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History and Nature

Region: North Central Arizona

Get a feel for the forested side of Arizona on this tour of high-country destinations and enchanting natural areas.

Not far north and east of the Phoenix metropolitan area lays a landscape not many realize exists in Arizona. The areas known as Rim Country and the White Mountains are home to pine forests and lakes that inspired ancient dwellers and modern authors alike. Mormon settlers established themselves here, Zane Grey lived and wrote here and John Wayne worked his ranches here. Outdoor enthusiasts from anglers and birders to hikers and snow skiers will find four seasons of fun in this year-round paradise.

Day One: Set Out on Scenic Byways

Starting from Phoenix, drive east on scenic Highway 60 (:45) toward Globe. Spend the morning at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum enjoying a wonderful collection of desert plants, mammals, reptiles and more than 250 species of birds. Lunch at Guayos El Ray in Miami, a great Mexican restaurant (:25).

Continue on Highway 60 through the Salt River Canyon to Highway 73, the road to Whiteriver (1:30) on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, and another of Arizona's scenic byways. Visit the remains of Fort Apache, a major Army post during the settling of the Arizona Territory, and Kinishba Ruins, one of the largest prehistoric sites in the state. In the evening, try your luck at the casino. Dinner and overnight at Hon Dah.

Day Two: Go Fly-Fishing on the Little Colorado River

In the White Mountains area of Arizona are the Alchesay and Williams Creek National Fish Hatcheries. See the "life cycle" of trout in nearly every stage And enjoy the ambience of ponderosa pine forests in this secluded canyon. Enjoy a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon fly-fishing on the Little Colorado River in Greer. If you don't want to fish, watch your favorite of the hundreds of bird species in some of the most beautiful and surprising scenery in Arizona. Overnight at Hon Dah.

Day Three: Ride Horseback through the High Country

Play a morning game of golf at one of several high-country courses among the ponderosa pine trees, or take a horseback ride through mountain meadows at Sunrise Park Resort – in the winter, this is a skier's wonderland. Lunch in Greer, which is a country hamlet where John Wayne and Zane Grey fell in love with fall colors and spring wildflowers.

In the summer, visit Butterfly Lodge Museum, open Memorial Day through Labor Day. This mountain cabin was named "Apuni Oyis" in Blackfoot, inspired by the countless butterflies in the nearby meadows. Built in 1914, it houses works by James Willard Schultz and his son, Lone Wolf. Overnight in Hon Dah or Greer.

Day Four: Visit the Badlands of Springerville

Go east toward Springerville (:20). Visit Casa Malpais or "House of the Badlands," a Mogollon Pueblo that was occupied for 200 years until it was abandoned about 1400 A.D. Witness the beauty of the rim of volcanic rock overlooking the Little Colorado River's Round Valley with a view of the White Mountains.

After a lunch in Springerville, visit the Madonna of the Trail, an 18-foot statue commemorating the hardy pioneer women of yesteryear. Also visit the Renee Cushman Art Museum, open by apointment only, where you'll see her valuable collection of European art and furniture. The exhibit also contains works by Rembrandt and Tiepolo. For more information, call (928) 333-2123. Overnight in Greer or Hon Dah.

Day Five: See Historic Snowflake

In the morning, head north on State Route 77. First stop is Snowflake (:45), settled by a group of Mormon pioneers in 1878. Many of the homes are registered in the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office. Six of the more than 100 homes are also listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Tours are available by appointment.

Have lunch at Bisontown in Overgaard, east of Snowflake (:30). Have a Bison Brew at the Wild Women Saloon or a cold treat at Twinnies Coffee and Ice Cream Parlour. Continue west to Payson (1:00), which sits in the largest ponderosa pine forest in the U.S.

You can feel the Western history in Payson, the city where rodeo was invented more than 120 years ago and Zane Grey made his home. Visit the Rim Country Museum and see a replica of Grey's original Payson cabin, which was lost in a 1990 fire. Or visit the 80-room Shoofly Ruins north of the town, occupied from A.D. 850 to 1260. Overnight in Payson.

Day Six: Hike through Grottos – or with a Llama

Drive out Highway 260 to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (:15), home of the largest travertine bridge in the world. Hike below into a lush grotto where fern and monkey flowers are abundant (call ahead to ensure the park's open).

Next, if you love animals, take a hike! Fossil Creek Llama Ranch in Strawberry (:15) offers guided hikes with a pack llama as your companion.

Have a packed lunch and enjoy the scenery of the Fossil Creek Springs. Afterward, don't put away your camera because you'll have more scenery to enjoy on your drive back to Phoenix. Witness the change from pine trees to cactus in the course of an hour. 

Note: Estimated travel time is indicated in parentheses.

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