
You can see vistas of three different mountain ranges while on the property, and it is cool enough in the summer to take it all in. The resort is 10 to 15 degrees cooler than nearby Tucson and Phoenix. The RV Park has satellite TV for those who like to “rough it” and of course, the pool.
Naturally, the casino is the main attraction. They have great promotions. You can stay in one of the spacious rooms in the Best Western next door. They will buy you two drinks and invite you to the buffet. After the freebies the room is about $50, a bargain considering the options of navigating the winding road back to Phoenix or paying even more for a hotel nearby. The Days Inn in the mining town of Globe only five miles away quoted me $72, and that did not include a buffet or free drinks!
When you join the players’ club, also free, the club gives you a crisp $5 bill. Put it in your pocket, frame it and put it on the wall, or try your luck with the one-armed bandits or blackjack. The casino grades you by points. After playing a fair amount of change you earn enough points to trade for a room, food, and even cash.
On December 28-30, 2010 there’s a special event. Players have a chance to enter the professional VIP invitation-only slot tournament. Nine contestants qualify each day to join the pros. Prize money is $10,000, a great way to start the new year! Singer Grey Wolf will be appearing live in concert on December 31st.
You may need permission to land at this strip; call the casino and ask before flying in.
If you are a pilot, there is an airport across the highway. Apache Gold offers aviators a good excuse to file a flight plan to Arizona. (Bring enough fuel for your alternate, though. This facility has no fuel service.) If you get lucky you can get a room looking onto the highway so you can watch the small twins and singles come and go.
The big news on the reservation is a change in leadership. The Apache use a democratic voting system under their own constitution. Rule is by a seven-member tribal council.
There were complaints concerning the past chairman (president) and an open expense account. The new chairman promises to insure more of the money stays on the reservation, Matt Hinton told me. I met Matt as he was working on the grounds equipment. He is a native and thrilled to live on the reservation. He tells me he enjoys the traditional ways, including the Sunrise Dances. (Pictured at right: Matt Hinton (left) and Jerry Salter)
Gamblers who lose a buck in the casino should not feel bad, as profits are used to help run the million-acre reservation. It takes a lot more than a single casino to pay all of the bills, so there is no distribution of big checks to every family. The money is invested in infrastructure instead, like the restaurant in the equestrian center and the new spa facility. Approximately 75% of the employees at Apache Gold are Native Americans. With unemployment running as high as 14% on the reservation, casino jobs provide critical income for people who have suffered from poverty for generations.
“I wish there were more opportuntities on the reservation,” Running Water lamented. Good jobs are hard to come by in these parts and education is always a struggle.
Some Native Americans remain resentful of the horrible actions white soldiers took against them years ago. The Navajo have carefully documented their history with Kit Carson in Canyon De Chelly. A great source for learning about how it was for the Apache can be found in the book Don’t Let the Sun Step Over You: A White Mountain Apache Family Life“. Running Water’s grandmother, who wrote it, recently passed away in her 90′s.
The best parts of Apache Gold Resort are to be discovered, just as it is for many things in life. For example, the sculpture of the Indian brave on the golf course skyline is waiting to be found. He reminded me of what the skyline might have looked like over 100 years ago, when hunting parties could be seen on the horizon. Geronimo was a tough warrior and had a reputation of only being seen when he wanted to be seen.
Another thrill is the mural of the Sunrise Dances which graces the inside of the new restaurant added to the equestrian center. My Guide, Michelle Perez, knew exactly where to look for it. The mural used to be on the walls of the old casino built of a few modular units stuck together in the desert. Slowly but surely, the Apache Nation has grown, but they saved that part of their gaming history.
Native Americans celebrate the Sunrise Dances to celebrate the time in life when a girl comes of age. The dances last an entire weekend and correspond to Mother Earth as she adds leaves to the trees and flowers to the desert landscape. Young people recapitulate the four Apache life objectives of physical strength, good disposition, prosperity, and a sound, healthy, uncrippled old age, according to the Apache Elder web page.
(Pictured at right: fountain in front of Best Western.)
The Apache Gold Casino is a relaxing place to spend time and try your luck. If you make the effort, most of the native Indians will be happy to say, “Go Show Doe Tay.” “Welcome.” Those who have learned the traditional dialect may even be willing to teach you a few words, as Running Water did for me. But don’t expect anyone to say goodbye. To say “I will see you later” is one thing. But to say “Goodbye” in the Apache culture means saying goodbye forever. With the friendly staff at this blossoming resort, it would be a shame not to come back to Apache Gold Casino.