J U L Y 2 0 0 7
Top Fishing Holes
Leave Summer’s Swelter for Mountain Meadows
FRUITFUL FUN Kids of all ages dash for sweet treats during
the “Fruit Scramble” event at the 4th Annual Natoni Horse Race
on the Navajo Indian Reservation. See story, page 16. tom bean
FRONT COVER Navajo hoop dancer Tyrese Jensen, 7, competes in
the 16th Annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest held at the
Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix. See story, page 32. jeff kida
BACK COVER A hiker amounts to a Tiny Tim on the window
"sill" of Los Gigantes Buttes Arch near the Lukachukai Mountains
on the Navajo Indian Reservation. See story, page 24. tom till
n To order a print of this photograph, see information on opposite page.
contents july 2007
There’s no time like the present to discover
the gift of Arizona’s White Mountains. To find
out where to go and what to do while you’re
there, visit arizonahighways.com and click on
our expanded “White Mountains Guide.”
HUMOR Our writer re-examines
his "around-the-house" value.
WEEKEND GETAWAY Get a historic
perspective and a bird's-eye view of
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
EXPERIENCE ARIZONA Plan your Arizona
getaway with our events calendar.
Photographic Prints Available
n Prints of some photographs are available
for purchase, as designated in captions. To
order, call toll-free (866) 962-1191 or visit
2 DEAR EDITOR
3 ALL WHO WANDER
An Apache reservation lesson.
A fresh eye refreshes the heart.
5 TAKING THE OFF-RAMP
Arizona oddities, attractions and pleasures.
42 ALONG THE WAY
Satisfying serendipity in Navajoland.
44 HIKE OF THE MONTH
The Black and White rivers merge.
46 BACK ROAD ADVENTURE
Skull Valley reveals unexpected charms.
LAKEFRONT VIEW A lone pine tree
leans over Hawley Lake, which, at 8,200
feet, is one of the highest lakes in Arizona.
See stories, pages 14 and 22. paul gill
n To order a print, see information below.
FRONT COVER A patch of wild irises pops up
in Hannagan Meadow near a weathered split-rail
fence. See story, page 22. edward mccain
n To order a print, see information below.
BACK COVER The Black River glows with the
sun's last light on the White Mountain Apache
Reservation. See story, page 44. jeff snyder
n To order a print, see information below.
8 Trophy Trout
Lurking Apache trout, grinning wolves and spatters
of rain yield a perfect day on Christmas Tree Lake.
by peter aleshire
Best Fishing Holes: Our trout expert reveals the
best place to land a lunker. by lee allen
18 n at u r e Crossways With Elk
Biologists help mating elk cross the highway.
by peter aleshire
22 Soul of the Mountain
One lifelong mountain lover and some
of our best photographers reveal the
treasures of the White Mountains.
by jo baeza
38 Better to Give
Volunteer vacations on the Navajo Indian
Reservation pay rich rewards.
by vicki wilson photographs by peter schwepker
Hike, fish, loaf and savor a summer
escape in Arizona's high country
For more letters, see arizonahighways.com (click o online n “Letters to the Editor”).
2 j u l y 2 0 0 7
all who wander by Peter Aleshire, editor
Arizona Highways magazine has inspired an
independent weekly television series, hosted by
former Phoenix TV news anchor Robin Sewell.
For channels and show times, log on to
arizonahighways.com; click on “DISCOVER
ARIZONA”; then click on the “Arizona Highways
goes to television!” link on the right-hand side.
highways on tv
Produced in the USA
Arizona Highways® (ISSN 0004-1521) is published monthly by the
Arizona Department of Transportation. Subscription price: $24 a
year in the U.S., $44 outside the U.S. Single copy: $3.99 U.S. Send
and change of address information
to Arizona Highways,
2039 W. Lewis Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85009. Peri-odical
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© 2007 by the Arizona
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in whole or in part without
permission is prohibited. The
magazine does not accept and is not responsible for unsolicited
HIGH COUNTRY LAKE Christmas
Tree Lake now harbors the once-endangered
so i’m standing in the parking lot of the only motel in
Whiteriver, hungry, weary and misplaced — with $1,500 worth
of camera gear slung around my sunburned neck.
I’ve spent most of the day lost on nameless reservation back
roads, looking for Christmas Tree Lake, just beyond where
the U.S. government confined the once free-roaming Apache
Indians, including the glowering and indomitable Geronimo.
The government actually let the White Mountain Apaches
keep this high, rain-blessed landscape of mountains, forests,
meadows and streams after concluding it was too remote and
cold to be of much use to the settlers who claimed the lands of
all the other Apache bands.
I’ve long studied the brave and brutal history of the
confrontation between these irreconcilable cultures: The
whites wanted to make some money on land vital to the
spiritual and moral values of the Apaches. The Apaches believe
the landscape itself can smooth and shape the mind, imparting
wisdom and insight. So the whites and the Apaches bloodied
one another, each mystified at why the other fought so hard. As
a result of all that study, I totally understand why your average
Apache might be ever so slightly irritated at your average white
guy wandering around the reservation with a lost look and an
So perhaps I overreacted just a tad when I noticed bearing
down on me across the parking lot a stocky young Apache
guy with muscles like a weightlifter, long black hair, intense
brown-black eyes and a black heavy-metal T-shirt sporting a
couple of leering skulls. He trailed a skinny kid in threadbare
jeans with the angular features I recognized from historical
photos of the warriors in Geronimo’s band. The big guy was
looking right at my camera. I mean, right at it.
I would have locked myself in my car and hid under my
jacket, but he was so close now that I figured this would just
irritate him, and that he would then pick up my car and shake
me out of it, like Godzilla with an oil tanker.
So the angry-looking, 250-pound Apache guy with his eye
on my camera walks right up to within easy grab-your-throat
range and stops.
I try to look friendly, but not pathetic.
“That your camera?” he asks
“Uh, yeah,” I reply.
“You take pictures?” he asks.
“Uh, yeah,” I say cautiously.
“Will you take our picture?” he asks,
gesturing toward the 10-year-old kid at his side.
“Sure. Glad to,” I say.
“He’s my boy. It’s his birthday.”
“That’s wonderful,” I say. “Happy birthday.”
The kid grins, brilliant as sunlight through the rain.
“Hey,” says the big guy with the skulls on his shirt, “have
“Eaten?” I stammer. “Not really. Spent all day looking for
Christmas Tree Lake.”
“Yeah. Good place,” he says. “So, look, we’re having a party
for my boy. You come on in,” he adds, gesturing toward the
“That would be great,” I say, abashed at my gut reaction,
delighted at the invitation.
So started my best-ever night spent in the White Mountains.
Henry took me into that restaurant and introduced me like I
was his long-lost cousin from Cibecue. Everyone welcomed
me. Turns out, Henry is a sometime-firefighter, occasional
cowhand and intermittent construction worker. Like most of
the guys on the reservation, he can find work only now and
then. He is quick, friendly and possessed of the delighted
Apache sense of humor, off-color and filled with puns, while
willing to laugh on the smallest of pretexts. The generations of
his family surged in and out of the restaurant, clan members
and distant relatives knitted together by generations of staying
in one place.
I shot the four rolls of film I had, then turned them over to
Henry, so he’d have pictures of everyone. He bought me dinner
and taught me something about hospitality and prejudice and
how you measure whether someone is rich. When we parted
much later, he told me how to get to Christmas Tree Lake.
I followed his directions straight to the lake the next day,
where I had my second-best White Mountains day ever with
the blue grouse, the elk, the deer, the turkeys, the fox and the
gleam of an endangered native trout.
Standing on the shore, soothed by the gleaming facets of
the water and the wind rustling through the aspens, I figured
maybe the Apaches have it right. Maybe such a place smooths
the mind and teaches such wisdom that you can forgive even
the sons of the sons of the white guys who hunted your father’s
Or, maybe Henry’s just a really good guy.
Sons of Geronimo
Where Magazines Go to Retire
I thought you might like to know what
happens to my back issues of this
wonderful magazine. I donate them to
Alvin Junior College, by way of a friend
who teaches geology courses there. The
students always look forward to a new
batch (six at a time), and they disappear
Lori Moore, Houston, TX
We’re delighted to learn that some old magazines
never retire, they just get folks interested in Arizona.
—Peter Aleshire, Editor
Forget the Fish — Photograph
I am so very jealous of your amazing
columns each month, like “The Eternal
Choice: Fish or Take Pictures?” (“All
Who Wander,” March ’07). Like you, I
have built a fine life, thank you, through
“unimpressive competence at an impressive
list of things.” Being a so-so photographer
is understandable — all of that equipment
to deal with, jargon to learn, technology to
develop, lighting to observe. But how can
one be a mediocre fisherman? Especially a
“passionately mediocre” fisherman? Is not
the best fisherman in the world a 12-year-old
with a tree-limb pole and freshly dug
bait? I have an 80-something-year-old uncle
who is still a professional bass tournament-winning
fisherman. He would advise that
you have confused fishing with catching
[fish]. The two are distinctly different. If you
focus on catching, you will miss out on all
of the fishing part and may not achieve full
joy from your endeavors. But if you focus on
fishing, then you need not do any catching
to achieve joy. Be assured that you go fishing
each month in your stories and have never
yet missed catching this reader’s attention.
Steve Watson, Bozrah, CT
Protecting the Beauty
My husband and I have spent a month
exploring your beautiful state. Some of the
time we have boondocked out in the desert,
so we can see the stars better and hear the
coyotes cry. We love it all. We have a little
23-foot trailer that is just perfect for two
retired people. When we arrive at a
wilderness area, my first chore is to pick up
garbage strewn everywhere. I am appalled at
the lack of respect for this fragile desert land.
Why is recycling so bad there? It is worse
than any of our Canadian towns and cities
that have big recycling programs. Do the
schools emphasize the importance of not
littering and how fragile the Earth is? The
fines for littering in British Columbia are in
the thousands of dollars, not hundreds.
Patricia Purdy, Grand Forks, BC, Canada
We’re also astonished at the careless way some
people treat such treasures. —Ed.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 3
An Apache reservation encounter
meets fear with wisdom
JULY 2007 VOL. 83, NO. 7
Publisher WIN HOLDEN
Editor PETER ALESHIRE
Senior Editor RANDY SUMMERLIN
Managing Editor SALLY BENFORD
Book Division Editor BOB ALBANO
Books Associate Editor EVELYN HOWELL
Special Projects Editor JoBETH JAMISON
Editorial Administrator NIKKI KIMBEL
Editorial Assistant PAULY HELLER
Director of Photography PETER ENSENBERGER
Photography Editor JEFF KIDA
Art Director BARBARA GLYNN DENNEY
Deputy Art Director SONDA ANDERSSON PAPPAN
Art Assistant DIANA BENZEL-RICE
Map Designer KEVIN KIBSEY
Production Director MICHAEL BIANCHI
Promotions Art Director RONDA JOHNSON
Webmaster VICKY SNOW
Director of Sales & Marketing KELLY MERO
Circulation Director HOLLY CARNAHAN
Finance Director BOB ALLEN
Information Technology CINDY BORMANIS
Inquiries or orders Toll-free: (800) 543-5432
Phoenix area or outside the U.S. (602) 712-2000
Or visit arizonahighways.com
For Corporate or Trade Sales Dolores Field (602) 712-2045
Letters to the Editor email@example.com
2039 W. Lewis Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85009
Director, Department of Transportation
VICTOR M. MENDEZ
ARIZONA TRANSPORTATION BOARD
Chairman Joe Lane
Vice Chairman S.L. Schorr
Members Delbert Householder, Robert M. Montoya,
Felipe Andres Zubia, William J. Feldmeier,
Barbara Ann “Bobbie” Lundstrom
International Regional Magazine Association
2005, 2004, 2003, 2001, 2000 Magazine of the Year
Western Publications Association
2006, 2004, 2002, 2001 Best Travel & In-transit Magazine
Society of American Travel Writers Foundation
2000, 1997 Gold Awards Best Monthly Travel Magazine
Dead Man’s Tale
As a veterinarian, I was most interested in “Dead Man’s
Tale” (April ’07) by John Annerino. Adolph Ruth and his
son, Erwin, were veterinarians. Adolph arrived in the
United States as a German youth in the 1870s. After
graduating from the Kansas City Veterinary College, he
joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of
Animal Industry, and was stationed in Washington, D.C.,
for his entire career. He and his family, except Erwin,
made their home there. President Woodrow Wilson had
arranged with General Carranza to buy Mexican cattle.
To prevent Mexican livestock from infecting American
cattle with tick fever, in 1913 Erwin was assigned animal
inspection at the border. Also a captain in the Mexican revolutionary army, he was an
armed combatant and was shot in the knee.
Erwin was given the Gonzalez maps in Mexico and gave them to his father, who
pored over them for 17 years. When Adolph retired from the Bureau of Animal
Industry in 1931, he left Washington for Phoenix to pursue his dream. When Adolph
disappeared, Erwin organized search parties and went on two. The final one lasted 45
days. Erwin hired a pilot and cameraman to take aerial pictures of the suspect area, and
the family offered a large cash award for information about Adolph, dead or alive.
The Lost Dutchman Mine had all but faded from memory, but Ruth’s death brought
the Superstitions back to life.
Kenneth Haas, Kalamazoo, MI
arizona oddities, attractions and pleasures
4 j u l y 2 0 0 7
by Jeff Kida, photography editor, firstname.lastname@example.org viewfinder
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 5
KERRICK JAMES i’ve seen it before — the camera’s ability to act as a portal
into new and unexplored worlds. As technologically complex
as cameras have become, there is still a childlike aspect to
exploring the world through a viewfinder. Not only to be
transported, but to immediately share a vision without barriers.
I’ve never seen it more clearly than on one memorable
photography workshop in Monument Valley, just weeks after
the terrible incident that we’ve all come to know as “9/11.”
Sponsored by Friends of Arizona Highways, the photography
trip had been scheduled for more than a year. The organizers
decided to go ahead after that awful day, although some people
had cancelled from fear of flying. However, these same horrible
circumstances also created an opening for Ethelyn Smyley, an
endoscopy nurse working at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York
City, some 2 miles from “ground zero.” I was amazed to hear
that she had cared for victims in both attacks on the World
Trade Center, and now she was here to immerse herself in the
land and culture of the Navajo people.
From the start, she seemed distant and reserved, clearly still
subdued and preoccupied by what she’d seen and felt.
Moreover, this was her first-ever photo workshop. She and her
husband had fallen in love with the Southwest years earlier, but
when it came to photography, she was tentative and uncertain.
Still, she hoped this escape to the Southwest and the long
views of Monument Valley, free from skyscrapers and jetliners,
would restore her. Now widowed, but hoping the landscape
would seem the same as it had when she first saw it with her
husband, she’d put her name on a waiting list for the October 3
trip. She arrived in Phoenix armed with two of the most basic
“point-and-shoot” cameras. But what she lacked in gear and
expertise, she made up in pure desire to be in this place.
Day one of the workshop entailed a lot of driving time
culminating in a sunset from a Monument Valley overlook.
The next morning started with the rousting of the troops at
oh-dark-thirty for a predawn shoot from the same spot. After
that, we dropped down into Dinétah, “the land of the Navajo,”
between the four sacred mountains that mark the boundaries
of Navajoland. All through those magical hours of first light,
everyone shot feverishly. By 9 a.m., all the good light was
gone, and we had earned a trip back to the hotel to enjoy a big
breakfast. But on this morning, I chose to make one last stop
at John Ford Point. As I was working my way down the line of
hungry photographers, a young Navajo gentleman strolled up,
asking in a friendly way about our group.
“Where are you from?” he asked politely.
“The tour started in Phoenix,” I replied, “but we have folks
from all over the country.”
“Anyone here from New York City?” he inquired softly.
I pointed to Ethelyn. “She came in yesterday,” I noted.
“Do you think I could speak with her?” he asked.
I wondered at that, but
nodded and went over to ask
her permission. She assented,
puzzled. I stood back,
watching as they wandered
off in the midmorning sun and stood talking quietly with each
Ten minutes later, Ethelyn returned to our four-wheel-drive
rig. She seemed a changed person. Before, a mist clung to her.
Now, she seemed to glimmer. She carried herself more erectly,
a weight lifted.
At the time, I was content to have witnessed the
transformation. It was a shared private moment between them,
yet I thought of it often. But in trying to write this column, I
had to find out what transpired.
So I called her.
She explained that the young Navajo man told her that
many family members gathered around a single television
to follow the events unfolding on September 11. He said
everyone he knew on the reservation was deeply sorrowful and
concerned for the people of New York. He added that he was
amazed that after all that had happened, she could still travel
this great distance to visit his people. He spoke simply and
honestly, out of deep and tender compassion, and in a matter of
minutes, Ethelyn realized she wasn’t alone.
In some way for her, the photo floodgates burst open on that
trip to Monument Valley. When she got home, she exchanged
her original point-and-shoots for a SLR (single-lens reflex) and,
more recently, a digital camera with interchangeable lenses. She
joined a camera club, and now loves photographing at the New
York Botanical Garden. The only organized trips she takes these
days are photo-oriented workshops, and her once-bare metal
kitchen cabinets now display her photographs — especially her
printed reminders of the panoramic West.
“That Monument Valley trip was a stepping-off place. Since
the death of my husband, I had been kind of homebound. Now
I look forward to making photos wherever I am.”
And to share her rejuvenated vision — without barriers.
riders on a five-day, 50-mile loop from
Patagonia top off a day on the Arizona Trail
with a happy hour inside an authentic teepee.
Operated by skilled equestrians Dan and Melody
Skiver, Ride the West Tours takes guests on spir-ited
pack trips and day rides throughout the San
Rafael Valley and historic Santa Cruz County in
southern Arizona. The outfitter boasts “a little
bit of luxury and a lot of grit,” so you might
not need coasters for your cocktails or have to
remove your hat indoors.
Information: Ride the West, (866) 454-7433;
A Fresh Eye and
a Refreshed Heart
Find expert photography advice and information at arizonahighways.com
(click on “Photography”).
Situated in the shadow of Rain God
Mesa (above), the mud-covered
hogan of Navajo weaver Suzie
Yazzie reflects the land and
traditions of the Diné, the Navajo
word meaning “the people.” Ethelyn
Smyley (left) on the final day of the
2001 workshop “standin’ on the
corner” in Winslow, Arizona.
courtesy of ethelyn smyley
6 j u l y 2 0 0 7
many arizonans will never
forget June 26, 1990. That’s the day
the thermometers hit 122 degrees in
Phoenix. Folks were jumping into their
swimming pools and getting third-degree
burns. I peeked outside and my
patio furniture was standing on one
leg. I had to go down to the Capitol the
next day, and when I got there,
I noticed something was missing. The
statue of Father Kino on horseback was
gone from its familiar spot in the middle
of the plaza. The Capitol police found it
later—hovering in the shade
of a paloverde tree.
—Marshall Trimble, Arizona State Historian
School Days Live on in Strawberry
the oldest standing schoolhouse in Arizona is the Strawberry Schoolhouse
built in 1895. The building, made of hand-hewn pine logs, had a wood-burning
stove and a bell, and served as a one-room schoolhouse until 1916. The contents of
the school—including factory-made desks seating two students each, an organ and a
wooden globe—were sold. In 1961, the building itself went up for sale. Local resident
Fred Eldean purchased the old school and gave the deed to the Payson-Pine Chamber
of Commerce. The exterior of the building was restored in 1967, and the interior in
1979. Strawberry Schoolhouse, now a one-room museum, stands refurbished on
Fossil Creek Road in Strawberry, and is open to the public May through September
on weekends and holidays.
—Robin N. Clayton
“i once visited a trading post and
watched an old Indian ride onto the crest
of a hill. He sat on that horse, straight and
tall, and looked and looked at a Coca-Cola
machine. It resembled a giant jukebox. He
looked and he looked again—and finally he
turned his horse and rode away.”
—Ted DeGrazia, late Arizona artist
those messy white patches on
some prickly pear cacti actually protect
undercover feeding grounds of a wily insect
aptly and scientifically named Dactylopius
confusus—better known as a cochineal. The
female produces this waxy canopy to confuse
predators, while the males don’t live long
enough to need protection.
But this devious little arthropod wasn’t wily
enough to fool the Aztec and Mixtec Indians in
Mexico, who discovered a vivid red dye made
by grinding up the female cochineal. Later,
Hernando Cortez arrived on the scene, and the
cochineal took the Old World by storm. Even
Michelangelo was said to have been impressed
by the rich new hue.
However, most of today’s cochineal, which
is also known as carmine or carminic acid,
is used as an organic food colorant that is
believed to be safer than synthetics. In fact, it’s
what gives ruby red grapefruit juice and many
other red-colored food products their rosy hue.
Bugged out yet?
—Carrie M. Miner
Eleanor Roosevelt in Willcox
in his book Sufferin’ Springs Valley, Bob Bliss told of an interesting experience
that he had when he was working for the old Nicholson Drug Store at the corner
of Haskell and Maley in Willcox.
He said that Mrs. Webb, of the famed 76 Ranch, called and asked him to meet
a lady who was coming on the train for a stay at the ranch.
When Bliss asked how he would know her, Mrs. Webb said the lady would be
the only one getting off the train.
So, young Bliss strolled to the station, a block away, to wait for the arrival. He was
supposed to escort her to the nearby Willcox Hotel, so that she could “freshen up.”
He met the train and found that the elderly lady looked very familiar. When
he started to leave her at the hotel, she asked if she could accompany him to the
drugstore instead. He said that was fine, and they went into that establishment,
where she was ensconced in an old but comfortable chair.
As it happened, word spread of the woman’s arrival, and soon people were
looking in the windows of the drugstore—hoping to catch a glimpse of Mrs.
THIS PAGE CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: NICK BEREZENKO; ISTOCK; LINDA LONGMIRE THIS PAGE CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: FRANKLIN D, ROOSEVELT LIBRARY;
WWW.50SDINER.BIZ; HUTTON ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES; KIM WISMANN
Arizona Celebrity Havens
what do frank lloyd wright, Marilyn Monroe
and Arizona hotels have in common?
If you said great architecture, you’d be on
the “Wright track.”
Wright consulted on the design of the
Arizona Biltmore, which in the 1940s and ’50s,
became a haven for Hollywood types like Bob
Hope, Ava Gardner, Irving Berlin and Marilyn
Monroe, who enjoyed splashing in the
Another favorite retreat for the stars
was Scottsdale’s Hotel Valley Ho, which
also exhibits Wright-design influences.
During the late 1950s, Bing Crosby
cruised the hotel grounds, Jimmy
Durante played the lounge piano and
Marilyn Monroe graced its “Oh” pool.
One more connection between
Wright and Monroe comes from an
amusing quote by Wright, who said, “I
think Miss Monroe’s architecture is
extremely good architecture.”
according to maj. john
Wesley Powell, famed explorer
of the Colorado River, the original name for Pipe
Spring, a national monument in far northern
Arizona, was a local Indian term meaning
“yellow-rock springs.” Powell once wrote that the name
was fitting “for the rocks around here are bright yellow
in color.” But future residents would soon blow a hole
in the simple logic of the Kaibab-Paiute people.
After the region, located just south of the Utah
border, was successfully settled by Mormon cattle
ranchers in the 1860s and became the home of
Arizona’s first telegraph station, the locals landed on a
Legend has it that, while passing through the area,
a man named William “Gunlock” Hamblin made a bet
that he could shoot the bottom out of fellow settler
Dudley Leavitt’s pipe from 25 yards away. Hamblin
reportedly succeeded, and faster than a speeding
bullet, the name Pipe Spring succeeded Yellow Rock.
Information: (928) 643-7105; www.nps.gov/pisp.
b y p e t e r a l e s h i r e
of rain yield a
ANGELIC ANGLER The graceful curve of Stan
Cunningham’s fishing line glows like an angler’s halo as
lengthening shadows bring his day of fishing to an end
at Christmas Tree Lake on the White Mountain Apache
Reservation in east-central Arizona. kerrick james
SStanding alongside photographer Kerrick James on the shore of Christmas Tree Lake
where lunkers linger, I peer toward the east where the sun struggles vainly against the rain-stuffed clouds.
“Not good,” I say glumly.
“You never know,” sighs the ever-hopeful Kerrick.
We had risen at 5 a.m. in our snug rooms back at the White
Mountain Apache Hon-Dah Resort Casino near Pinetop-
Lakeside to get here at dawn, when the trout and the sun both
rise to play upon the mirrored surface of a jeweled lake. On the
opposite bank, the gold leaves of aspen trees quake, awaiting
the immolation of dawn. Somewhere beneath the surface, the
world’s largest Apache trout awaits my uncoiling fly line.
If the sun will rise, if the trout will rise, if our hopes will rise,
then we can savor a picture-perfect day matching wits with the
comeback-kid, Apache trout, a fish that made it off the endan-gered
species list. But now I await the trout as Kerrick awaits the
light, hoping to triumph against the glower of the clouds as the
Apache trout has triumphed over the longest of odds.
Once, the golden Apache trout gleaned and glimmered on all
the streams riling and riffling down off sacred Mount Baldy, one
of the wettest places in Arizona. The soldiers who hunted and
harried the Apache Indians during the 1880s pulled piles of the
unique native trout from the streams and pools. But a century of
dams, cows and hatchery fish nearly exterminated the Apache
trout, which held out in a few, small, high headwater streams in
remote areas of the White Mountain Apache Reservation.
Fortunately, the Apache Tribe, Arizona Game and Fish
Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have
returned the native trout to a dozen small streams and a hand-ful
of White Mountain Lakes — most notably 41-surface-acre
Christmas Tree Lake, deep within the normally closed area of
the reservation. Protected by its remote location and the $25-per-person-
per-day permit, the lake now teems with Apache trout,
grown here to record size. The trophy fishing lake lures devout
anglers from all over the country — mostly reverent, catch-and-release
Plus me — an enthusiastically inept fly fisherman, all but
unarmed in any battle of fish wits.
But this time I have ensured against my fickle fishing fate by
NATIVE HABITAT The North Fork of the White River and other streams on
the White Mountain Apache Reservation provide habitat for a recovering
population of Apache trout. peter aleshire
10 j u l y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 11
SAN CARLOS APACHE
APACHE R ESERVATION
Hawley Lake Sunrise Lake
E. Fork White R.
E. Fork Black R.
W. Fork Black R.
MO G OL LON RI M
M O GO LL ON RI M
enlisting the guidance of fly-fishing guru Stan Cunningham, a
state game-and-fish biologist who says this lake remains his
favorite Arizona fishing hole.
Alas, Stan hasn’t yet arrived. Nor has the sun. Nor have the
trout. Suddenly, from within the deep, dark woods floats the
sound of a creature yearning for his kind. Then again. Then
again. It is the sound of rutting elk, their bugled passion mysteri-ously
transmuted into this haunting sound. I forget immediately
about my yen for fish and Kerrick’s yearning for light and head
off toward that siren call. This has always been my downfall as
a fisherman: I have the attention span of a doodlebug.
I reach the top of the hill overlooking the lake and stand
in a grove of aspens. The breeze tugs loose heart-shaped, red,
gold and yellow aspen leaves, which fall in a fluttery chromatic
storm. In just that moment, the sun lances through a hole in the
clouds, transforming droplets into jewels on every yellow leaf. I
am transfixed, until I remember Kerrick and the trout and race
back down the hill.
Kerrick shakes his head and rolls his eyes as I huff into view,
pull on my insulated waders, my red shirt and my fly-fishing
vest before wading out to the place he has selected for its reflec-tive
So I flail in the water, casting my hairy, brown-and-white invo-cation
of an insect upon the now-perfect sky-mirror of Christmas
Tree Lake. My fly alights as gently as a fairy’s kiss on the shim-mering
yellow reflection of the tall, white-trunked aspens.
No trout rises to trouble my fly. In fact, I see no signs of trout
anywhere on the cloud-scudded surface of the lake.
Periodically, my line mysteriously ties itself into an intricate
knot somewhere on my backstroke. When I pull the line in, I
discover a puzzle of topology that would break the heart of a
mathematics graduate student. I could not create such a tangle
with an hour of advance planning and the help of two elves, yet
my line has done it while floating in midair.
So I stand in the cold water patiently unraveling my line,
while Kerrick crouches on the bank, looking anxiously up at
the closing hole in the sky.
Soon, the clouds return and the hail starts, attended by dis-tant
peals of thunder.
I wade back to shore and we get into the car to review the
digital shots he has taken along with the large-format film. I
actually look skilled; I love how still photos create the illusion
of expertise in the moment before the line collapses in a snarl
on the water.
The hail lets up and I look up. A dog sits just in front of the
truck, head cocked.
No. Not a dog. A coyote.
No. Not a coyote. Too big. Yet he leers like a coyote before he
turns and trots off into the woods.
Not a dog. Not with that fluid, loose-hipped trot. I gulp.
A wolf. A Mexican gray wolf, reintroduced like the Apache
trout a few years ago into the deep, high forests of the White
At this point, Stan arrives. He’s a tall, easygoing biologist who
crawls into bear dens and radio-collars mountain lions for a
living. He never mocks clumsy bumblers — a quality essential
in my friends.
Naturally, I have been fishing all wrong. I like dry flies, but
today he says I need a nymph to imitate the assorted muck-dwellers.
Thoughtfully, Stan rigs my line. We blow up his
absurd floaty inner-tube seats, so we can paddle out across the
lake, casting, trolling, freezing.
And so we do — as supplicants to the mystery of the Apache
trout, that remarkable survivor.
After thriving for a millennium in tiny, high-altitude streams,
the Apache trout had nearly vanished by 1950. Grazing cattle
delivered a body blow, trampling the streams and reducing
trout cover. But mostly the native trout fell before the invad-ers
— browns, rainbows and brooks. Biologists aren’t sure why
non-native trout displace the Apache trout whenever they live
together. Most likely it’s because the non-native trout spawn in
the fall instead of the spring, so that their voracious hatchlings
gobble up the hatching fry of the Apache trout in the spring.
Meanwhile, the hoards of stocked rainbow trout compete for
food and habitat.
The Apache trout hung on in a few streams where waterfalls
protected them from non-native trout and cattle. When the
federal government declared the Apache trout threatened in
1967, the range of the natives had shrunk from 600 miles of
stream to just 30.
In the past 40 years, the tribal, state and federal governments
have gradually returned the Apache trout to many streams, after
first learning to grow them in hatcheries. After identifying 28
target streams, biologists started building barriers at the lower
ends before poisoning out the introduced trout and reintroduc-ing
the Apache trout. The $1 million-a-year effort has yielded a
rare conservation success story and a nationally ranked fishing
opportunity at Christmas Tree Lake.
I drift across the intermittently rain-spattered surface of the
lake for seamless hours, chilled but happy to cast far from the
entreaties of tree limbs. My nymph sinks out of sight, although
it cannot reach the bottom on account of my nonsinking leader.
I may not be deep enough to catch trout, but at least my hopeful
nymph cannot entangle itself in the muck of the bottom. I have
nothing to do but to drift and to dream.
Finally, the storm shreds on a ridge of wind. Sun floods
the lake. Kerrick bursts into manic motion, for he has waited
through the dark hours for the light with a coiled joy even a
fisherman can only dimly comprehend.
We paddle to shore, and Kerrick deploys us in the shallows,
posed in the play of light. The sun is a glory; the aspens, a hymn;
the clouds, a prayer.
When the hole closes and the light fades, we climb back into
our tubes to once more cast and kick and murmur and drift.
Just when I have decided that all the fish have burrowed into
the bottom to hibernate like toads, a single, monstrous Apache
trout swims past my tube. He’s sturgeon-sized. I could read a
chapter from Arizona Tall Tales in the time it takes his whole
body to pass in review. A howler monkey could ride him, with
a French-poodle passenger. Were I not buckled into my tube, I
would jump up, topple over and drown.
Resurrected by the metaphorical possibility of such a fish, I
ply the waters — humbled, chilled and fulfilled.
On the bank, Kerrick waits like a held breath for one last
flare of light.
As the light dwindles, another fisherman supplicant floating
nearby reels in a beautiful, foot-long Apache trout — gleaming,
“What were you using?” asks Stan, desperation tinting his voice.
WHO’S AFRAID? Listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service in 1976, Mexican gray wolves now call the White Mountains home,
thanks to a joint state and federal reintroduction program that began in
1998. tom and pat leeson
Roughly 125,000 Apache trout
are stocked in reservation
streams and lakes with another
million eggs reared for stocking
on Forest Service and nontribal
lands. “Primary streams that
receive Apache trout stockings
are the East and North forks of
the White River and Diamond-
Cibecue-Paradise Creek,” says
Bob David, manager of the
Fish and Wildlife Service’s Alchesay-
Williams Creek Hatchery Complex.
“This golden native is only a few
generations away from wild, and
it still thinks like a wild fish. It
eats bugs, so flies, both wet and
dry, do well.” —P.A.
12 j u l y 2 0 0 7
“Royal Coachman. Deep,” says the man.
I paddle to shore in the last shards of daylight.
Off in the woods, the bull elk have resumed bugling — hope-ful
as a fisherman in a float, a photographer in a storm or a wolf
in the woods.
In that moment, I understand everything, even the topology
of fishing-line knots. So I release the trout, scan the darkening
woods for the wolf and remember the swirl of yellow leaves in
the sudden suffusion of light.
Out on the lake, Stan hollers. He has a big one. It takes 10
minutes to land the trout on his thread of a leader.
The trout is 20 inches long, a few inches short of an Apache
trout record. The nugget that lured the forty-niners had less gold
in it. That trout could have swallowed the howler monkey whole.
He could have towed Stan and his tube and left a wake.
Stan returns the great fish to the lake, the happiest man on
Of course, it is too dark to take a picture.
So you must take my word that the trout is out there still.
Location: White Mountain Apache Reservation.
Getting There: Take State Route 260 east from Payson to
State Route 473 south past Pinetop-Lakeside. Drive south
on State 473 past Hawley Lake to Indian Route 26. Continue
on Indian 26 for approximately 10 miles to Indian Route
39 and bear left and follow to Christmas Tree Lake.
Travel Advisory: The White Mountain Apache Tribe Game
and Fish Office requires a $25 daily permit to fish at
Christmas Tree Lake. Permits can be purchased through
the tribe’s Wildlife & Outdoor Recreation Division, P.O. Box
220, Whiteriver, AZ 85941; (928) 338-4385. Camping is not
permitted, and the lake remains closed during the winter
and certain periods in the fall elk-hunting season.
Warning: Remember that when traveling on the White
Mountain Apache Reservation you’re on tribal, not public
lands. Many reservation roads aren’t well-marked, so
purchase a White Mountain Apache Reservation Map
in Hon-Dah. Observe restrictions on closed areas. Off-highway
travel requires a reservation permit. Don’t take
photographs of tribal members without their permission.
Additional Information: White Mountain Apache Office
of Tourism, toll-free (877) 338-9628; www.wmat.nsn.us.
Peter Aleshire says Christmas Tree Lake is now one of his favorite places in
the state to not catch fish.
Lee Valley Reservoir: Two-trout limit, artificial fly only,
12-inch minimum. Open Fridays through Sundays only
due to area construction. Take State Route 260 to State
Route 273 and continue for 11 miles on unpaved road;
the reservoir is a quarter-mile south of State 273.
East Fork of the Black River: Six-trout limit. Take
State Route 273 or paved State Route 261 to Big Lake
from State Route 260. Turn right onto unpaved Forest
Service Road 249E, south of Big Lake, and go a half-mile
to Forest Service Road 24. Turn left onto FR 24 and
proceed to Buffalo Crossing where Forest Service Road
276 intersects. Turn left onto FR 276, and fish between
Diamond Rock and Buffalo Crossing.
East and West Fork of the Little Colorado River:
Six-trout limit. The area upstream of Colter Dam in
Apache County is closed until January 2009. Take State
Route 260 to State Route 373 toward Greer. The Little
Colorado runs through Greer and is accessible only on
the upper end off of the county road on the east side
of town, and at the end of Forest Service Road 575
West Fork of the Black River: Six-trout limit. Fishing
is not permitted in the posted trout barrier areas. From
Forest Service Road 249E just south of Big Lake, take
Forest Service Road 68 south to Forest Service Road 68A.
Upper West Fork of the Black River: No bait
permitted and catch-and-release only. Take State Route
260 to State Route 273. Continue about 16 miles on
State 273 to Forest Service Road 116. Turn right onto FR
116 and continue 6 miles to the river crossing.
Upper Silver Creek: Silver Creek runs through Arizona
Game and Fish Department-owned property (excluding
the portion designated as a state fish hatchery). This
stretch is catch-and-release only using artificial lures
and flies with barbless hooks from October 1 to April 1.
From April 1 to 30, there is a six-trout limit and barbed
hooks are permitted. Take State Route 60 east from
Show Low, 5.5 miles east of the intersection with State
60 and State Route 260, and turn left onto Bourdon
Ranch Road. Continue approximately 5 miles to
Hatchery Way Road; turn right onto Hatchery Way and
go to the parking area.
MOREY K. MILBRADT
Apache trout can be caught with a variety of methods, including wet or dry flies, small lures
or natural baits. Artificial flies produce the best results. With wet flies, try small hooks — 14
through 18 — and dark patterns (peacock ladies, pheasant-tail nymphs, hare’s ear nymphs, zug
bugs, scuds, or stone fly, mayfly or caddis fly nymph imitations).
With dry flies, use small hook sizes, mostly at dawn and dusk. (Royal Coachman, Adams, Royal
Wulff, Parachute Adams, or any gnat, mosquito, mayfly, caddis fly or stone fly adult imitations).
Grasshopper, ant or beetle imitations also work, especially in smaller sizes. For lures, stick with
small spinners (Panther Martins, Super Dupers or Rooster Tails). For baits, go natural using worms
or grasshoppers. Here are some great spots for fishing on nontribal lands.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 13
14 j u l y 2 0 0 7
A new generation of trout is calling, “Catch
me if you can,” from White Mountains
waters. About 350,000 aquatic residents
arrived via hatchery trucks this spring,
finding homes among rocks, riffles and
riprap in area lakes and streams.
Most high-country waters, from the
Little Colorado River to the Salt River, now
contain hungry trout — rainbows, brookies
and browns, as well as our state fish, one
of Arizona’s two native trout, the colorful
Consensus about the best place to fish
is hard to obtain, but some hot spots are
consistent in all conversations.
White Mountain Apache Reservation
fishing permits, (928) 338-4385, are required
for ages 10 and older. Adult daily fee, $6;
youth, $3. Daily bag limits: five trout for
adults, three for youth.
b y L e e A l l e n
Best White Mountains Fishing Holes
COME HITHER Hawley Lake’s grassy, pine-shaded
shore is one of many in the White Mountains beckoning
fishermen and nonfishing types alike to relish time
spent by and in their well-stocked waters. paul gill
16 j u l y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 17
Best White Mountains Fishing Holes
“This [lake] is a favorite of area anglers. It’s easy to get to and has
lots of shore access,” says Gatewood. “It’s always a good place to
look for bigger-than-average-sized brown trout. We regularly net
4- and 5-pound browns during our fish surveys.” One of the nicest
features about Hawley is its shoreline — nearly 10 miles — much of it
surrounded by thick stands of pines. “Hawley’s almost always good
for lunkers,” writes Fishing Arizona author Guy Sagi, who likes to
toss red-and-yellow Z-Ray lures as well as brown Wooly Worm flies.
Salmon eggs, Power Bait, kernel corn or minimarshmallows also
Getting There: State Route 260 east out of McNary, turn south on
State Route 473.
Information: (928) 338-4385.
“I have no reservation in recommending Reservation as one of the
top spots to wet a worm,” says Gatewood. “This is another lake that
continually produces big brown trout. We netted a number of them
in the 5-pound-and-above range in our last survey.” A state-record
lunker brown trout (36 inches, 22 pounds, 9 ounces) was caught in
August 1999. Ongoing road construction is expected to cut down on
the number of visitors this year, so there should be fewer fishermen
chasing large, hungry fish.
Getting There: Take State Route 273 off State Route 260, which
becomes Forest Service Road 113, toward Big Lake. Turn right at
Forest Service Road 116 and head south.
Information: (928) 338-4385.
MOREY K. MILBRADT
BOB AND SUZANNE CLEMENZ
ROBERT G. MCDONALD
Road construction this summer is expected to minimize the usual
turnout of anglers headed for the ever-popular Big Lake that’s been
a part of the Black River since 1930. Shore fishermen may have to
travel some to find shoreline devoid of weeds, but boat anglers can
use the weeds to their advantage by casting to the edge of the cover.
Many large trout and some state records have been taken here, so
the hard work is worth it.
Getting There: Take State Route 260 east from Pinetop-Lakeside.
Turn right onto State Route 261 near Eagar.
Information: (928) 367-4281.
A new state record came from these high-altitude waters last year.
“Willow Springs and other [Mogollon] Rim lakes [Woods and Black
Canyon] are always heavily stocked, including some incentive fish up
to 10 pounds,” says Kelly Meyer, Arizona Game and Fish Department
fisheries specialist in Pinetop. The lake offers 150 surface-acres
with an average depth of 60 feet — plenty of water to hide the
rainbow, brown, brook and cutthroat trout that live here along with
some largemouth bass. Dark-colored Wooly Worm flies take fish as
do Rooster Tail lures and salmon eggs fished along the 5 miles of
Getting There: State Route 260 east from Payson via the paved Vernon-
Information: (928) 333-4301.
This is one favorite of the frequent-fishing crowd who go where the action is. “This
has been catch-and-release water for several years,” says Tim Gatewood, fisheries
biologist with the White Mountain Apache Wildlife & Outdoor Recreation Division.
“It doesn’t get a lot of angling pressure, and there are always healthy, chunky big
brown trout here.” Only single-hook artificial lures and flies are allowed. An additional
incentive to include this spot on the itinerary: A 15-pound, 9-ounce brown was taken
from the lake in 1993. If there was one this size, there may be more.
Getting There: Take Indian Route 55 east from Whiteriver; turn east at Indian Route 80.
Information: (928) 338-4385.
MOREY K. MILBRADT
JEFFREY GAGNON SITS in the predawn chill
at the base of the Mogollon Rim in a cramped
travel trailer and watches as the elk on the
closed-circuit camera balances hunger against
caution. ❦ The elk examines the opening of
the netted trap that surrounds the alluring
pile of delicious alfalfa. Not right. Not right at
all. Odd. Very odd. A little scary. But the alfalfa
smells nice. So nice. Very nice. She pokes her
head into the opening and peers about inside,
trying to place this strange structure into the
most vital of categories: Threat, or no threat. ❦
But ahhh, the smell of the alfalfa. Gotta get it.
Gotta go. ❦ The elk moves partway into the
enclosure, tensed and wary. ❦ Nothing. Just
the intoxicating aroma of the hay. Life is sweet.
❦ So she ventures in past the opening and
lowers her head, seduced and heedless. >>
BY PETER ALESHIRE
BULL HORN As summer draws to a close, male elk open the lines of
mating communication by “bugling.” The animal’s self-contained
orchestra produces low bellows, loud whistles and guttural grunts that
attract females and intimidate their frisky competitors. tom vezo
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 21
That’s when Gagnon, an Arizona Game and Fish Department wild-life
biologist about to traumatize her for her own good, hits the switch and
drops the net across the opening. Got another one. No rush. Now he puts in
a call to Norris Dodd, the project biologist who is managing one of the most
ambitious attempts ever undertaken to study the behavior of wild elk along
highways. In the morning, they’ll creep up on the enclosure, loop ropes
around the feet of the trapped elk, pull her to the ground and clamp on a satellite
tracking collar so they can follow every move she makes for the next two years.
Gagnon and Dodd have been trapping, collaring, releasing and tracking
elk living along State Route 260 near Payson for nearly five years. This year,
they’re expanding the project to radio-collar elk living along Interstate 17 near
Flagstaff, in hopes of preventing hundreds of collisions with elk and deer that
injure and kill drivers almost every year.
Historically, a vehicle hits an elk about once a week along the stretch of State
260 that they are currently studying. The area supports both a year-round elk
population and elk that move down off the Mogollon Rim as winter sets in.
Statewide, cars hit elk or deer more than 1,000 times a year in Arizona. In
2003, five drivers or their passengers died as a result of colliding with wildlife
among the more than 1,000 animals, about half of them deer and elk.
So the Arizona Game and Fish Department teamed up with the Arizona
Department of Transportation (ADOT) to redesign highways in elk country
and save lives — human and elk alike. As part of the widening of 260 between
Payson and the Rim, biologists and engineers designed wildlife-friendly under-passes
along a 17-mile stretch, then added fencing to funnel elk, deer, bears,
mountain lions and other wildlife toward the crossings. Next, the biologists
collared more than a hundred elk to see how they responded to the redesigned
The result: An 83 percent drop in collisions along mostly
fenced and bridged stretches.
The project also yielded an unprecedented windfall of data
about elk behavior, since biologists have 30 to 40 elk at a time
fitted with collars that record the elks’ position every two hours
or so by satellite. The GPS collars drop off after two years and
emit a homing signal, so biologists can hike through the woods,
collect a collar and download its record of an elk’s movements.
The study has confirmed what the remarkable comeback of
elk across the nation has suggested — one of the largest deer spe-cies
in the Americas is tough, adaptable and semiobsessive in its
mating habits. Consider the statistics. By 1900, native Merriam
elk had vanished, and by 1922 only 90,000 elk remained in the
U.S. — nearly half of them in Yellowstone National Park. Today,
Arizona harbors perhaps 35,000 elk, most descended from 83
animals released near Chevelon Creek atop the Mogollon Rim
Only three things deeply concern elk, say biologists: mating,
eating and not getting eaten. Once, we’d probably have added
wolves to the predator list, but hunters wiped out Arizona’s
wolves, so elk need worry only about stray mountain lions or
calf-hungry black bears. Elk spend most of their lives segregated
by sex. Females and the young wander about looking for tasty
meadows, since they eat all sorts of things but get the most energy
per bite from meadow grass — unless they happen upon a tempt-ing
pile of alfalfa. They also overheat easily, so elk bed down in
the shade all day and venture out mostly at night. This is when
they cross highways, usually making their meadow rounds.
The bulls spend most of the year alone in inaccessible can-yons.
But during the summer and fall, they emerge from their
seclusion to round up a harem of females, which they defend
obsessively from other bulls. Younger bulls hang out on the
edges of harems, seeking love on the run during the rut. The
bulls roar their prerogatives, filling the forest with a strange cry
that seems more sea serpent than deer. They settle most dis-putes
with a ritualized brandishing of antlers, but it sometimes
comes to blows and broken necks. Males can lose 40 percent of
their body weight during the rut, since they barely have time to
chew, much less sleep.
The highway study has illuminated how the distribution of
meadows influences elk movements, since most crossings take
place near meadows. A small percentage of elk cross repeated-ly
— and they’re the ones most likely to end up getting smacked
by a vehicle. Although most elk won’t go out of their way to
use an undercrossing, once funneled by fenc-ing,
they cross readily — especially the year-round
elk that get used to the covered crossing.
Even so, they prefer underpasses with an open
design lacking high concrete walls, presumably
because the dark ledges at the top of the walls
look like great places for notoriously sneaky
mountain lions to lie in wait.
The fencing and underpasses have already dramatically
reduced elk-car collisions in certain stretches. Now, ADOT is
experimenting with electronic wildlife crossings in sections that
lack underpasses. Fences will funnel the animals to crossings
where military-grade motion sensors detect their approach and
trigger flashing warning lights on the highway.
Gagnon and Dodd hope that the overall study will provide
key information on elk movements and highway design that can
be applied nationwide as well as in the Flagstaff area. But first,
they have to collar the alfalfa addict out in the meadow.
They approach the trap carefully, not wanting to spook the
already exasperated elk. Advancing from behind a screen of
trees with ropes in hand, they move quickly to the enclosure.
The elk snorts and rolls her eyes. Gagnon slips up behind, slides
a rope under the bottom rail of the enclosure and catches one
rear leg. Dodd then moves to loop a rope around a front hoof
so they can pull the elk’s legs out from under her. Then in the
most dangerous moment of the operation, they open the door
and Gagnon jumps in on top of the prone elk and slips a hood
over its head. Now blind and confined, the elk immediately
Working with practiced haste, Gagnon and Dodd bolt on the
radio collar, attach an ear tag and get out again before the elk
becomes stressed or overheated.
Finally, they open the trap’s door and jump back.
The elk hesitates a moment, then bolts out of the opening,
across the meadow and into the shelter of the trees.
She runs until she feels safe — not understanding that Gagnon
will know every move she makes for the next two years.
A rough night. But, hey. All’s well that ends well. Besides, the
alfalfa was wonderful.
And now the scent of elk love is in the air.
Harems await beyond the underpass.
Life is good.
COLLAR OF THE WILD
Arizona Game and Fish
Department biologists trap a
young elk along State Route
260 near Payson in an effort to
study the animal’s migration
patterns. peter aleshire
HAVE YOU HERD? Because elk prefer habitats of
semiopen forests and protected grassy clearings, this lush
mountain meadow in the Apache-Sitgreaves National
Forests makes for an ideal family reunion. tom bean
NET GAIN What looks like man’s inhumanity to nature
(below) is a Game and Fish research tactic that has
effectively reduced elk-car highway collisions, sparing both
wild and human life. peter aleshire
FAMILY REUNION After
months of separation, elk
bulls rejoin the rest of their
herbivorous herds and cozy
up for the September mating
season and the winter
months (above). tom vezo
Peter Aleshire believes the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s elk study is one
of the most innovative wildlife conservation programs in the nation.
22 j u l y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 23
WISPS OF MYSTERY Fog shrouds Fish Creek Canyon
after a summer thunderstorm in the Apache-Sitgreaves
National Forests. The forests cover more than 2 million
acres, which include 34 lakes and reservoirs and about
680 miles of rivers and streams. robert g. mcdonald
n To order a print, see page 1.
Soul of the Mountain
The White Mountains welcome newcomers,
but harbor secrets a By Jo Baeza
24 j u l y 2 0 0 7
We who live in Arizona’s White Mountains have a name for
our home. We call it “The Mountain.” We are part of it, and it
is part of us.
The Mountain spoke to me one summer night as I lay sleep-ing
in my house in Pinetop. Instinctively, I sat up in bed and
held my breath. My dogs awoke, too, and kept perfectly still. A
primeval scream alerted all my senses. At the end of our street,
where the town meets the forest, a mountain lion was hunting.
As her screams faded, I smiled. We had heard the voice of The
This closeness to the life of the forest has kept me in the
White Mountains for 43 years. I moved here because I could
saddle up after work and ride along Billy Creek, where my dogs
swam in circles and my horses splashed. I could ride across the
national forest clear to New Mexico if I wanted to. I never did,
but I could have.
At various times of the year, a resident may have raccoons
peeking in a window, skunks scavenging around the house, elk
gorging on apples in the orchard or bears drinking from hum-mingbird
feeders on the porch. Except for a few mean-spirited
individuals, residents of The Mountain like having wild crit-ters
When I moved to Pinetop in 1964, it was a little hamlet with a
few houses scattered across a sprawling meadow. It has become
an urbanized version of the original. In spite of traffic, tourism
and year-round construction, wildlife persists in making itself
at home. Nearly any day in winter, you can see bald eagles if
you look up at noon.
One of the first things people told me when I moved here is
that the White Mountains are “friendly” mountains, not distant,
grandiose and formidable like the Rockies. They are accessible
mountains full of roads, trails and campsites, lakes, wet mead-ows
and trout streams. People don’t climb our mountains for the
challenge; they climb to get above the heat, noise and pollution
of urban life.
Accessibility has left the mountains vulnerable to abuse dur-ing
the past century. At various times, the mountains have been
overhunted, overgrazed, overlogged and even overprotected.
They are now in danger of being overloved by recreationists
Apache elders have a saying: “If you care for the land, the
land will care for you.” This century is a time of healing. White
Mountains residents are learning how to restore the health of
our beloved forests and protect our communities from wildfire.
The largest forest fire in Arizona history taught us what the
Apache people have known all along: Fire is a force of nature
that can be managed but not stopped.
In spite of human error, greed, drought, disease and wildfire,
the mountains recover and thrive in their time, not ours. From
the ashes of the nearly half million-acre Rodeo-Chediski Fire of
2002, grasses, brush, seedlings and wildflowers spring up and
wildlife abounds. The friendly mountains also are the resilient
mountains. They teach us patience.
I learned patience the 20 summers I worked seasonally as
a Forest Service lookout at Lake Mountain, Springer, Juniper
Ridge and Deer Springs fire towers. They say you never really
know someone until you live with them. The same is true of the
forest. It becomes your mother and your teacher. You know its
smells and sounds and moods.
You know the pitchy fragrance of the forest as well as a foal
knows its mother. If you’re a firefighter, you can smell smoke
long before you can see it. If you’re a hiker, you know when a
mountain lion has crossed your path by the cat-box scent it
leaves — a very large cat box. You can smell a herd of elk or wild
horses about the time they smell you. From a lookout tower, you
can smell rain hours before a storm moves in. At Juniper Ridge,
CAPTION HERE Etcheblah blah blah a caption will go here
and here. A caption goes hereCaption
BLOSSOMING BEAUTY Summer wildflowers drape Rudd
Knoll in a blaze of purple, pink and yellow. robert g. mcdonald
n To order a print, see page 1.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 25
The third-highest mountain in Arizona, Escudilla looked to
the Spaniards like a bowl lying upside down on a plain, and
they named it accordingly; escudilla translates as “wide bowl.”
Conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote of his early days in the
Apache National Forest: “There was, in fact, only one place from
which you did not see Escudilla on the skyline: that was the top
of Escudilla itself. Up there you could not see the mountain, but
you could feel it.”
To “feel it,” drive north from Alpine on U.S. Route 191 for 5.5
miles, then turn east on Forest Service Road 56 to the trailhead
for a 6-mile round-trip through grassy meadows, groves of aspen
trees and pine forests. On top is a lone fire lookout tower, with
sumptuous views of the Blue Range to the south. At 10,920 feet,
Escudilla Mountain has its moods, but it’s most flamboyant the
first week of October when whole blocks of aspens turn to gold.
Information: Alpine Ranger District, (928) 339-4384;
E S C UD I L L A MOUN TA I N
MIRROR IMAGE Reflected in the tranquil waters of Hulsey Lake (below), the
Escudilla Wilderness encompasses 5,200 acres, where elk, mule deer, wild
turkeys, black bears and long-tailed weasels make their homes.
26 j u l y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 27
I could even sniff bacon, hotcakes and coffee wafting in on the
prevailing wind all the way from Limestone Fire Camp on the
White Mountain Apache Reservation 8 miles distant.
The Mountain has its private moments. Sometimes the door
opens a crack and you can share them. One late summer day at
Lake Mountain, I awoke to zero visibility. The whole mountain
was socked in with heavy fog. I felt my way up the 60-foot look-out
tower, went in service on the radio and reported the weather
conditions. As I started back down, I heard the most pitiful
crying all around me. A herd of elk had spread out to graze
during the night and, when the fog moved in, the cows found
themselves separated from their calves. The babies cried and the
mothers squealed from every direction until the fog lifted and
they paired up and went off together down toward a meadow.
The White Mountains are gentle mountains. They rise in easy
grades from a mile-high sea of prairie. High plains turn into
piñon-juniper woodlands that graduate into a vast stand of pon-derosa
pines, then climb steeply to alpine forests of spruce, fir
and aspen trees. At 11,403 feet above sea level, Mount Baldy is
the second-highest peak in Arizona and the spire of the White
Mountains. Baldy’s winter snowpack spawns the headwaters
of the White, Black and Little Colorado rivers that give life to
Arizona’s desert lands.
There is beauty at every elevation in every season. Winter is a
drama in black and white; spring is a ballet of rushing water and
budding trees; summer is a big-screen surround-sound produc-tion;
fall is a ceremony — sedately, royally golden.
Our mountains have known human footprints for millennia.
Campsites of hunters date back 2,000 years. A Pueblo culture
known as “Mogollon” emerged about 1,000 years ago. Hopi and
Zuni people claim the Mogollon as ancestors. Think of it — we
can reach back and touch the walls of those who lived and
worked and worshipped hundreds of years before us. We live
under the same stars, walk the same trails. Ancient people taught
us continuity. They are part of our spiritual psyche.
Anthropologists say Athabaskan people who became the
Navajos and Apaches moved into the Southwest about the time
the Pueblo people dispersed. The White Mountain Apaches tell
a different story. They say the Creator made them here, in this
place, in these mountains, where they have lived since “time
immemorial.” White people named them “Apache.” They call
themselves Ndee, “The People.”
They know Mount Baldy as Ba’ishzhine Dzil, “Black Mountain,”
the Sacred Mountain to the east. White Mountain Apache
Cultural Resources Director Ramon Riley said, “In the spirit
world, we always refer to it as ‘Black Mountain.’ It’s like Mount
Sinai to us. Apache people pilgrimage there annually.” For that
reason, the top of Baldy is closed to all but native people.
In the sacred mountains live the Gaan, the mountain spirits
that bless and protect the Apache people. Crown dancers, as they
are commonly known, become the spirits during ceremonies.
Hedy Kelewood, who sponsors a group of young crown dancers
in Cibecue, said, “To native people, no one owns the land. The
Creator gave it to us to respect and care for.”
Sculpted and fired in volcanic violence, the mountains are a
work in progress, an unfinished creation, changing season to
season, age to age, eon to eon. We who live here live in eternity
because we are part of the mountains and they are part of us.
A nun once told me the world’s religions are like
different paths to one God, who is on top of a
mountain. I thought of that spiritual metaphor the first
time I climbed Baldy, the sacred mountain of the White
Mountain Apache people. The path is rocky, steep and
dangerous, but when you reach the end of the trail,
you see the world from a different perspective.
From State Route 260, the White Mountain Scenic
Highway, turn south on State Route 273 to Sheeps
Crossing. The 14-mile loop trail goes through spongy
meadows and dark forests of spruce, fir and aspen, up
rocky switchbacks to a clearing. The summit is on the
White Mountain Apache Reservation and off-limits to
all but Native American people. Savor the spectacular
view of the Blue and Black river valleys going down the
West Baldy Trail, but leave early in the morning during
the summer monsoon season when thunderstorms
have a Wagnerian intensity. —J.B.
MOUNT B A L DY W I L D E R N E S S
If you’re a hiker, you know when a mountain
lion has crossed your path by the cat box
scent it leaves — a very large cat-box.
ROCK OF AGES Sculpted rock formations
emerge from a thick pine forest in the Mount
Baldy Wilderness. dale schicketanz
A stand of slender
aspen trees mingles
with green and gold
bracken ferns near
n To order a print,
see page 1.
Jo Baeza has worked as a rancher, teacher, Forest Service lookout, author
and columnist. She lives in Arizona’s White Mountains with a dog of
questionable ancestry and an ancient cat.
28 j u l y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 29
In spite of what John Ford’s film might have led you to
believe, Fort Apache is not in Monument Valley; it is in the
White Mountains. Established by the U.S. Army in 1870 to
subdue the Apache people, it has become a center for the
preservation of White Mountain Apache culture and language.
An authentic restoration of the original fort, it is not a touristy
reconstruction. Walk down Officer’s Row, or visit Gen. George
Crook’s 1871 log-cabin headquarters and listen for the taped
ghostly galloping sound of mounted soldiers riding by.
Some 2 miles off State Route 73 on the outskirts of Whiteriver,
Fort Apache Historic Park and White Mountain Apache Culture
Center Museum offer tours most days of the week.
Information: (928) 338-4625, (928) 338-1230; www.wmat.
FOR T A PAC H E
FLOWER POWER A solitary stalk of white
rises amid robust corn lilies near the West Fork
of the Black River. The star-shaped flowers
inhabit moist meadows, stream banks and
wooded areas. jack dykinga
n To order a print, see page 1.
PURPLE POISON Sunrise illuminates a
field of purple locoweed southwest of Eagar.
Although beautiful, locoweed can be toxic to
cattle and horses if ingested.
robert g. mcdonald
n To order a print, see page 1.
30 j u l y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 31
You know the pitchy fragrance of the forest
as well as a foal knows its mother.
PEACEFUL REFLECTION The still water of
Crescent Lake reflects the glowing sky at twilight.
At an elevation of 9,048 feet, the lake is a favorite
destination of anglers on the lookout for brown,
brook and rainbow trout. jack dykinga
n To order a print, see page 1.
32 j u l y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 33
FISHING FORK Anglers can seek out Arizona’s state
fish, the Apache trout, on the West Fork of the Black
River at the West Fork Campground. randy prentice
n To order a print, see page 1.
On a cold Sunday morning in winter, I’m on my way to
Pacheta Falls with Jeff Cheney, the White Mountain Apache
Tribe’s head ranger. We top out above Fort Apache and drive
across the grassy expanse of Bonito Prairie, cross Bonito Creek,
then climb abruptly into thick forests of mixed conifer that
frame wet meadows touched with snow. We surprise eight
wintering bald eagles perched in a snag. At 9,000 feet we
turn onto a muddy, unmarked logging road and walk over
malpais to the edge of a cliff. Below us is the cold white rush
of Pacheta Creek diving into a chasm of black basaltic rock.
“You ask me my favorite place,” Jeff says. “It’s all my favorite
place. I love all of it. I was born here and I’ll die here.”
Pacheta Falls is downstream from Pacheta Lake about 2
miles from the Black River, but you won’t find it on most maps.
Information: For permits and directions, White Mountain
Apache Wildlife and Outdoor Recreation Division, (928) 338-
4385; www.wmat.nsn.us. —J.B.
PAC HE TA FA L L S
AT THE RIVER’S EDGE After a flood, waterlogged river sedge reclines
on the banks of the East Fork of the Black River. robert g. mcdonald
34 j u l y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 35
LONG AND WINDING ROAD Wildflowers line U.S. Route
191, also known as the Coronado Trail, an Arizona Scenic
Byway, as it winds past Hannagan Meadow. randy prentice
n To order a print, see page 1.
Blue River runs deep with stories. To sportsmen and
residents, it has always been known affectionately as
“The Blue.” By the 1880s, both ranchers and outlaws
had discovered its remote side canyons and inaccessible
ridges. Lula Mae Brooks explained in the ranching history
called Down on the Blue, “It isn’t natural for all people to
be good.” Before things settled down, there were a few
gunfights and expulsions. The Blue is where the Arizona
frontier ended. Almost.
The historic river heads in Catron County, New Mexico,
and drops 24 miles to the San Francisco River. For a nice
Sunday drive, go east on U.S. Route 180 from Alpine to
Luna Lake, then turn south on Forest Service Road 281
through the Upper Blue country. At Blue Crossing, turn
west on Forest Service Road 567 to Beaverhead Lodge
on the Coronado Trail, which loops back north on U.S.
Route 191 to Alpine.
Information: (928) 339-4330; www.alpinearizona.com.
BLUE RANGE PRIMI T IVE AREA
36 j u l y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 37
Hawley Lake began in 1954 with a standoff between the
United States and the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The
Apaches won. Defying an injunction to stop them from
building a dam at Smith Park Cienega, Apache operators
worked bulldozers day and night, protected by men with
rifles, until the dam was completed.
At 9,000 feet elevation, a sapphire lake reflects a
cloudless sky as an osprey circles her nest in a dead snag.
Hawley Lake is wild but accessible, approximately 18
miles from Hon-Dah Resort-Casino. Take State Route 260
east from Hon-Dah, turn south and travel 10 miles on
State Route 473. You’ll need a White Mountain Apache
permit to picnic, camp or fish. Sixty rental cabins and
houses are available from the nonprofit Community
Information: For rentals, (928) 369-1753;
HAWL E Y L A K E
Nearly any day in winter, you can see
bald eagles if you look up at noon.
MISTY MORNING A thin layer of morning fog
(left) hovers over a rustic wooden fence that runs
alongside Hannagan Meadow. robert g. mcdonald
n To order a print, see page 1.
For a change in altitude, wander the White Mountains with our expanded
guide on arizonahighways.com (click on the July “Trip Planner”).
better to give Volunteer Vacations on the Navajo Indian Reservation Yield Surprising Lessons
BRIDGING CULTURES Vicki Wilson’s
weeklong stint as a tutor at the Tuba City
Boarding School on the Navajo Indian
Reservation is one example of a
sustainable community project building
bridges of friendship through Amizade
volunteers. Midway through her week,
Wilson guides kindergartner Gerolle
Butler through a writing exercise.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 39
Holding the giant-sized book, White is the Moon by
Valerie Greeley, I stood in front of 20 kindergartners sitting
cross-legged on their red-and-green-and-blue classroom rug. I
was assigned to tutor in Ms. Lita Tallsalt’s kindergarten class, and
she invited me to read to the 5- and 6-year-old students. I pointed
to the owl, the red fox and the green frog as I read and turned
the pages. My legs shook; my palms were moist. I had never
worked in a kindergarten classroom before.
I had no idea how much I would learn.
A year or so ago, my husband, Matt, and I heard about a travel
trend called volunteer vacations — trips where people converge
worldwide to maintain hiking trails, build houses, feed the
homeless or perform other community work. One opportu-nity
in particular stood out for us: a tutoring program at Tuba
City Boarding School on the Navajo Indian Reservation offered
through the nonprofit organization Amizade (a Portuguese word
meaning “friendship”). Participants stay in Tuba City, on the
Navajo Nation, and see the sights with their Amizade program
leader when not working in the schools. We scheduled our tutor-ing
week for late September 2006.
As the vacation drew closer, I packed and unpacked three
times. What did a tutor wear? What was the weather like in Tuba
City? What did I know about teaching?
As upstate New Yorkers in our early 30s, Matt and I had never
traveled very far west, so even the flight from Phoenix to Flagstaff
seemed like part of some tour. My window on the small airplane
was covered with noseprints from passengers before me who’d
pressed their faces to the glass, looking out as they flew over
Sedona and the rose-colored mesas. “Look!” I said every five
seconds to my husband, who was already looking.
At the Flagstaff airport, Keith Chiodo, our Amizade group
leader, met us with a handshake and an offer to help with the
bags. We started the drive to Tuba City, on the way picking up
Jeff Byam, who came in by train from Michigan. He was one of
three other participants we met on the trip. Two women, one
from Sedona and the other from Ohio, rounded out our small
team. On Sunday, our first full day in Arizona, we visited the
Grand Canyon to sightsee and get to know one another. We
walked into the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, then back up
and along the Rim Trail.
“Don’t any of these trails have railings?” I asked the more expe-rienced
“Nope,” they answered.
I walked as far away from the edge as possible, while still keep-ing
up with the group.
On our first day in the classroom I was ready an hour early,
pacing around my small room.
“You’re more nervous now than you were at the Grand Canyon,”
As volunteers in Amizade’s Navajo Nation program, we would
help teachers and students with everything from reading to
tutoring in math and writing. I was irrationally afraid that I had
forgotten how to do simple mathematics or write in block letters.
Immediately, in the classroom, I was put to the test by a 5-year-old
struggling to print an uppercase Y.
“Here,” I offered, “I can help you.” Kneeling at her desk, I
drew a Y slowly, several times, at the top of her paper. When she
picked up her pencil and drew it herself, she looked up at me for
approval. She got it right on the first try — and I was wonder-ing
how much it would cost to go back to college to become a
Soon, Jeff’s teacher invited him to present a health lesson to
his class, and my husband gave a presentation about his native
England to a class of second-graders.
“Every new group of volunteers brings their own lives to the
trip,” said Keith. “The people who take volunteer vacation trips
are some of the best people I’ve met. They’re the most empathetic,
curious people, and fun, too.”
Fun — with an educational bent — was a large part of our
vacation. As the Navajo people, according to Amizade material,
“continue to successfully adjust to contemporary mainstream
By Vicki Wilson
Photographs by Peter Schwepker
My legs shook;
my palms were moist.
I had never worked
in a kindergarten
BUT I’M NOT SLEEPY Naptime in any culture means little boys like 6-
year-old Kizer Tohannie must stop what they’re doing and lay down
their heads for a while.
40 j u l y 2 0 0 7
Vacation Vocation Guide
For some people, idle relaxation doesn’t make for the ideal vacation.
If you’re one of those whose idea of a vacation is taking on projects
for the greater good, here are some organizations that would like
to help you book your next holiday:
Participate in “intercultural exploration and understanding through
community-driven volunteer programs and service-learning programs”
in global locations, including the Navajo Nation.
Contact: (888) 973-4443; www.amizade.org.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL INSTITUTE OF AMERICA
Get hands-on experience at archaeological sites in Arizona
and around the world. Can you dig it?
Contact: (617) 353-9361; www.archaeological.org.
ARIZONA BALD EAGLE NESTWATCH PROGRAM
Test your eagle-eye skills monitoring bald eagles and their habitats
along the Verde and Salt rivers.
Contact: (602) 789-3581;
ARIZONA GAME AND FISH VOLUNTEER PROGRAM
Outdoor enthusiasts can help preserve and protect the land and
animals they love.
Contact: (602) 789-3680;
HABITAT FOR HUMANITY GLOBAL VILLAGE TRIPS
Build some character while constructing entire communities,
locally and around the world.
Contact: (800) 422-4828; www.habitat.org/getinv/default.aspx.
IN TIME VOLUNTEER
Give back to the
by taking part
circumstances,” they face “the increasing challenges of cultural
identity, educating their children, and economic development.”
So volunteers not only help in the schools, they learn about
Navajo culture. One evening, a Navajo woman gave us a tour
where she’d grown up on the reservation, and we watched
sunset from a mesa near her land. Another evening, a Navajo
storyteller and songwriter performed and answered our
questions about his experience growing up in Tuba City.
We ate Navajo tacos — ground meat, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese
on flat bread similar to fried dough — and visited the Navajo
National Monument and Monument Valley National Monument.
At the Tuba City flea market, Matt and I bought a painted pottery
vase from a Navajo artist.
“This here,” the artist told us, pointing to the striping on the vase,
“is a chief pattern.” That statement led to a fascinating 20-minute
discussion of the other patterns on the pot.
We found openness everywhere we went.
“I was really enamored with the philosophy of life here,” said Jeff.
“It seems to be more in harmony with the environment and each
other. It flows with the energy of life rather than fighting against it.”
I felt that, too. When I finished reading White is the Moon to
the kindergartners, I sat down with them and they told me about
the animals they had at home. Some had goats, some had dogs
and some had cats. I was no longer nervous.
On our last day on the reservation, we packed in silence.
“So?” Matt asked finally, breaking the silence. “What did you
“I think that at the beginning I wasn’t sure I had the confidence
to know I could do something like this,” I answered. He nodded.
“And now?” he asked.
“I know I can.” The children taught me that.
I sat down
and they told
me about the
had at home.
Some had goats,
some had dogs
and some had
cats. I was no
SCRATCHING THE SURFACE With more than
250 postings of projects worldwide, the
Archaeological Institute of America’s
“Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunities
Bulletin” offers something for everyone with
the urge to delve below the surface of an
ancient culture. peter ensenberger
IF I HAD A HAMMER Partnering with local
affiliates, low-income families and citizens of
developing nations to build affordable houses,
Habitat for Humanity volunteers seek to wipe
out substandard housing and homelessness in
the United States and around the globe.
Vicki Wilson plans to leave New York state to head west more often. This
was her first volunteer vacation.
Peter Schwepker is a photography instructor at Northern Arizona University
in Flagstaff. He enjoyed working with Lita Tallsalt at the Tuba City Boarding
SHARING THE JOY One of more than 4,000 volunteers
whose combined efforts have contributed 140,000-plus hours
of service since Amizade’s inception in 1994, Wilson reaps a
joyous reward in Alexia Hatathlie’s mastery of the word “my.” To find out more about Arizona’s volunteer-vacation
opportunities, visit arizonahighways.com
(click on the July “Trip Planner”).
42 j u l y 2 0 0 7 along the way
by Leo W. Banks illustration by Joseph Daniel Fiedler
Coincidence favors the prepared
mind on the Navajo Indian Reservation
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i want to describe an extraordinary coincidence
that brought me face-to-face with a legendary Indian trader
on a lousy excuse for a road in a forgotten corner of the
Originally, I had called his summer home in Colorado to
learn some history on the Mexican Water Trading Post. As a
writer, I make cold calls almost daily and never know what
to expect. But this was pure delight — and the foundation of a
slowly built coincidence.
For 45 minutes, I heard a marvelous story about a young
man, barely out of his teens, who came to the “Big Rez” in 1948
to make a home for himself. Elijah Blair did that successfully,
and went on to become a highly respected trader and friend —
in the true sense of the word — to the Navajo people.
Jewell and Roscoe McGee had hired Elijah, then 20, to
manage their trading post at Mexican Water. Newly married,
Elijah and his wife, Claudia, working side-by-side, were paid a
whopping $50 per week by the McGees.
Almost immediately, the Blairs began learning the Navajo
ways, and just as quickly, Elijah acquired the nickname that
follows him to this day.
It started with a wagon parked outside the post the day of
his arrival. Elijah assumed it was the post’s wagon. But an old
Navajo man kept talking and gesturing, as if he wanted to haul
the wagon away. Elijah insisted he pay for it first.
This running skit — with neither fellow able to understand
the other’s pantomime — lasted three days, the old man
spending nights in a hogan behind the post. Finally, Elijah
figured it out: The man had bought the wagon from the
previous manager and had already paid for it.
With the matter resolved, the Navajo man, who’d been good-natured
throughout the negotiation, pointed to Elijah’s ears
and said, in Navajo, “Nothing goes in!” Elijah has been known
by his nickname — “Jai Yazhi,” or “little ears” — ever since.
Partly because of that episode, Elijah tackled the
monumental task of learning the Navajo language, which paid
huge dividends in adjusting to life there, as has the couple’s
sense of humor.
I asked what Elijah did for entertainment in such a remote
place. Laughing, he responded, “I never missed the bright
lights because, growing up in rural eastern Kentucky, I didn’t
know what the bright lights were.”
Claudia, then 19, said that when her initial homesickness
wore off, she adapted well to life in the Navajo wide open. “I
actually came up in the world moving to the reservation,” she
says. “We had an indoor toilet, and that was new to me.”
The Blairs left Mexican Water after five years, having bought
their own post at Aneth, Utah. They’ve since owned stores in
Dinnebito and Kayenta, as well as Kayenta’s Wetherill Inn, and
they currently own Blair’s Trading Post in Page.
“Because I worked so many different places, lots of Navajos
still know me, and they come into Blair’s to sell their rugs or
just say hello,” says Elijah. “It’s a little like the way things were
back at Mexican Water. Boy, I sure get a kick out of talking to
Two weeks after that conversation, as I drove northeast of
Kayenta on U.S. Route 160, I spotted a sign pointing down a
dirt road toward the Mexican Water Chapter House. Knowing
that the old stone trading post stood near it, and hearing
Elijah’s stories in my head, I jammed the brakes and decided to
make the turn to have a look.
The condition of that dirt road? Well, think of a burro’s rear
end — hairy and a little steep. But I made it down okay, only to
find the post gone, torn down. Disappointed, I started up that
limestone shelf-road and noticed a camper heading toward me.
Maybe it was the cowboy hat and turquoise jewelry that
tipped me off, but I knew immediately it was Elijah. For some
reason, he knew right away who I was, too. Knowing he hadn’t
been to the place in years, I asked why he’d come. With a grin
plastered over his face, he said, “You made me curious!”
“You made me curious!” I countered, and followed Elijah, 79,
down to the post site, now a scatter of debris.
We spent hours that afternoon talking over what it was
like there in 1948, and the stories were something to hear. I’m
partial to the one about the tornado tearing off the post roof,
leaving pawned saddles and jewelry scattered across the desert.
Several locals joined us, and it became like a neighborhood
reunion. Even though much of the conversation was in Navajo,
I had a blast. It made me think of how lucky I am in the work I
do, getting to meet gentlemen like Elijah Blair while prowling
Arizona’s backcountry. You never know what amazing
coincidences might happen along the way.
44 j u l y 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 45
hike of the month
Before you go on this hike, visit arizonahighways.com for other things
to do and places to see in this area. You’ll also find more hikes in our archive.
every time i go to the
San Carlos Apache Indian
Reservation, I feel like a
trespasser. Though I do not
carry gunpowder or disease
like intruders of yesteryear,
and I enter with just a pad
and paper, I still tread lightly.
Knowing just a little of
the historical relationship
between the Indeh, “the
people,” and the white
invaders impels me to respect
This tract in east-central
Arizona remains a small
piece of a homeland that
once stretched from Texas
westward to Arizona and
south into Mexico. Driving
through the reservation to
my destination on the Black
River, I hear the ghostly
whisperings of Cochise and
Geronimo echoing through
the trees, reminding me of
the hardships faced by a
The lifeblood of the Apache
Indians in Arizona, the Black
River has always maintained a
reputation for excellent fishing.
As an envious teenager, I
remember my brothers and
their friends venturing forth
on the annual trip to the river
and coming home with
reports of bears and landing
fish with every cast. Stuck in
school during their late-April
and early-May weeklong trips,
I was always bidding for my
chance. It came and went and
though I saw no bears and the
fishing had slowed, I was
introduced to a magical realm
called “the forks.”
The spot holds a special
place in the heart of every
person lucky enough to have
witnessed the tranquil
connection of the Black and
White rivers. Standing belly
deep in the water of the
juncture that forms the Salt
River, I got a sense of the power
of nature and the wanton
appetite of man. The chilling
mountain water brushing
between my legs built the city I
have always called home. Each
water droplet has a certain
end: One will green
someone’s lawn in Mesa,
another carries a cottonwood
seed that may produce a
beautiful tree somewhere,
possibly on the banks of
Theodore Roosevelt Lake.
As a returning 26-year-old
doing my best to grow a
grizzled beard and with hair
stretching well down my
back, I aim to reclaim that
euphoric relationship with
pure Arizona water. Getting
a later start than I wanted, a
longtime friend, Jim Weiss,
and I begin the 4-mile
hike downriver from the
campgrounds at Black River
Crossing. The first of what
will be 10 river crossings (five
down, five up) shocks the
senses, and the river’s frigid
water leaves me gasping
for those warm Phoenix
After crossing, we walk
along the river under the
eaves of yellowing Arizona
sycamore trees, and through
brambles of what we call the
“wait a minute” bush. This
Length: 8 to 9 miles round-trip.
Elevation Gain: None.
Difficulty: Strenuous. The hike includes five river crossings
on the way downriver and five on the way back. There
are no markers to indicate the crossing points.
Payoffs: Excellent small-mouth bass fishing.
Location: San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.
Getting There: From Phoenix, drive east on U.S. Route 60 to Globe. From
Globe travel northeast on U.S. 60 to Milepost 284 and turn right (east) on
Indian Route 1300. Stay on Indian 1300 for 12 miles until reaching Indian
Route 1100. Drive northeast on Indian 1100 for 14 to 16 miles until reaching a
crossing over the Black River; do not cross the river. Follow the winding road
west into the campground on the south side of the river. The road here can
be rough, so cross the camping area by foot if necessary. Start hiking below
the last camping spot where the first fording of the river can be made.
Travel Advisory: To reach the trail or river, a high-clearance vehicle is
necessary, and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is needed in wet weather. There is
no trailhead, and the hike is not marked. The current can be strong, so scout
the river and cross carefully. This hike is best in early summer before monsoon
rains or in the early fall before snow or winter rain. Don’t hike alone.
Additional Information: Recreation and special-use permits are
required to camp, picnic, hike, fish, hunt or drive on back roads. For
permit information, contact the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation,
(928) 475-2343; www.sancarlosrecreationandwildlife.com.
nasty little shrub’s name
comes from the constant need
to mutter “wait a minute” to
your companions as you tear
yourself from its thorny grasp.
I write this looking like I lost
a fight with a rabid alley cat.
The second crossing
becomes swift and narrow, so
we dub the spot “Jack Park
Wash,” after a friend who
lost his footing here and was
swept downriver a bit.
The third crossing goes
easily as we wave goodbye
to the last of the fishermen
and are left alone in this
river wonderland. It becomes
apparent that no one has
been this far along the trail
for some time. We startle an
osprey from a feed, a white-tailed
deer from its bed, and
rile a rare daytime skunk.
All the while, Jim tests the
pools with his fishing rod,
coming up with smallmouth
bass on nearly every cast,
giving me flashbacks of
my brothers’ earlier trips.
Reluctantly, the fisherman
deep within him relents and
The fourth crossing poses
the greatest challenge. Though
the river widens and appears
shallow, the exposed bedrock
under the water feels slippery.
Leg-breaking cracks appear,
twisting deep, from ankle to
knee, step to step.
The fifth and last crossing
requires a passage through
a tangle of riverside bushes
more suitable for the likes
of The Hobbit’s Gollum than
for full-sized humans. We
stumble through, both of our
minds conjuring up things to
run into — a sleeping bear, a
badger or an angry knee-high
The fork’s within reach,
and we trudge on, intending
to spend some time fishing far
from the incursion of people.
As the two rivers meet and
form the Salt, the water picks
up steam. It becomes a
narrow bed of white wavy
water heading down to the
Salt’s namesake canyon.
We stop at the confluence
and relish the beautiful
scenery, soaking in the
surroundings. Jim starts to
toss in his line, and the fish
react accordingly, unable to
resist the black rubber grub.
I take a turn or two, and the
bass respond as they always
do when I try to fish — with a
subtle indifference. For every
one I catch, Jim brings in 10.
The good fishing causes us
to linger a bit too long, and
the sun begins its descent
behind the red canyon walls.
Realizing our predicament,
we head back. Along the way,
we reach a speed and stride
that would make an Olympic
race-walker envious. In spite
of the awkward motion, we
make good time. The sun,
with its head start, forces us
to pick up the pace, neither of
us wanting to cross the river
in the dark.
With our increased speed,
we tire. I feel like an Apache
warrior on the run from
approaching cavalry. We stare
at the last crossing, knowing
our camp lies beyond.
Warmth and a hot meal
await. With nothing else to
do, we step from the dark
shore into the darker water.
The Black River will
forever be a place that stirs
my emotions, a mixture
of love and regret. Love
for the beauty of the land
and a sense of regret that I
will never have been here
with my eldest brother Tim,
who recently lost his battle
with cancer at the age of
34. Our schedules never
lined up — I was always in
school or he was at work.
Tim loved this river and his
story of catching a monster
small-mouth bass became a
legend — the fish grew larger
with every telling. With a
heavy heart I think of this
river, a place that will always
cultivate memories of Tim.
by Brian Minnick photographs by Jeff Snyder
WHITE ON WHITE Above its
confluence with the Black River, the
White River (above) runs clear and
cold through Arizona’s White
FISHERMEN FUN The Black River,
near Black River Crossing (left) runs
through the San Carlos Apache
Indian Reservation on its way to
forming the Salt River. The stream’s
riffles, pools and runs make it an
excellent spot for fishing.
An Apache Indian reservation trek seeks
the merger of the Black and White rivers
SAN CARLOS APACHE
WHITE MOUNTAIN APACHE
S ALT RI VER C A N YON
To Show Low
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 47
back road adventure
the morning promised
rain and never delivered,
but we didn’t complain. We
still had the rich scent of it
and bulging clouds to shelter
us as we rolled through the
mountains and shadowy
forests west of Prescott on
Copper Basin Road.
It makes for an easy
journey out of town, not too
remote, not too rugged. We
followed it to a picturesque
back to Prescott and on to a
scenic overlook in the Sierra
The old cemetery we
visited stands out just as
much as the scenery. I’ve
probably passed it 15 times,
never stopping to appreciate
its cowboy flavor or its
famous inhabitants. I’m glad I
did stop on this trip.
My son, Patrick, and I
hopped into Fred Veil’s Jeep
outside the Hotel St. Michael in
downtown Prescott. Fred drove
us south on Montezuma
Street, and after 1 mile turned
right onto Copper Basin, also
known as Yavapai County
Road 64, going west. Initially
paved, the road becomes dirt
after 3.1 miles.
Fred, a 60-something-year-
old lawyer with an
adventurous streak, proves
the perfect guide on a route
he’s explored before. The road
meanders over verdant hills
covered with piñon pines,
juniper and oak trees as it
drops off the Sierra Prieta,
never quite deciding whether
to go due west or straight
south or somewhere in
The Sierra Prieta comes
with an interesting back story.
As retired Forest Service
employee and historian
Jay Eby explains, the name
originated with explorer
Amiel Weeks Whipple, who
A copper-country road shows Skull Valley’s unexpected charm
passed through what is now
Arizona in 1853 and spied the
range from a distance. The
name he gave them matched
exactly what he saw, Sierra
Prieta — “murky mountains.”
We wound through what
used to be rich copper-mining
country, although visual
evidence of that enterprise
is now slim. But on a distant
hill, we spot two rough-hewn
shacks that could
have belonged to early 20th-century
Except for a wash or two,
which might deepen after a
rain, the road can be traveled
by most passenger vehicles.
Those seeking a bigger
challenge can turn left, at 9.2
miles, onto Forest Service
Road 9402E, which leads
to the tiny town of Wilhoit
on a road beset by multiple
washouts. We declined that
route and continued on
Copper Basin Road.
After 17.3 miles, the dirt
road ended and we came to
pavement in Skull Valley.
According to the best story
we have, the town earned its
name when the first white
men arrived in 1864 and
found piles of bleached skulls
littering the ground, the
residue of a battle between
I love that name — Skull
Valley. It gets to the point. But
10-year-old Patrick expected
a dark and foreboding place.
“It doesn’t look like Skull
Valley,” he complained.
He’s right; the name
misleads. Few places are
more picturesque than this
tiny community, cradled by
wonderfully green hills, split by
railroad tracks and anchored
by an old-fashioned mercantile
that still sells locally raised
beef, lamb, pork and eggs.
The Skull Valley General
Store has become a tourist
attraction. Wanderers from
around the world stop to
inspect the potbellied stove
and sign the guest book that
clerk Lilly Bergen keeps by
“People come in and say they
were here 30 years ago, or 50
years ago,” said Bergen. “You
know what I think they like
best? The creaking wood floor.”
Sierra Prieta Panorama
THUMBS UP The Yavapai
Indians’ “Lion Lying Down,”
known today as Thumb
Butte, rises 6,522 feet into a
stormy morning (above).
This view is from the road
leading to the Sierra Prieta
TRAIN STOPPED A-ROLLIN’ Inside
the red and white walls of the
former Skull Valley Train Depot
(below), the Skull Valley Museum
now exhibits pictures and appliances
used before the town obtained
electricity in the 1940s. The sparse
population relied on other ways to
supply power, such as an old wooden
windmill (above) standing along the
road just west of Prescott.
by Leo W. Banks photographs by Robert G. McDonald
46 j u l y 2 0 0 7
48 j u l y 2 0 0 7
The store, built in 1916,
is a babe compared with the
railroad, which came through
Skull Valley in 1894, and
especially the post office. The
original one opened in 1869,
making it one of the Arizona
Territory’s early post offices.
The town cemetery offers
the same pioneer-days flavor.
Its oldest grave holds Alfred
Shupp, an adventurer and
gold-hunter who accompanied
the famous Walker party on
its pioneering expedition
through the area in 1863.
Men like Shupp, who died
in 1899, played a key role in
opening central Arizona to
Not far from his grave
lie the remains of George
Phippen, another pioneer
of sorts. The paintings and
sculptures created by this
first president of the Cowboy
Artists of America, who died
in 1966, inspired numerous
followers, and led to the
creation of The Phippen
Museum outside Prescott.
His headstone — a bronze
saddle — fits this beautifully
tended cemetery’s cowboy
theme. Another headstone
is carved with the saying,
“A cowboy forever,” and
someone has decorated
a third grave with a clay
cowboy boot overflowing
The cemetery lies off Iron
Springs Road, a two-lane
highway that loops back to
Prescott from Skull Valley.
We followed it for 17 miles
back into Prescott. With
daylight left to burn and a
hankering for a long view, we
headed back out Gurley Street
toward Thumb Butte with our
hearts set on last light at the
locally famed Copper Basin
We turned up a lot of rocks
and dust driving up to the
overlook, but what a payoff.
At 6,910 feet, the peak offers
a spectacular view to the
west, including the Copper
Basin Road, unfolding in
tan hues below us, Peeples
Valley to the left, and on the
right, Skull Valley, which
appears as a distant streak of
rich greenery beneath dark
Throughout the day,
small storms brought rain to
others within our eyesight,
but not to us. As we retraced
our steps to Prescott, the
sun broke through, a nice
welcome back for three back-country
RESTORE AND REMEMBER
Representing Prescott’s pioneer
ranchers, the re-created Ranch House
at Sharlot Hall Museum stands
alongside a replica of an 1867
schoolhouse, the first public school in
the Territory. Fort Misery, Arizona’s
oldest wooden structure, also sits
nearby on the museum grounds.
Note: Mileages are approximate.
> Begin in downtown Prescott at the intersection of Gurley and Montezuma
streets; drive south 1 mile on Montezuma.
> Turn right onto Yavapai County Road 64 (Copper Basin Road). Pavement ends
in 3.1 miles.
> Continue south on Copper Basin Road. Continue past a road junction (6.7
miles); an overlook (8.2 miles); and the junction with Forest Service Road 9402E
(about 10 miles). Don’t take the left-hand turn to Wilhoit (34º29.121’N;
> Turn right onto paved Iron Springs Road (County Road 10) at Skull Valley,
approximately 18 miles from the starting point.
> Continue 17 miles on Iron Springs Road. Pass the Skull Valley General Store
(.3 of a mile) and the Skull Valley Cemetery (about 2 miles).
> Bear right onto Miller Valley Road in Prescott. Go 1 mile.
> Bear right onto Grove Ave. Go .4 of a mile.
> Turn right onto West Gurley Street. Go 1 mile to where Gurley turns south
and becomes Thumb Butte Road.
> Continue 3.7 miles on Thumb Butte Road. (Pass Thumb Butte Campground
after about 2 miles.)
> Bear left onto Thumb Butte Road at the Copper Basin Overlook sign. Go 3.6
miles to the overlook (34º30.281’N; 112º35.346’W).
> Backtrack on the same route to return to Prescott.
PEACE PREVAILS A warm red
sunset (right) settles over Skull
Valley, named for bleached-white
Indian skulls found by the first
white men to come across a battle
site years after blood was spilled
there between the Pima and
Yavapai Indian tribes. This view is
from the Copper Basin Overlook.
back road adventure
Warning: Back-road travel can
be hazardous. Be aware of
weather and road conditions.
Carry plenty of water. Don’t
travel alone, and let someone
know where you’re going and
when you plan to return.
Additional Information: Prescott
National Forest, (928) 443-8000;
Prescott Chamber of Commerce,
(928) 445-2000 or toll-free (800)
BRADSHAW MT S .
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