Tell someone who doesn’t live anywhere near the Southwest that you reside in Arizona and they probably will ask how you enjoy living in a state that is one big desert.
Of course, you know better.
A two-hour drive will land you at the start of the White Mountains, which many people consider some of the most beautiful land in the nation. Chock full of pine trees, mountain lakes and herds of elk — and moderate summer temperatures and snow in the winter — the White Mountains offer a great retreat from the desert.
In the summer, the White Mountains are a fantastic camping destination. It seems once you reach the area, you will pass a campground every few miles. The big thing to know is whether the campground is in the national forest or on a reservation. Each requires specific permits for camping and fishing. Fishing on public lands requires a state license. Fishing on a reservation costs $6 per day.
Keep in mind we are in the monsoon season, a time when it storms daily in the White Mountains.
The following is a listing of some of the better camping/ fishing spots in the White Mountains:
• Big Lake: Considered by many the jewel of the area, the 400-acre lake is surrounded by 205 campsites and has showers. In the national forest, it is 26 miles southwest of Springerville via highways 260 and 261.
• Hawley Lake: Surrounded by pine and birch trees, this gorgeous lake has 100 campsites on its south shore. On a reservation eight miles south of Highway 260 where State Route 473 ends, the beauty and privacy abound. There is a store with a cafe and a marina with boat rentals. Maintenance is minimal and the roads in the campground are rough, especially after it rains.
• Horseshoe Cienega Lake: Nine miles east of McNary and just south of Highway 260, this reservation campground has 70 sites, a store with boat rentals and plenty of stocked trout.
• Reservation Lake: Locals will tell you this lake, which, of course, is on a reservation, has the best fishing in the White Mountains. At 9,500 feet, it has 90 camp sites. Take highways 260 and 261 out of Springerville to Big Lake, then Forest Routes 249E and 116 and Apache Route Y20.
• Rolfe C. Hoyer: With 100 sites a mile north of Greer on State Route 373, this is like camping at home with flush toilets and showers — except if you venture across the road you can fish in the East and West Forks of the Little Colorado River.
• Sunrise Lake: Located on Highway 273 just east of Highway 260 below the Sunrise Ski Park, the lake is surrounded by open field. The campground across the road, though, has 200 extremely wooded sites.
Meadows within the campground, which is on a reservation, mean there is a good chance you can wake up to a herd of elk.
On the shores of the lake are Sunrise Park Resort, a store and a marina with boat rentals.
White Mountains camping
• Where: About two-to-four hours northeast of the Valley.
• What: Campgrounds throughout the area on either national forest or reservation land.
• Amenities: Varies between campgrounds. Most do not have flush toilets or showers. All are either on a lake or close to one.
• Information: Call (877) 444-6777 or (928) 338-4385 or visit www.wmonline.com