Wilderness And Primitive Areas

Escudilla Wilderness In 1540, when the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado came to the area we now know as southeastern Arizona, his journal writer described it as a huge trackless wilderness. When mountain man James Ohio Pattie visited the Blue Range trapping beaver in 1825, he marveled at the number of clear running streams, the lush vegetation of the canyons, and the plentiful wildlife he found in this pristine land.

In 1933 the Secretary of Agriculture proclaimed that the Blue Range should be managed for primitive uses to maintain the wildness of that area. Its 173,762 acres are indeed wild and it is the last designated Primitive Area in the United States. What's the difference between a Primitive Area and a Wilderness? Well, a wilderness must be designated by the Congress of the United States but a primitive area is the highest classification that the Forest Service can give an area through the Secretary of Agriculture. The Blue Range remains one of Arizona's untouched and little known jewels. This is a land of rugged mountains, steep canyons, and stark ridges that is at the same time remote and accessible through an extensive trail system. A new map of the Blue Range Primitive Area is available at local Forest Service offices.

In 1970 the Mount Baldy Primitive Area became a part of the national wilderness system. Its 7,079 acres lie on the eastern slope of Mount Baldy and are the headwaters for the Black River and the Little Colorado River. Two trails pass through the Wilderness to a point near the top of Mount Baldy. The trails do not access the very top of the mountain since it is on land owned by the White Mountain High Meadow StreamApache Tribe and the Tribe does not allow access because the mountain is considered sacred to them. This is a high-elevation experience with elevations ranging from 9,000 feet to 11,550 feet so hikers should plan accordingly. The vast majority of people in the Wilderness are day users and maps are available at local Forest Service offices.

The 11,080 acre Bear Wallow Wilderness boasts some of the largest acreage of virgin ponderosa pine forest in the Southwest. Beautiful Bear Wallow Creek flows year-around providing suitable habitat for the threatened Apache trout. The name of the stream and wilderness came from early explorers who were impressed by the number of well-used wallows frequented by the sizeable population of black bears.

The 5200 acres in the Escudilla Wilderness sit atop Arizona's third highest peak, the 10,912 feet Escudilla Mountain. It is home to several pristine, high elevation meadows that are comprised of relatively rare plant associations. Large stands of aspen, both inside the wilderness and on other areas of the mountain, make this a fabulous place to visit in the fall. The 3.3 mile Escudilla Trail is well worth the climb for day trips to the fire tower and its outstanding vistas.