Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
Portions of this area were impacted by the 2011 Wallow Fire. While parts of the forest did burn, most is still intact, and wildlife viewing opportunities are not diminished.
The Blue River area is one of the most interesting and under-birded areas in east-central Arizona. After climbing a small rise, Forest Road (FR) 281 follows the river as it drops in elevation until it dead-ends at private property, about 30 miles from its turnoff from State Highway 180.
The Upper Blue Campground is located 14 miles from the Highway 180 turnoff, and Blue Crossing Campground is 20 miles from the turnoff. Lower-elevation birds are found on this route, including greater pewee, hepatic tanager, common black-hawk, black-chinned sparrow, Mexican jay and bridled titmouse.
Merriam’s turkey, band-tailed pigeon, and Montezuma and Gambel’s quail are seen occasionally. Mule deer, an occasional Coues white-tailed deer, and a variety of smaller mammals, including coyote and gray fox, are regularly spotted here.
For those with a high-clearance vehicle, an alternative return route to Alpine is FR 567, which intersects with FR 281 at the Blue Crossing Campground. FR 567 climbs west out of the Blue River corridor, ending 13 miles later at Highway 191 south of Alpine.
This route should only be taken in good weather conditions. At about 2.8 miles from the river, look to the north for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep on the slopes of Red Hill. Elk and mule deer are usually seen at sunrise and sunset at higher elevations in the ponderosa pine forest.
There is private property interspersed with the public land in the Blue River area. Please respect it and do not trespass.
Habitat: River riparian, ponderosa pine, pinyon pine and juniper woodland
Seasons: All year.
Location: FR 281 turns off to the Blue River from Highway 180 at the western edge of Luna Lake, about 3.5 miles east of the intersection with Highway 191 in Alpine.
Access: 24 hours daily. The all-purpose gravel road is suitable for passenger cars in good weather. River crossings may be inaccessible after heavy rains.
What You Might See
- Ponderosa pine birds
- Riparian birds
- Coues whitedailed deer
- Rocky Mountain Bighorn
- Medium-sized mammals
- Small mammals