EASTERN ARIZONA

HIGHLIGHTS

  • La Posada in Winslow wasn't just a hotel, but a re-creation of a grand hacienda. When movie stars and others arrived after the 1930 opening, they felt as if they were guests of an 18th-century Spanish don. Today you can experience the same effect on a stroll through the arched passageways, ballroom, gardens, and other public areas.

  • Petrified Forest National Park contains fallen trees hundreds of million years old that have turned to colorful stone. You'll also see prehistoric pueblos—one made of petrified logs—and vistas of the Painted Desert.

  • Fort Apache and the Apache Cultural Center have well-preserved 19th-century fort buildings on Officers' Row and a good museum of White Mountain Apache culture and crafts.

  • Mount Graham Drive ascends more than 6,000 feet from the high desert to alpine country atop a "sky island" near Safford.

  • Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness contains a perennial creek that brings life to the desert in a pretty canyon near Safford.

  • The Coronado Trail twists and turns through rugged mountains that the Spanish explorer once traveled. Today the highway has amazingly varied scenery and sweeping panoramas.

Eastern Arizona will surprise you. Instead of arid desert country, you'll find 2,000 square miles of forested peaks, placid lakes, and sparkling streams in the White Mountains at the heart of the region. The region's natural beauty makes it a wonderful retreat from the hectic pace of urban areas. This is a place to relax and enjoy the outdoors, and some visitors spend the entire summer doing just that. You'll find excellent opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and winter sports.
    For a wildly scenic drive in the high country, try the Coronado Trail between Clifton and Springerville. Slow and winding, the route offers almost unlimited picnicking, hiking, and camping possibilities. Over to the west, another highway presents a different thrill—you're driving along southwest of Show Low when suddenly the road begins to descend into a magnificent chasm. It's the Salt River Canyon, a smaller but equally colorful version of the Grand Canyon.
    Traveling north from the White Mountains, you'll notice the scenery changing from mountain firs and pines to junipers and vast rangelands, then to the multihued, barren hills of the Painted Desert. Here you'll see a "forest" millions of years old, whose colorful logs now rest in Petrified Forest National Park.
    Southward from the White Mountains, the range in elevation is even greater—you'll be in cotton country along the Gila River, while "sky islands" such as the Pinaleno Mountains—crowned by Mt. Graham (10,717 feet)—soar into the sky from the desert plains. A paved road runs nearly to the top of Mt. Graham, taking you through a range of life zones. The Galiuro Mountains to the west form a rugged wilderness with several peaks over 7,000 feet. Perennial streams add beauty to desert canyons in such places as Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness west of Safford and the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area east of town.


PLANNING YOUR TIME

In the north, Holbrook is the logical base for a visit to Petrified Forest National Park. All of the towns in the White Mountains have places to stay and eat, but Greer offers the prettiest setting with meadows and dense forests surrounding the sparkling Little Colorado River. Farther south, Safford is the best choice for the scenic drive up the Pinaleno Mountains, a hike in Aravaipa Wilderness, and other backcountry forays.
    Leisurely scenic drives are perhaps the best way to explore Eastern Arizona—you can put together some fine loops. Along the way you may wish to take in history, science, or art at local museums, or stop to see one of the prehistoric pueblo sites. A week would be enough to take in the region's highlights.

Climate
Much of eastern Arizona lies at elevations of 6,000–8,500 feet, where average summer temperatures run in the 60s and 70s (F), and highs rarely exceed the mid-80s. Early summer is the driest time of year. Almost daily from mid-July to early September, afternoon thunderstorms drench the forests and bring about one-third of the area's 15 or so inches of annual precipitation. Winter sees heavy snowfalls and lows in the teens. Skiers enjoy the often bright and sunny winter days, when highs can reach the mid-40s. You may even see some anglers come out and chop holes in the lake ice to get at elusive trout.

APACHE RESERVATION LIFE

Attempts over the years by the Spanish, the Mexicans, and finally the Americans to exterminate the Apache caused the tribes to retaliate with a murderous vengeance. By 1870, the U.S. government finally realized that a military solution just wouldn't work. The government then initiated a "Peace Policy," which placed all Native Americans on reservations and taught them to farm and raise livestock. The San Carlos Reservation, created in 1871 just south of the White Mountains, became home for various tribes—Mohave, Yavapai, Yuma, and several different groups of Apache.

Officials thought the tribes would be easier to control if centralized on one reservation, but their plan may actually have extended the Apache wars. Quarrels developed between the different groups, attempts at farming fared poorly, and government agents frequently cheated the tribespeople. Geronimo and other war chiefs fled the reservation at times to lead raids against settlements in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. By the time Geronimo surrendered in 1886, the federal government recognized that the San Carlos Reservation had failed, and it removed all tribes except the San Carlos Apache. Meanwhile, many of the White Mountain and Cibecue Apache had succeeded in holding onto part of their own territory to the north, which became a reservation in 1897.

In 1918, a ranching program issued five head of cattle to each of 80 Apache families. Although the program nearly failed, the herds on the Fort Apache Reservation grew to 20,000 by 1931. Still, it wasn't until 1936 that white people finally removed the last of their own cattle from the reservations. Recognizing the recreational value of their lands, in the 1950s the White Mountain Apache began to build access roads, reservoirs, campgrounds, marinas, motels, restaurants, and a ski resort. They also own and operate a large lumber industry. During this development, the tribe has preserved their land's great natural beauty. San Carlos Apache have provided visitors' facilities on their lands as well, though on a smaller scale.

On to Winslow and Vicinity