When Harold Christ set out in 1974 to develop the area now known as Gold Canyon, there was no water, enough telephone wiring for one telephone — and lots of open desert and opportunities. Today, the 9 square miles of incorporated area of Pinal County has more than 10,000 people, $1 million homes, a resort, five golf courses and its own ZIP code.
Despite the dramatic growth, it has maintained its pristine views of the Sonoran Desert, Superstition Mountains and Tonto National Forest.
"This was what I always envisioned the West as being," Christ said, referring to Gold Canyon. "It had a John Wayne movie feel."
Residents say the biggest challenge for Gold Canyon is maintaining its rural, desert environment. Gold Canyon was originally going to be called Mesa del Oro to attract people by using the Spanish word for gold and mesa to make it sound close to the city, Christ said.
After he developed the Gold Canyon Resort in 1980, Christ changed the area's name to Gold Canyon to attract more people. The hotel was built to give prospective buyers a place to stay when they were land shopping.
At build-out, the community is expected to have about 20,000 people, which is projected within eight years. The area will always be a small community because it borders state trust land designated for preservation and the Tonto National Forest. Although the area, isn't fully developed, home and land values are escalating. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Christ was selling 3.33-acre lots for $35,000 and was glad to get that much. Today, those same lots are worth $250,000, he said. Lyle Anderson's Superstition Mountain luxury golf community put the Gold Canyon area on the map nationally and internationally. The community features 900 home sites and Jack Nicklaus golf courses within a gated community. Home lots without the homes go from $200,000 to $1.15 million. The average half-acre lot sells for about $450,000.
In less than three years, 18 of the homes that were resold increased in value on average 48 percent, said Tom Popa, vice president of marketing and sales and designated broker.
Last year, the community was the site of the Tradition golf tournament, designated as a major championship on the Senior PGA tour. It was televised in 140 countries. Superstition Mountain also was featured for the Valley's Street of Dreams last year and brought more than 30,000 people out in six weeks to view the homes. The average Gold Canyon home price in 2002 was $198,483, according to Arizona Multiple Listing Service data. Prices in 2002 ranged from $30,000 to $2 million. Gold Canyon home values have raised the bar for Apache Junction homes, said Dale Gorny, agent with Arizona Prime Real Estate in Apache Junction.
"As the freeways get done. Gold Canyon is more attractive than ever," Gorny said. Scottsdale real estate broker Margaret Dixon moved to Gold Canyon eight years ago and commutes to Prudential Arizona Properties at Scottsdale Road and Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard daily. Dixon said the commute takes her between 45 minutes and 75 minutes, but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's nice having the space and I love the lifestyle," she said. "It's a nice location and you can get to a lot of other areas quickly."
Dixon said she is only 30 minutes from Canyon Lake and 40 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. "We used to say it was the best kept secret," she said. "It's not a secret anymore, but people don't realize the lifestyle amenities that are here."
Gold Canyon has one grocery store, gas station, pizza place and video store, which provide the basic necessities.
Jim Worlton and his wife, Linda, moved to Gold Canyon seven years ago from Gilbert because it was growing too quickly. "It's quiet and beautiful," Worlton said. "It's not congested or noisy."
Development of Gold Canyon started slowly because the U.S. 60 didn't extend out that far east until 1991. Although Christ was optimistic, he admits he had some doubts over whether Gold Canyon would flourish. The original homeowners were retirees, but more and more families are flocking to the area. There are two elementary schools in Gold Canyon, which are part of the Apache Junction Unified School District. Pinal County Sheriff's Office enforces the laws. Gold Canyon residents have considered incorporating, but there were mixed emotions and many residents felt they didn't want another layer of government. Mobile homes aren't allowed in the main boundaries of Gold Canyon, but the Gold Canyon Recreational Vehicle Park offers 1,200 RV lots and lies just south of the U.S. 60, which is considered the southern boundary.
The RV park was seen as a way to lure people to Gold Canyon for a try out, in hopes they'd purchase a home. Homes in Gold Canyon are a combination of starter single-family homes, townhouses, horse properties and gated golf homes.
Toll Brothers offers semi-custom homes at Las Colinas, which backs up to the Superstition Mountains.
The homes are priced from the upper $200,000s to about $340,000. "We were looking for our market niche, serving an upscale buyer," said Linda Hanford, Toll Brothers marketing manager. "It's close to amenities but far enough to be away from the city, but the big city is definitely moving toward them."