Labor Day weekend trip to White Mountains
This past Labor Day weekend I decided to journey out to the White Mountains as part of a three day trip. While the trip overall was great, I definitely learned a lot about camping during a holiday and how to better avoid people.
I left early afternoon on Saturday and decided to take a scenic route up to the Mogollon Rim (which I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post), where I was going to spend my first night. The route took me from Tempe to Globe along Hwy 60, where I picked up 188, which heads towards Lake Roosevelt. Just before the lake, I hopped on 288, which is a half paved, half dirt road that goes up to a town called Young. This was quite a pretty drive through some really isolated parts of the state. Once I hit Young, I got on 512 (a forest road I think?), which took me up the Rim and connected with Hwy 260. This was definitely a pretty drive, though I don’t think it will be in my top 5 drives in AZ (more on that later!). Here is a picture I took along the drive:
After making it up the Rim, I found Forest Road 300, also called Rim Road, which is full of good spots for dispersed camping. Unfortunately, the area between the towns Payson and Lakeside along the Rim is probably one of the most popular places to camp in Arizona, so it was completely packed and full of people. I drove along this bumpy dirt road for an hour before finding a place I thought was sufficiently secluded. By then it was getting dark, and I had to quickly set up my tent and make dinner. The next day, I decided to try and find a hike somewhere nearby, and found a trail called Panorama trail near Lakeside. Here again I was hit by the Labor Day weekend curse, because there was apparently open range shooting nearby and during my brief attempt to hike, all I heard was constant gunshots. The hike seemed like it was going to be beautiful, but I couldn’t stand the gunshots, so I left. Below are a few pictures I took from the hike.
Fed up with trying to find a good hike along the Rim, I took off towards the White Mountains, where everything turned for the better. The route I took to get to the mountains was incredible. First I got back on Hwy 260 and took that to a small, remote town called Eagar, where I got on Hwy 191. This 191 is definitely in my top 5 drives in Arizona now, as it was just gorgeous. Additionally, because the White Mountains are so far away from Phoenix (4-5 hours drive) and very remote in general, there were very few people around. Here are a few pictures from my drive:
Before I went to find a campsite, I was determined to hike. I drove to a place called the Escudilla Wilderness (also fulfilling my quest to visit every wilderness area in Arizona!). Here I hiked with no other noise but the natural sounds around me and only saw a handful of people the entire time. This place was beautiful but sad at the same time. Something unfortunate about the White Mountains is that its true splendor was marred in 2011 by a huge forest fire called the Wallow Fire, which ended up being Arizona’s largest forest fire on record. This fire ravaged many areas in the White Mountains, leaving behind large tracts of completely burnt forest. Luckily the burned areas are very patchy and disconnected, so there is still plenty of pristine forest left. However the fire did leave its mark, especially in the Escudilla Mountains. Below are my pictures from that hike where you can both see the awesome landscape of the area but also the devastation left by the fire.
After this hike, I kept driving down Hwy 191 to a place called Hannagan Meadow, where I found a small, remote campsite called the KP Cienega. The area I was in was awesome because of the remote-ness, which lead to very few people around. After a peaceful night at around 9,000 ft elevation(!), I continued to explore this area of the White Mountains, so that I now have a much better idea of what to do next time. I found a gem of a vista, called Blue Visit Overlook, where I was given a far-reaching view of the White Mountains and beyond. From this point I was able to see other mountain ranges that were very far away, such as the Pinaleno Mountains (nearly 50 miles away as the crow flies).
After exploring the area, I then headed home. From this trip, I learned several valuable things which I’d like to share:
1) NEVER camp along the Rim during a holiday
2) NEVER drive back from the Rim after a holiday (horrible traffic!)
3) If you want real seclusion, go to the White Mountains – they are beautiful and super remote
4) The White Mountains and surrounding area is huge and there is so much left for me to explore there (plus another few wilderness areas!)