Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Overview
|Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (courtesy, Arizona Office of Tourism)|
The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest cuts a sickle-shaped arc across east-central Arizona's highlands, all of it astride the high-elevation country of the Mogollon Plateau and the White Mountains. This is an Arizona that bears little resemblance to the arid, sun-blasted deserts of southern Arizona. It is characterized by cool temperatures, Douglas-fir and ponderosa-pine forests, green meadows grazed by elk and pronghorn, and small cold streams alive with cutthroat, brown, and rainbow trout.
The forest's western arm, surrounding the towns of Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside, has become popular among Phoenix residents as an escape hatch from summer's baking heat. The farther east you go, the wilder and more remote-feeling the country getsonce you've passed the development around the Sunrise Ski Resort, you'll only find the postcard-perfect alpine village of Greer, some huge high-country ranch spreads, and the crossroads towns of Springerville and Eagar. Turn south onto the Coronado Trail (U.S. 191), and you'll access the Blue Rangethe closest thing this side of Alaska to terra incognita.
Angle for Apache Trout
One of the truly unexpected pleasures of Arizona's White Mountains is the trout fishing. You'll find high-country scenery reminiscent of Colorado or Montana but without all of the crowds. Four rivers (the Black, Blue, White, and Little Colorado) have their headwaters on the slopes of 11,403-foot Mount Baldy. Along the upper parts of these streams and in small lakes you'll find spots where you can drop a line in waters not fished in a year or more. The state is stocking the rare Apache trout in headwaters. In some places, you can catch big fish in small streams, but most of them are in the 9- to 12-inch range. The big draws are the mountain lakes. They hold big fish in spectacular mountain settings. The streams are not big by Western standards but are worthy in their own right. But the big boys are holding in the stillwaters. Big rainbows, big Apache trout.
Enjoy an Arizona Winter
Apache-Sitgreaves, with its high elevation, is one of the few spots in Arizona where you can drink a deep draught of winter. Popular winter activities include snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and ice fishing. Greer and Alpine are the region's cross-country skiing hubs, but this activity is by no means confined to those two areas. Ski rentals are available in Alpine, Forest Lakes Estates, Greer, Springerville, Hannagan Meadow, and the Lakeside-Pinetop area. Although there are few designated snowmobile trails, roads that are inaccessible to other vehicles at this time of year offer many miles of ready-made trails. And Sunrise Ski Area, on Fort Apache Indian Reservation near Pinetop-Lakeside, is a low-key family ski hill with mostly intermediate and beginner trails.
Mountain Bike the White Mountains
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is loaded with fat-tire biking possibilities. Logging roads (some of which are still in use-watch for trucks) crisscross the open ponderosa and aspen forests, and multi-use trails abound. Some of the best runs are in the Alpine Area, where there are 41 miles of breathtaking mountain biking on developed trails, including the high-elevation Terry Flat Loop; the Williams Valley Loops, which meander through large meadows and some of the finest aspen forests in the state; the underused George's Lake Trail; and the Luna Lake Loops, two ponderosa pine-clad loops that offer fantastic opportunities for watching out-of-water wildlife.
Watch the Wildlife
If seeing an osprey hover over a clear mountain lake or hearing a mountain chickadee's cheery song is your idea of a great outdoor experience, then the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is for you. The forest is home to many species of birds and most big-game animals such as antelope, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and turkey, as well as a variety of songbirds, waterfowl, small mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles. There are viewing opportunities throughout the forest for photographers, casual observers, hunters, and anglers. A leisurely drive in the twilight may yield wonderful rewards, as it is during the evening twilight and early morning hours that wildlife within the forest are most active and can be seen most anywhere if you look hard enough. Deer and elk come out to feed in the early morning and evening; watch for them at the forest's edge or in meadows. A lucky wildlife viewer may catch sight of a mountain lion, a black bear, or the newly reintroduced Mexican gray wolf.
Drive the Coronado Trail
The Coronado Trail runs up the spine of the mountains of eastern Arizona, and it's as spectacular and remote-feeling a road trip as you'll find. It follows the path taken by conquistador Francisco Coronado as he traveled north through Arizona and New Mexico in search of the "Seven Cities of Cibola" more than 450 years ago, and literally travels from "palms to pines" in a few breathtaking hours. Near Clifton and Morenci, you pass through the horrifically gouged landscape of the Morenci Mine, the largest copper mine in North America—there's actually an overlook from which to survey an eyesore that stretches from horizon to horizon. But it's what lies beyond the mine that makes this drive worthwhile: You move from desert scrub to pinyon-juniper forest and into subalpine spruce-fir forest, with huge views in the Blue Range and the White Mountains. Beware—you haven't seen a hairpin curve until you've traveled this road, and you'll need four to five hours to drive the 100 miles from Morenci to Springerville.
Disappear into the Blue
The Blue Range Primitive Area remains one of Arizona's untouched and little known jewels. This is a land of rugged mountains, steep canyons, and stark ridges that is at the same time remote and accessible through an extensive trail system. The Mogollon Rim, made famous as the "Tonto Rim" in Zane Grey's books, crosses the area from west to east. This rim, unique both from geological and ecological standpoints, is further enhanced by the spectacular Blue River Canyon and river. There is spruce and fir in the high country, and ponderosa pine, pinyon, and juniper in lower areas. Deer, elk, and other big and small game find food and shelter in the primitive area's more remote reaches. Trail access is fairly good, but prospective visitors are reminded that this is big, rough, generally dry country.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication