Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests - About Us
Arizona's “Mount Baldy” is culturally significant to White Mountain Apaches
Mount Baldy (11,421 feet), the state's second highest mountain, is located on the eastern edge of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, homeland of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, in east-central Arizona. The boundary line between the Apache Reservation and the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests is part way up its eastern slope. The “White Mountains” as the larger area is now known might have been derived from the conquistadors who traveled through the area (1700s) naming the mountains “Sierras Blancas.” Less well-known is that to the White Mountain Apaches who have beliefs in their creation stories, one of those mountains “Báshzhiné Dził,” holds spiritual, cultural and historical significance as their holy mountain. In addition to its older name, Mount Baldy also became known as Dził Łigai Sí'án (“white mountain”) to the White Mountain Apache people. Other tribal nations also recognize this holy site including tribes from Arizona and New Mexico.
Since the 1960s, the Tribe, through resolutions, has consistently designated the area where their sacred mountain is located as a tribal Wilderness area that is deemed off-limits to various activities that would destroy the pristine area, a designation that was made permanent in the 1990s. There are numerous geological formations, meadows, alpine forest, natural springs, and various types of trees including mostly pines, medicinal plants, fish and wildlife in the protected area. Nearby off-reservation towns have become a tourist destination area with increased tourism that includes hiking, fishing, skiing, and camping. Hiking trails go partway up the slope where the tribe's signage discourages trespassing into Tribal Wilderness Area that includes the top of the mountain. Despite the warnings, social media websites reveals that people are going to the top and encouraging others to do the same.
The White Mountain Apache tribal departments that have oversight for the protection of cultural property and natural resources including the Tribal Historic Preservation Office and Cultural Advisory Board of their Nohwike' Bagowah Museum/Culture Center have begun projects to gather data from archaeological surveys, tribal natural resources programs, and oral stories of tribal elders to document the cultural and historical significance of Dził Łigai Sí'án as a traditional cultural property (TCP). These departments are also working on policy development for the protection of tribal heritage resources. With defined codes and improved signage and hiking trails, the Tribe intends to publicize their concern about the trespassing and lack of respect shown to their holy site. Planning and collaboration with the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests staff on relevant future projects are being considered.
White Mountain Apaches still travel to the top of their sacred mountain for prayers and rituals. The development of documentation and codes to preserve heritage resources for the future of their descendants is an important goal for White Mountain Apaches. The need to protect one of their most important heritage resources includes their namesake mountain, Dził Łigai Sí'án, to preserve it in pristine condition in perpetuity with its sacred significance and spiritual presence to Ndee (“Apache People”).
If you plan on hiking up the Mt. Baldy trail system on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, please be respectful of this holy mountain. The rainy season is when Mother Nature cleanses herself. It is recommended that hikers avoid hiking the mountain during these times. From spring time to fall, “Changing Woman” hikes up the mountain to have a moment with the Creator alone. We are told, “if you hear a blue jay talking to you that is when you need to turn around”. If you see Tribal members praying on the mountain or hiking up the mountain to pray, please have respect for them and leave them be. Please do not pilfer their offerings. The top of Mt. Baldy is a very holy place for the White Mountain Apache Tribe and no one should go to the top. Please respect the White Mountain Apache Reservation boundary and do not pull down their boundary signs, cut the fence, or cross into the reservation without permission from the White Mountain Apache Cultural Advisory Board. And please pack out your trash.
A Heritage to Tell
The Apache-Sitgreaves Heritage Team's role is to protect, preserve and interpret the Forests' archaeological and historical resources. Our goal is to meet the Secretary of Interior's challenge "to provide opportunities to appreciate past craftsmanship, understand past ways of life, and better comprehend people's adaptations to changing natural, physical, and social environments during prehistoric and historic times".
As protectors of archaeological and historical resources, we work with other Forest personnel, volunteers, and contractors to identify prehistoric and historic sites, and to ensure that they are not damaged by project activities. Members of the Arizona Site Steward program assist us in monitoring resources which are determined eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
In partnership with Universities, we study sites that contain information that will answer questions about people's adaptations to change, and about changes that have occurred in Forest landscapes over the past 12,000 years or so. These efforts are assisted by the invaluable contribution of thousands of hours of volunteer time through the Passport in Time Program.
So - what is the history of human use of the Forests? Our earliest evidence suggests use by big game hunters during the Paleo-Indian Period nearly 12,000 years ago. But this evidence is clouded by people's habits of collecting and reusing things they find along the way. Our most recent discovery of a projectile point from this early time period was at a pueblo site that dates to 800 years ago. We don't think the point was a family heirloom passed down for 8000 or 9000 years, but who knows?
Prehistoric site types range from the remains of hunting and plant collecting areas to large pueblos with enclosed plazas, much like those seen today at Hopi and Zuni. Rock shelter and cave sites are also found. Rock art, both painted pictographs and carved or pecked petroglyphs, are scattered throughout the Forests. Most of the rock art dates between 900 and 600 years ago. An example of the painted style of about 900 years ago can be seen along the Black Canyon Auto Tour. An example of petroglyphs from about 800 years ago can be seen at Blue Crossing Campground.
Apache Indians continued to use the Forest after the prehistoric puebloan people moved on. They were here in 1825 when fur trappers moved along the Black River in search of beaver. They were here in 1870 when Fort Apache was established to help resolve conflicts between the native people and the earliest Anglo settlers. The Crook Trail, located on the Black Mesa and Lakeside Ranger Districts, is a reminder of the military period.
What does it tell us? By taking this quick trip through time, it becomes apparent that the Forests are rich in the resources that contribute to the tapestry of the landscape familiar to most Americans as the Southwest. Those resources contain a wealth of information about how people have used the land for nearly 12000 years - how it has been manipulated to meet needs; what natural resources have been depleted, enhanced or are unchanged; when changes occurred; and where change can be documented. The question that is harder to answer is why because personal and societal values are not preserved in the archaeological record. Maybe the closest we can get to answering the "why" is by listening to our American Indian neighbors who are equally concerned about our efforts to protect, preserve, and interpret our shared heritage.