By Anne Groebner
There’s no place like cool in the beautiful White Mountains of Arizona. Travel the Beeline north of Fountain Hills to Payson, Heber, Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside – all incredibly beautiful stopping places to begin journeys through some of Arizona’s most spectacular scenery.
In Payson, check out the Mazatzal Hotel and Casino where you can “Stay and Play!” Go to www.mazatzal-casino.com to find information on the latest in high-tech video and reel-to-reel machines. They offer over 400 slots, video poker, live blackjack and poker. There are also top-notch hotel accommodations, dining, entertainment and so much more!
Heber offers some great restaurants and some of the most scenic hiking trails. Once you reach Show Low, check out Fool Hollow Recreation Area, then continue on AZ 260 to Pinetop-Lakeside for some great hotels, resorts and golf courses.
Hon-Dah Resort Casino is located on the edge of town just 3 miles toward McNary on AZ 260. Hon-Dah Resort Casino offers 24/7 fun including over 800 slot machines, a poker room, 128-room hotel, the Indian Pine Restaurant along with an RV Park.
Just past Hon-Dah Casino, you will find the small town of McNary. McNary was, at one time, one of the biggest towns in the White Mountains. The community was originally named Cluff Cienega after Benjamin Cluff, who harvested hay there in 1879 and 1880 for use at Fort Apache. In 1919, the name was changed to Cooley, in honor of Corydon Cooley. Then in 1924, William Cady and James McNary moved their lumber company to Cooley and changed the Town’s name to McNary.
The Apache Railroad once laid its tracks from Big Lake and Maverick to McNary and eventually Holbrook. The tracks are no longer there but the corridor that they left behind is a reminder of our southwestern heritage. In fact, as you leave McNary, you can see the berm on the right when the locomotives once traveled.
About 20 miles past McNary is Sunrise Park Resort — the largest ski and recreation park in Arizona. They are open through September 13th, offering hiking, biking, scenic lift rides, disc golf, an archery range & course, tubing slide, bungee jump and airbag jump. Currently the general store is open at the entrance to the park and offers fishing, hiking, RV and camping permits for the WMAT reservation, plus fishing gear and equipment, bait, food and beverages, camping gear, first aid supplies, clothing and apparel. The Sunrise Marina offers kayaking, paddle boats, and motor boats that can be rented hourly, 1/2 day and full day. Sunrise also has a 100-room hotel with the Summit Restaurant that provides beautiful views and cultural cuisine.
Eight miles down AZ 260 past Sunrise is Pole Knoll Recreation Area. Although it was designed for winter activities, it is an incredible trail all year round. In fact, some of the best fall pictures I got was while hiking this trail. There are a myriad of trails that are shadowed by aspen, ponderosa, spruce and white pine. The trail has a variety of elevations and various difficulty ratings. If you hike to the top of the knoll, the view is worth the challenge.
Just past Pole Knoll is the entrance to Greer. AZ Route 373 takes you to the small “Little Colorado River Valley” that is a fisherman’s paradise. Not only does the Little Colorado River flow through the town but they are privy to some of the most beautiful lakes called “Greer Lakes,” which includes Tunnel Lake, River Lake and Bunch Lake. You’ll find restrooms located at the lake areas as well as boat landings and armadas for picnics.
Just past the Greer turn, you’ll find a ranch run by Wink (Butler) Crigler, called the X-Diamond Ranch, her grandmother was Molly Butler. Historical lineage; Ellis Whitney Wiltbank and Greer’s first postmistress Hannah Mary Hall married and one of their children was Mary Ann (Mollie) Wiltbank – she married Lorenzo Crosby (who was killed at a train station by outlaws on his return from his mission), she then married John Butler and opened the Butler Lodge in Greer, now called Mollie Butler’s.
The Rendezvous Restaurant in Greer used to be the old post office, Amberian Point Lodge was a ski lodge in the 1970s and is said to be haunted by a ghost named “Zeke.” The Butterfly Lodge Museum was once the hunting lodge of James Willard Schultz called “Apuni Oyis,” a Blackfeet name, which means Butterfly Lodge. Schultz authored thirty seven books about the northwest Plains Indians, mainly the Blackfeet. Although he did write some books about the Apache, Navajo and Hopi; some of the titles are “In the Great Apache Forest” and “The Story of a Lone Boy Scout.” The Museum is open through Labor Day weekend. Greer has many restaurants and lodges as well as the Lazy Trout store, which has just about anything you’ll need for your adventures.
So, get out of the heat and visit the coolest spot in Arizona — the beautiful White Mountains. To get there just follow AZ 87 to Payson, then turn onto AZ 260 toward Heber and the White Mountains until you reach Show Low. AZ 260 continues on to Pinetop and all the way to Springerville as you enjoy the cool crisp refreshing mountain air all along your journey.
Anne Groebner is a longtime resident of this scenic White Mountain area is the publisher of “Get Your Mountain On AZ” a monthly publication available not only in the White Mountains but all over the state of Arizona.