Cactus and desert landscapes are what come to mind when most people think of Arizona. But that's only part of the picture. Arizona actually has more mountainous country than Switzerland and more forest than Minnesota, and most of these mountains and forests are here in the highlands of eastern Arizona.
Folks from Phoenix and its surrounding cities discovered long ago how close the White Mountains' cool forests are and have for many decades built cabins and weekend homes in this area. In only a few hours, you can drive up from the cacti and creosote bushes to the meadows and pine forests. In this sparsely populated region, towns with such apt names as Alpine, Lakeside, and Pinetop have now become summer retreats for the residents of the state's low-lying, sunbaked deserts.
Dividing the arid lowlands from the cool pine forests of the highlands is the Mogollon Rim (pronounced Mug-ee-un by the locals), a 2,000-foot escarpment that stretches for 200 miles from central Arizona into New Mexico. Along this impressive wall, the climatic and vegetative change is dramatic, with sunshine at the base and snow squalls at the top. This area was made famous by Western author Zane Grey, who lived in a cabin near Payson and set many of his novels in this scenic yet oft-overlooked part of Arizona. Fans of Grey's novels can follow in the author's footsteps and visit a small museum with an exhibit dedicated to Grey.
Trout fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and hunting are the main warm-weather pastimes of eastern Arizona, and when winter weather reports from up north have Phoenicians dreaming about snow, many head to the White Mountains for a bit of skiing. Sunrise Park Resort, operated by the White Mountain Apache Tribe, is the state's biggest and busiest downhill ski area. There are also plenty of cross-country ski trails in the area.
Much of eastern Arizona is Apache reservation land. Recreational activities abound here, but remember that the Apache tribe requires visitors to have reservation fishing permits and outdoor recreation permits. Fishing is particularly popular on the reservation, which isn't surprising, considering there are 400 miles of trout streams and 25 lakes stocked with rainbow and brown trout.