Rising to over 11,000 feet atop Mt. Baldy, the White Mountains of eastern Arizona are a large, relatively wild, and surprisingly lush mountainous region along the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Occasional heavy winter snows and summer monsoon rains give rise to numerous perennial streams and lakes in the high country, a notable feature in a state where surface water is not common. Because of the cool temperatures and abundant precipitation, much of the region is thickly forested with spruce-fir, aspen, mixed conifer, and ponderosa pine forest types. Among the forested slopes above about 9000 feet are numerous subalpine grassland parks, some of them quite large. Pinyon-juniper woodlands extend to the base of the mountains along with semi-arid grasslands.
Today a large portion of the White Mountains is owned and managed by the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The northern and western edges of the region are part of the Sitgreaves National Forest, while the far eastern highlands are within the Apache National Forest, both of which are managed by the United States Forest Service. A few areas have been set aside as wilderness, including the Mt. Baldy and Blue Wallow wildernesses, and one area is the nation's last remaining primitive area, the Blue Range Primitive Area encompassing the rugged headwaters of the Blue River.
The Blue Range area is currently the site of a Mexican gray wolf reintroduction effort by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that began in 1998. Wolves, native to the area and once common in the region, are being reintroduced to disperse in a 7,000-square-mile recovery area comprised of the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona and the Gila National Forest in west-central New Mexico.
The White Mountains have historically been heavily logged, and timber production is today a major use of the area. Grazing of livestock is common among the high meadows and pine forests of the Whites, while fishing and camping are major recreational activities for visitors to the region.
--Researched and written by Shannon Kelly
Cooper, C.F. 1960. Changes in vegetation, structure, and growth of southwestern pine forest since white settlement. Ecological Monographs 30: 129-164.
Jacobs, B.F. 1985. A Middle Wisconsin pollen record from Hay Lake, Arizona. Quaternary Research 24: 121-130.
Merrill, R.K., Pewe, T.L. 1977. Late Cenozoiz geology of the White Mountains, Arizona. Bur. Geol. Min. Tech., Special paper No. 1. University of Arizona, Tucson, 65 pp.