Wilderness paradise

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By Anita Mabante Leach

Bicyclists at Hawley Lake, in the White Mountains.

You don’t have to show a passport to enjoy the sovereign nation of the White Mountain Apache Tribe in northern Arizona. An interest in history and wildlife will suffice.

The Apache believe they were placed in the White Mountains by their Creator to become Ndee – The People. At least a week’s worth of exploring is available in the area, beginning with Fort Apache. From Phoenix, the reservation and surrounding area is about a four-hour drive.

Now a historic park located in the White Mountains, the old fort was originally established in 1870 as a military outpost. The site is listed on the registrar of National Historic Places and is known as the staging area where U.S. soldiers planned their pursuit of Apache bands led by Geronimo and Cochise.

The 228-acre site, located about 20 minutes via scenic drive south of the Hon-Dah Resort and Casino, includes prehistoric ruins, petroglyphs, an old military cemetery and the Apache Cultural center, where a museum tells the story of the Western Apache people, close relatives of the San Carlos, Payson and Camp Verde tribes.

A choice of either a guided or self-guided walking tour winds through more than 20 buildings restored at Fort Apache, plus a re-created native village.

A peculiar incident occurred in 1869, when Brevet Col. (Major) John Green of the U.S. 1st Cavalry led a scouting party into the Verde Valley area. Seeking to kill or capture any Apache people they encountered, the party traveled through the area to the site where Fort Apache now stands. Miguel, an Apache chief whose followers lived along the White River, invited Green to his village. Green ordered Captain John Barry to visit the site with orders to “if possible exterminate the whole village.”

But when Barry arrived there were white flags flying throughout the village and its residents greeted the soldiers with “a spirit of delight.” According to tribal records, Barry reportedly said if his men “had fired upon them they would have been guilty of cold-blooded murder.”

The White Mountains offer many lakes and rivers in which to fish, making for an anglers’ paradise. Fishing licenses are required for anyone 14 years of age or older; visit Arizona Game and Fish online for info:

Another place of note is Duke’s 26 Bar Ranch, owned by the late John Wayne and partners, now turned into a bed-and-breakfast inn owned by the Hopi tribe. For more information call (928) 333-3102 or visit This month, May 25-27, the tribe hosts a birthday bash for the Duke, who was no stranger
to the White Mountain area.

For those who like to frame vacation moments, there are plenty of views and wildlife to capture.

Part of the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway traverses the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (the road runs all the way to Clifton in southeastern Arizona, a nearly 200-mile round trip). The trail follows the path Francisco Vazquez de Coronado and his company traveled while in search of the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola.

Today’s travelers will find beautiful vistas to capture by camera as well as the venerable Hannagan Meadows Lodge, situated at an elevation of 9,100 feet. Drivers can arise early to enjoy breakfast at the Lodge before 9 a.m. or stop in for an early dinner. No lunch is served during the summer. Guests can reserve a room at the lodge or one of its 10 rustic cabins. For more info, visit or call (928) 339-4370.

Fort Apache Historic Park
P.O. Box 628
Fort Apache, Arizona 85926
(928) 338-1392
Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Saturday

White Mountain Apache Tribe
Office of Tourism
(928) 338-1230

418 E. Main, Springerville,
Arizona 85938

P.O. Box 1300
Eagar, AZ   85925
(866) 409-9378

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