Tag Archives: desert

Apache National Forest

Apache National Forest

Arizona, New Mexico

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

1,876,891 acres (1,813,601 federal/ 63,290 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/asnf/home

Overview

Growing up in Arizona, we only ever heard this referred to as Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest since it was merged in 1974.  The more eastern Apache National Forest section represents about 69% of the combined forests total acreage and partly spills into New Mexico.  On its west side it borders the Fort Apache and the San Carlos Indian Reservations, only containing one side of Mt. Baldy (which is famous for its ski resort).  The National Forest contains the eastern portions of the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim, a forested escarpment that cuts 200 miles across much of the state of Arizona.

Highlights

Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, Mt. Baldy, Butler Canyon, Escudilla National Recreation Trail, Hannagan Meadow, Chitty Canyon, Big Tree Trail, Eagle National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (Highway 191) is a narrow, winding paved road that runs 120 miles north-south through Apache National Forest and is the best way to explore.  Near the northern end of the highway, a steep unpaved road leads east up to the trailhead for Escudilla National Recreation Trail.  A fire burned the 10,912-foot mountain that the trail summits and on our hike in May 2020 we counted 75 downed trees that we had to step over, both on the three miles in and the three miles out.  To the east, the remote Blue Range Primitive Area was created in 1933, but has yet to receive Wilderness designation.  About 18 miles south of Alpine make a stop at the historic Hannagan Meadow lodge, the only place to get gas along the route (or air if like us you have to put on your spare tire).  The highway continues south dropping down from the Mogollon Rim into a more desert-like environment.

Best Trail

A short, but worthwhile hike descends west from Sardine Saddle near the southern end of the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.  At the end of the 0.4-mile trail is the largest Arizona cypress tree growing in the United States (97 feet tall with a 181-inch trunk circumference).  There are also some big alligator juniper trees growing near the bottom of the canyon, and if you see their bark you will realize why they got their name.

Watchable Wildlife

We were excited to find horned lizards (a.k.a. frogs or toads) along the Escudilla National Recreation Trail.  The cliffs of the Mogollon Rim provide good thermal updrafts so are a good place to looks for turkey vultures and a variety of raptors.  The ranges of mule deer and Coues whitetail deer overlap in this part of the country.  We saw turkeys on the road back to Rose Spring Trail (Forest Road 54).

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are great views from atop the Mogollon Rim at Blue Point Overlook on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Highway 191 is paved, but is a slow drive due to its many curves.  Many of the side roads are very rough and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.  We got a flat tire on the rocky Forest Road 54.

Camping

There are several developed campgrounds, including one at Luna Lake and several along the East Fork of the Black River.  Dispersed camping options abound, including on the road to Escudilla National Recreation Trail and we found a nice campsite near the entrance to Forest Road 54.

Wilderness Areas

Bear Wallow Wilderness

Escudilla Wilderness

Mount Baldy Wilderness

[Blue Range Primitive Area]

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Petrified Forest (Arizona)

Conifer Tree Species

Arizona cypress, alligator juniper, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Chihuahua pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Emory oak, Arizona white oak, turbinella oak, New Mexico locust, Rocky Mountain maple, pointleaf manzanita

Explore More – The Apache arrived in this area from the north in the 1300s and their name comes from a Zuni word translated as what?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Angeles National Forest

Angeles National Forest

California

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region

694,175 acres (668,887 federal/ 25,288 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/angeles

Overview

Angeles National Forest is registered as a California Historical Landmark since it became the first protected woodland in the state as the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve in 1891.  It serves as a major recreation destination north of the Los Angeles metropolitan area with 697 miles of hiking trails, several lakes, and two alpine ski areas.  Most of the shrub and tree species are adapted to periodic fire and about one-quarter of the National Forest burned in the 2009 Station Fire and an additional 115,796 acres in the 2020 Bobcat Fire.

Highlights

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument, Angeles Crest Highway, Crystal Lake Recreation Area, Mt. Wilson Observatory, Bouquet Reservoir, Mt. Baldy, San Antonio Falls, Gabrielino National Recreation Trail, High Desert National Recreation Trail, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) cuts through the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, established in 2014.  Coming from the east, a good place to start is the Big Pines Visitor Center or the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center, both of which have short interpretive trails with signs identifying local species.  Further west, Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument (est. 2019) commemorates the tragedy that cost at least 431 people their lives in 1928.  Watch in the coming weeks for blog posts specifically detailing these two National Monuments.

Best Trail

Across from Inspiration Point on Highway 2, there is a parking lot for Lightning Ridge Nature Trail.  The half-mile loop trail offers great panoramas of the surrounding mountains.  It even includes a portion of the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.  Along the trail, my wife and I stopped to sniff the orange, platy bark of a Jeffrey pine for its pleasant vanilla scent, which brought back memories of our time spent living in California. 

Watchable Wildlife

On our November visit, we first saw a western gray squirrel with an incredibly poofy tail atop the Big Pines Visitor Center.  On the Big Pines Interpretive Trail, we spotted dark-eyed juncos and Steller jays flitting about.  Despite its proximity to the city, there are even black bears, mountain lions, and bobcats in this National Forest.  You are more likely to come across coyotes, gray foxes, or mule deer.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Many species commonly found in this National Forest are endemic to this region and grow nowhere else on Earth, including Coulter pine (famous for its massive pinecones that weigh up to 11 pounds).

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

An Adventure Pass is required to park at many trailheads.  The Forest Service also accepts all America the Beautiful Passes, which can be also used at National Park Service sites.

Road Conditions

The paved Angeles Crest Highway cuts through San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and it used to go through to Glendale, but closed due to damage from the 2020 Bobcat Fire.

Camping

There are many campgrounds in the National Forest, but we did not see any great places to do dispersed car camping when we drove through different portions of it (although we did not drive any dirt roads which is where they typically are found).

Wilderness Areas

Cucamonga Wilderness (also in San Bernardino National Forest)

Magic Mountain Wilderness

Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness

San Gabriel Wilderness

Sheep Mountain Wilderness (also in San Bernardino National Forest)

Related Sites

Pinnacles National Park (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

César E. Chávez National Monument (California)

Nearest National Park

Channel Islands (California)

Conifer Tree Species

incense-cedar, bigcone Douglas-fir, Jeffrey pine, Coulter pine, knobcone pine, gray pine, lodgepole pine

Flowering Tree/Shrub Species

California black oak, canyon live oak, California walnut, serviceberry, western mountain-mahogany, California coffeeberry, cup-leaf ceonothus, flannel bush, Parry’s manzanita

Explore More – How long are the Gabrielino and High Desert National Recreation Trails?

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Overview

The spring at Apache Pass has attracted humans to this part of the Sonoran Desert for hundreds of years (at least).  As you might have guessed from its name, the Apaches were the area’s inhabitants when the Butterfield Overland Mail route built a station here in 1858.  Four years later, after Apaches ambushed the Union Army during the Civil War, they constructed Fort Bowie to help keep peace in New Mexico.  The fort received an upgrade in 1868, and then was used to fight against Cochise and Geronimo until it was finally abandoned in 1894.

Highlights

Fort Bowie ruins, cemetery, stage station ruins, site of wagon train massacre

Must-Do Activity

To visit the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center, the literal “must-do activity” is to hike 1.5 miles from the trailhead.  You do pass interpretive signs, a cemetery, and ruins along the way, plus you earn an “I Hike For Health” pin just by getting there.  For those unable to hike the trail, contact the NPS for alternate access directions.

Best Trail

Getting to the NPS visitor center means hiking three miles roundtrip in a shadeless desert.  If it is a nice day, make a loop of it by taking Overlook Ridge on the way back to the trailhead.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The post cemetery has freshly-painted wooden grave markers, including one for Geronimo’s two-year-old son.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fobo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Access to this NPS site requires driving a graded dirt road that is impassable during flash floods.

Camping

Private campgrounds are available in Bowie and Wilcox, Arizona, but we recommend a night at the NPS campground in Chiricahua National Monument (which is well-known for its ringtail and coati sightings).

Related Sites

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Explore More – When did Geronimo finally surrender to U.S. troops before being sent to Fort Bowie and on to Florida’s Fort Pickens (now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore)?

Fort Davis National Historic Site

Overview

The base of the Davis Mountains is the wonderfully scenic setting for Fort Davis National Historic Site, originally active from 1854 to 1891.  It was manned by U.S. troops except after Texas seceded during the Civil War, which is ironic given that it was named for Jefferson Davis.  Confederate forces obviously saw this as enough reason to occupy the remote frontier fort for a year.  The park preserves its 1867 layout, when the fort was rebuilt following five years of abandonment.

Highlights

Museum, film, historic buildings, Davis Mountains State Park

Must-Do Activity

After the Civil War, Fort Davis became famous for posting African-American “Buffalo Soldiers.”  Maybe this is why they chose to cast 7-foot-2-inch tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the cowboy hat-wearing narrator of the park’s introductory film.  That in-and-of-itself is worth the price of admission.  The dry Chihuahuan Desert air has preserved the 21 remaining buildings well.  Throughout the day, bugle calls on the loudspeaker will hearken you back to frontier days. 

Best Trail

A self-guided trail leads around the 523-acre property and enters six buildings: the commanding officer’s quarters, lieutenants’ quarters, barracks, commissary, hospital, and officers’ servants’ quarters.  There are other trails here and in neighboring Davis Mountains State Park, but be aware that the fort sits at 4,900 feet of elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The morning we visited, mule deer were feeding on the lawn in front of the restored buildings.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/foda/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access roads paved

Camping

If you enjoy spending time at this beautiful spot, consider camping in adjacent Davis Mountains State Park, which offers good stargazing.

Related Sites

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Explore More – Who was the first black graduate of West Point military academy briefly stationed here (before a controversial court-martial later overturned in 1976)?

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Overview

The ruins of this four-story pueblo in Coolidge, Arizona were originally protected as Casa Grande Reservation in 1892, the first time an archaeological site was given this designation by the federal government.  The National Park Service (NPS) took over management in 1918 when it was named a National Monument and in 1932 a protective cover was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted to prevent further erosion.  It is hard to believe when looking around the desert today, but the Hohokom farmed the Gila River Valley for over a thousand years until abandoning the area in the mid-1400s.  To accomplish this feat, they dug nearly a thousand miles of irrigation canals measuring 10 feet wide and 10 feet in depth.

Highlights

Museum, film, ruins

Must-Do Activity

Its name means “Big House” in Spanish and you will see why when you take the short, flat walk (handicap accessible) around the multi-story ruin and ballcourts.  Built in the early 1300s, the pueblo was only inhabited for about a century.  The NPS runs an excellent museum at the site that shows an introductory film.  The nearby Hohokam Pima National Monument shows up on NPS maps (and is counted in the 420+ units in the NPS system), but the O’odham do not allow access to the site on their reservation.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are pigeons instead of ravens at this NPS site.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cagr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

No camping at the NPS site, but options are available nearby in Tonto National Forest and Picacho Peak State Park (right off Interstate 10).

Related Sites

Tonto National Monument (Arizona)

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Saguaro National Park (Arizona)

Explore More – In 1694, who was the famous Jesuit priest that became the first European to see Casa Grande?