I expected to be devastated by acres and acres of blackened trees; instead, I was pleasantly surprised that the marks of fire in the most popular areas are surprisingly minor – wahoo! – quite contrary to the media’s presentation. I saw green trees and green grass meadows, tall pines, sparkling lakes, hikers, bikers, golfers, fishermen, and enjoyed wonderful cool temperatures. And although there are fire damaged areas, I promise that it no way detracts from the unique experience of summer in the White Mountains.
Clear air and sunshine surrounded by monsoon clouds followed us as we traveled up Highway 87 through Payson and across the Mogollon Rim, taking in the miles and miles of green trees and majestic vistas. Arriving in Show Low, we were greeted with more green, clouds coalescing for showers, cool temperatures and even a rainbow – really! Dinner was a Dutch-Oven bar-b-que at a Pinetop park with happy area residents featuring an entire dinner cooked outdoors, including buttermilk biscuits and dessert on the grill under pleasantly cloudy skies, and of course a typical spectacular Arizona sunset.
The next day with a group of White Mountain communities’ town managers and Forest Service guides we were able to tour the forest towns and communities - which were virtually untouched. Everywhere we looked, it was business as usual from “Greer Still Green” to families fishing in Bear Lake and green chili cheeseburgers at a creek-side restaurant in Alpine.
However, accessing back roads – still not open to the public – while clean-up and restoration processes are in place, in true Mother Nature form, green grass is already brightening the blackened areas while helicopters sprinkle seed and burned trees are being cut into firewood. I learned that the burned trees actually fertilize the ground and when trees are burned, the Aspens grow behind them. So, next time you enjoy the magnificent fall yellow Aspens, remember that Mama Nature has her own grand plan about ecology and populating the ever-changing Arizona landscape.
As we experienced the mosaic of the area, what was very evident was the truly great work done by the firefighters to protect our precious towns and forests. Also prevalent was the appreciation of the residents who posted banners and signs thanking them for their efforts. Undaunted, the residents in the immediate fire areas are now back in their homes and businesses and unless you look really hard or someone points out a swath of scorched paths up in the hills, you would not consciously be aware that the Wallow fire ever happened.
I urge you to gather the family, pack your bags, pick up the phone or go online to make a reservation at any of the beloved White Mountain communities … there is still a lot of summer left to enjoy the beauty, cool temperatures, afternoon showers and night-time blankets – yes! The Welcome Mat is out in the White Mountains! Enjoy!
By Sherry Henry, Director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. Sherry leads the agency that is charged with expanding the volume of travel activity and related expenditures in Arizona through tourism promotion and development.