Apache Violin, late 1800s
The San Carlos Reservation offers scenery for every season: cool pine forests in the northeast, grasslands and wooded ridges in the center, and cactus-studded desert in the southwest. In winter you'll probably want to stick to the low country around San Carlos Lake, then head for the hills in summer. The Black and Salt Rivers form a natural boundary with the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation to the north. Much of the land is fine cattle-grazing country and supports large tribal herds. You can reach San Carlos Lake and Seneca Lake by paved highways, but roads to other recreation areas may be too rough for cars, especially after rains or snowmelt.
Look for Apache dances, crafts, foods, and cowboys showing off their riding skills at the Bylas Rodeo in April and at the Veteran's Memorial Fair and Rodeo on Veteran's Day weekend in November. Traditional dances are held during the summer; call the tribal office (928/475-2361) or Cultural Center (928/475-2894) for dates and places. The Sunrise Ceremony, marking the coming-of-age of young women, occurs most frequently, usually on summer weekends.
Campsites are usually open all year. Recreation permits must be bought beforehand. In summer, observe fire restrictions. Fishing is the big attraction for most visitors—San Carlos Lake is known as Arizona's hottest bass spot. Farther north you can catch trout, catfish, or bass in Point of Pines Lake, Seneca Lake, Dry Lake, and the Black River. Gasoline motors can be used at San Carlos and Talkalai Lakes; at other lakes you're restricted to a single electric motor. The tribe doesn't allow ATVs or river running; the White Mountain Apache, however, do allow river running on the Salt River from their shore. Hunters can pursue big and small game with the appropriate licenses. Certain areas of the reservation may be open only to tribal members. Some hunts require licensed guides.
Permits and Information
You need a recreation permit ($7/day) to camp, picnic, hike, or venture onto back roads unless you have a fishing, hunting, or special-use permit. Family permits include parents and kids 18 and under. Visitors to the Black and Salt Rivers or Bear Wallow Creek must have a special permit. One-day permits are good for 24 hours from midnight to midnight. No permit is needed for driving through on US 60, US 70, Road 800 to San Carlos, or Road 500 to Coolidge Dam.
Fishing licenses cost $7 per day or $75 per calendar year; they are free for children under 12 with a permit-holding adult. Obtain the Black and Salt River permit instead if you'll be fishing in those rivers or Bear Wallow Creek; it costs $20 per day for ages 12 and up, but it isn't needed for kids under 12. Boat permits are $3 per day or $30 per calendar year; a combined fishing and boat permit runs $100 for a calendar year. Permits can also be purchased at other locations in the area; ask for a list.
For permits and the latest regulations, facilities, fees, and road conditions, contact the San Carlos Recreation and Wildlife Department (P.O. Box 97, San Carlos, AZ 85550, 928/475-2343 or 888/475-2344, http://scatrw.com/ and www.sancarlosapache.com, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri. and 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat.). It's near the corner of Moon Base Road and US 70 between Mileposts 272 and 273, 1.5 miles east of the AZ 170 junction for San Carlos.
This small community is very much a government town. Rows of office buildings and apartments line the main street. Here you'll find most tribal offices, post office, grocery store, San Carlos Cafe, and a service station. It's four miles north of US 70 on AZ 170, or you can take Road 800 from just east of Apache Gold Casino.
Shops sell Apache crafts such as baskets, beadwork, cradle boards, and peridot jewelry. Peridot is a deep yellow-green, transparent mineral; the cut stones, sold mounted or loose, resemble emeralds. Check for crafts at the Cultural Center on US 70, just east of the AZ 170 junction, and at Apache Gold Casino on US 70, seven miles east of Globe.
Apache Cultural Center
The San Carlos Apache tell their history from their creation to the present, using stories, photos, and dioramas. A gift shop sells books, paintings, and Apache crafts such as jewelry, beadwork, baskets, cradleboards, and woodcarvings of crown dancers. The center (928/475-2894, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., $3 adult, $1.50 seniors, $1 kids, free under 12) is just east on US 70 from the AZ 170 junction, near Milepost 272.
San Carlos Lake
The 19,500-acre lake, when full, measures 23 miles long by two miles wide, making it the largest lake lying completely within Arizona. Though famed mostly for its prolific bass population, the waters have produced state-record specimens of flathead catfish, crappie, and bluegill. People come year-round despite the hot summers at the 2,425-foot elevation. Pullouts atop the 880-foot-high Coolidge Dam, dedicated by President Coolidge himself in 1930, allow you to view the dam and the canyon below.
Soda Canyon Point Campground offers views, tables, and water on the northwest shore, and there’s a nearby marina. The turnoff, which may have a store, is 9.5 miles south from the US 70-Arizona 170 junction and 2 miles north of the dam, then one mile down to the campground. Lake levels fluctuate greatly, so call ahead if you’re planning on fishing or boating.
Other Recreational Areas
Talkalai Lake: The waters have given up some sizable largemouth bass, flathead and channel catfish, crappie, and bluegill. Gas motors up to 15 hp are permitted. The lake and campground (no drinking water) lie about three miles north of the town of San Carlos. Chief Talkalai served as an Indian scout with the army and helped capture Geronimo.
Cassadore Springs: This small picnic area and campground offers spring water about 12 miles north of the town of San Carlos.
Point of Pines: The 35-acre trout lake and campground (no drinking water) are in the eastern part of the reservation. From US 70, five miles east of the San Carlos turnoff, head northeast 55 miles on Indian Route 1000 to the campground; all but the last few miles are paved.
Seneca Park: Anglers catch trout, catfish, and largemouth bass in 27-acre Seneca Lake. The lake and campground (no drinking water) are in the northwest corner of the reservation just off US 60/AZ 77, 33 miles north of Globe and five miles south of the Salt River Canyon bridge.
Apache Gold Casino & Resort
This tourist development lies on US 70 at the west edge of the San Carlos Apache lands, 12 miles west of San Carlos and seven miles east of Globe. The hotel (928/475-7800 or 800/272-2438, www.apachegoldcasinoresort.com, $59 d weekdays, $79 d Fri.–Sat., $99–109 d Jacuzzi rooms) offers an 18-hole golf course, pool, hot tub, and sauna. The nearby RV park has sites in a sea of asphalt for $17 w/hookups. Restaurants fail to provide nonsmoking sections and aren't recommended.
On to Safford