Fortunately, Joe's response doesn't rouse my sleeping wife, Mary, or my 13-year-old daughter, Nicole, as his voice squawks loudly over the CB. Joe is standing next to his vehicle when I pull into the parking lot. His wife, Crisanta, and his two children, 7-year-old Kara and 2-year-old Renee, are also sound asleep. Joe and I sip coffee from a Thermos and watch the canyon fill with light as we wait for the convenience store to open.
Forty minutes later, everyone marches out of the store with a fishing license in hand -- with the exception of Renee and me. Renee is still asleep, and me, well, I don't fish. As we head up the hill toward the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation, Kara and Nicole chatter over the CB, inventing nonsense handles for themselves and the vehicles (Gray Cloud and Albino Rhino aren't silly enough?). We turn onto State Route 73 and head into the morning's golden light, toward the town of Fort Apache and our destination, the cool majestic slopes of the White Mountains.
The roar of the White River calls to us just as we run out of pavement. While Joe and I reduce tire pressure in anticipation of the many miles of dirt roads ahead, Crisanta takes the opportunity to drop a line in the raging current.
The kids, attracted to water like metal filings to a magnet, head immediately to the rocky shores of the rushing river. From my position hunched over a tire gauge, I hear a loud "kerplunk." Take any kid in the world over the age of 2 to a body of water larger than a puddle, and they will invariably, without provocation, start throwing in rocks. I glance toward the water to confirm what I already know: All three kids are chucking rocks.
The road to Pacheta Lake, our first stop, is in good condition. For 25 miles we cruise beneath puffy white clouds, enjoying the cool breeze and 75-degree temperature. We resist the urge to stop when the road crosses several beautiful, sparkling creeks. An hour and a half later we round a bend and are confronted by the broad azure expanse of Pacheta Lake.
American coots, grebes and a lone sea gull patrol the surface, paddling around the placid water. We find a spot on the lakefront with a picnic table and settle in for some fishing. The water level is high, with thick grass growing abundantly in the shallow areas. Crisanta attempts to throw a line in and discovers that a fairly lengthy cast is required to clear the grass.
The hook invariably snares a wad of grass when retrieved, fouling the bait. Nonetheless, she and Joe fish for an hour and a half. Without a bite, however, they eventually decide that it's time to cut their losses and head for our final destination -- the East Fork of the Black River.
Crossing from the reservation into the Apache National Forest, we complete the journey in just 25 minutes and arrive at the tranquil stream just in time for lunch. As we drive along next to the water, we are amazed at the number of idyllic campsites that remain unoccupied. We claim a prime spot and sit on the grass to eat lunch before setting up camp.
Tents are erected; sleeping bags and pads are unrolled. I send Nicole and Kara to scavenge for wood while Joe and I unload the mature, dry citrus wood that we brought from home. (Joe, a backcountry gourmet chef, prefers the hot, dense coals of citrus for his Dutch oven.) With all the camp details taken care of, we unanimously declare: "It's time to fish!"
Filled with the boundless energy of youth, Kara runs ahead of us to the river, climbs out onto a log, and peers into the water. When she looks back at us, the glint in her eyes says it all -- the stream is teeming with fish.
Joe prepares the tackle; soon Crisanta and Kara are casting into the placid waters in search of dinner. We follow the sun slowly downstream as the day progresses. The pleasantly warm afternoon has me lolling on the grassy bank, watching Kara fish from a log that extends out into the river. She demonstrates amazing angling skill for a young child, casting perfectly time after time, dropping her line exactly where she wants it.
Nothing breaks her concentration as she slowly reels in the line and repeats her cast, working different areas of the stream in search of the evasive trout. Alas, although everyone is having a good time, nobody has gotten so much as a nibble on his or her line. As the sun sets over the ridge behind us, we give up and head back to camp in ignominious defeat.
Distance from Phoenix: Approximately 190 miles
Getting there: To retrace the authors route, take SR 60 to Globe, and continue north on SR 60/77 through the Salt River Canyon. Turn right on SR 73 toward the town of Fort Apache; make a right turn on 46 rather than continuing toward Whiteriver. There is a sign giving the mileage for Reservation Lake, Big Lake, and other White Mountain destinations. Turn right when the road "tees" immediately after crossing the White River. This paved highway parallels the river and turns into Reservation Highway 55 (when it becomes dirt). Follow 55 for about 25 miles. At the point where 55 intersects 20 there is a sign for Pacheta Lake; follow the signs. From Pacheta lake, take 70, turn left on 82, which will cross the border to Apache National Forest. Turn left on 25; go straight to 276 and the East Fork of the Black River.
Maps: The White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation can be confusing. Take as many different maps as you can and use common sense. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest map shows all the roads, but shows no road numbers. Intersections on the reservation will usually "Y"; that is, it will look like you have reached a turn not indicated on the map. USGS topo maps include: Bonito Rock, Marshall Butte, Corn Creek Plateau, and Big Lake South.
Fishing and camping: You need to purchase a special permit from the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation to camp and fish on reservation land. Fishing is $5 per person, per day. Camping is $6 per vehicle per night. (Same rules apply for the San Carlos Reservation.) A state fishing license is required for the Apache National Forest. No camping permit is necessary on national forest land.
Cautions: The White Mountains are black bear country; keep a clean camp and hang your food.
For more information: White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation, Box 700, Whiteriver, AZ 85941; phone (520) 338-4385. Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, P.O. Box 640, Springerville, AZ 85938; phone (520) 333-4301.