Magazine article Sunset

Into the Woods: Arizona's Pinetop-Lakeside Is Packed with Plenty of Adventure

Magazine article Sunset

Into the Woods: Arizona's Pinetop-Lakeside Is Packed with Plenty of Adventure

Article excerpt

"Oh, it's just a dog," says my husband, setting down his binocs, disappointed that our wildlife tour through Arizona's White Mountain Apache Reservation has so far turned up zero wildlife. "That's no dog," corrects our guide, whistling under his breath. "That's a Mexican gray wolf." Sure enough, out from the forest edge trots the once-endangered predator--which explains why the elk we expected to see are nowhere in sight.

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Such surprise sightings--and the promise of eagles, bears, and a scenic, if bumpy, ride aboard a Pinzgauer through protected wilderness--are only part of what draws people to the town of Pinetop-Lakeside and the forests close by. Perched at a cool 7,000 feet, 200 miles northeast of Phoenix, Pinetop-Lakeside is the perfect summer playground, with its pine-scented mountain air, easy access to adventure, and instant tranquility, as well as the delightful discoveries found only in small towns like it.

Long used as a gateway to the White Mountains and the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Pinetop-Lakeside proper has a lot going for it: a sophisticated wine bar, oddball antiques shops, quaint log cabins, and a friendly year-round (and swollen summer) population that thrives on both the solitude of nature and the town's strong sense of community.

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As its mouthful of a name suggests, though, this town wasn't always so tight-knit; it started out as two separate communities. Lakeside was all about sheepherding, while Pinetop saw freight wagons heading toward Fort Apache. As time passed, they were pulled together by a building boom that included plenty of vacation homes, and the two incorporated as one in 1984.

The community became even closer in 2002 when the massive Rodeo-Chediski forest fire--the largest in Arizona's history--roared to the edge of town. Jo Baeza, a 42-year resident and a columnist for the local paper, was on duty as a Forest Service fire lookout that summer. "The blaze was frightening," she says. "It seemed like it was moving all the way to New Mexico." The fire didn't actually cross state borders, but it consumed more than 460,000 acres--and forced residents to evacuate. Luckily, the town emerged unscathed, everyone returned home, and the two communities, says Baeza, truly united.

Today, the town bustles with summer crowds, while the surrounding wilds of the 1. …

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