In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold vowed never to return to eastern Arizona's White Mountains, where he worked for the U.S. Forest Service. He preferred to remember this sprawling wilderness of ponderosa pines and mountain peaks as it had been, rather than confronting what "tourists, roads, sawmills, and logging have done for it, or to it." As it turns out, Leopold's pessimism isn't justified. His beloved mountains, crowned by the Mt. Baldy Wilderness Area, are to this day a reminder of what Arizona's vast forests once were like.
Capped by Mt. Baldy's 11,590-foot summit, the lush wilderness embraces the headwaters of the Little Colorado River (a blue-ribbon trout stream). You'll also find dense stands of old-growth ponderosa and subalpine meadows where, if you're an early riser, you may see Roosevelt elk grazing.
Use the West Fork and East Fork Trails to construct a 15-mile loop through the 7,000-acre wilderness. While the West Fork sees its share of anglers and dayhikers, you can find solitude, especially if you hike in early summer when the upper mountain is still under snow. The summit of Mt. Baldy is sacred ground to the White Mountain Apache tribe and is off-limits to hikers, but once you're above treeline you'll experience the same vista that inspired Leopold 100 years ago.
Where: 225 miles northeast of Phoenix. From the junction of AZ 260 and AZ 273 (east of McNary), the trailhead is 10 miles southeast on AZ 273, which becomes Forest Road 113.
Maps:Mt. Baldy Wilderness is $5 and available at Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest headquarters (520-333-4301).
Trail Info: Springerville Ranger District, (520) 333-4372.