Early morning bass fishermen fling lures toward the Tonto end of Roosevelt Lake. In the years following a rise in water level, bass fishing booms because submerged brush provides nutrients for small fish and cover for bass.
© Nick Berezenko
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by Keridwen Cornelius
Nature always seems more wild and vast in the West. Arizona’s own western region is home to more than 1.6 million acres of national wildlife refuges, from lush wetlands quenched by the Colorado River to the bone-dry beauty of the southern badlands. The regions are havens for diverse flora and fauna including neotropical migrant birds, Sonoran pronghorns and the state’s only naturally-growing stand of indigenous palm trees. In most areas, nature rules and tourists are scarce, making these particular refuges havens for travelers as they are for wildlife.
Roosevelt LakeThe biggest of six Salt River Project lakes, Roosevelt Lake was created in 1911 by its eponymous dam, which is still the largest stone dam in the world. When full, it spreads over more than 19,000 acres near the confluence of the Salt River and Tonto Creek, about 100 driving miles east of Phoenix. The lake is a popular oasis for Arizonans and tourists escaping the summer swelter, when water skiers, jet skiers and speedboats zoom across the water, and anglers reel in smallmouth and largemouth bass, catfish and crappie. Facilities include picnic areas, restrooms, solar showers, several boating ramps, four fish-cleaning stations and hundreds of campsites.
Approximately 55 miles from Apache Junction, via the scenic, but rugged Apache Trail (State Route 88); 928-467-2241; www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto/recreation/rogs/boating/LBROGs/tontobasin/RooseveltLake.pdf.
Lake Havasu State ParkWhen visionary chainsaw manufacturer and land developer Robert P. McCulloch bought London Bridge from England and reassembled its 10,276 pieces in Lake Havasu City, the publicity put the desert town on the map. A kitschy "English village" sprouted up around it, but the real attraction is Lake Havasu, an aquatic playground for water-skiing, kayaking and sightseeing by boat. Fishing is prime from April to July and October to November for largemouth bass; May to July for striped bass; June to September for catfish and March to May for crappie.
699 London Bridge Road, Lake Havasu City; 928-855-2784; www.azstateparks.com/Parks/parkhtml/havasu.html.
Lake PleasantLake Pleasant's proximity to Phoenix makes it a popular weekend escape for water-skiing, boating, sailing, jet skiing and fishing. The scenic shoreline is equally inviting for hiking, mountain biking and camping. The visitors center educates recreationists on the history of the lake and surrounding areas and the construction of Waddell Dam. For overnighters, more than 140 sites for RV and tent camping are available.
41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Road, Morristown; 928-501-1710; www.maricopa.gov/parks/lake_pleasant.
Mormon LakeMormon Lake is Arizona's largest natural lake, so it's more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of weather than man-made reservoirs. During droughts, Flagstaff-area lakes shrink and sometimes dry up altogether. But in its full glory, Mormon Lake is the natural choice for amphibious pursuits. Take your speedboat for a spin, windsurf, and fish for sunfish and catfish. Shoreside, explore the region's cool forests on foot or by bike. Keep an eye out for elk, pronghorn antelope, bald eagles and ospreys. In winter, don your cross-country skis and glide around the snowy lakeshore. After you've worked up an appetite, tuck into cowboy chow at the Mormon Lake Lodge, where the brands of local ranchers are singed into the log walls.
29 miles southeast of Flagstaff ; 928-526-0866; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/mormon_lake/moromon-lake-boat.shtml.
San Carlos LakeA mecca for anglers, San Carlos Lake teems year-round with boastworthy catfish, largemouth bass and crappie. The lake is situated 25 miles east of Globe on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, which is dotted with more than 100 small ponds called tanks, plus several smaller lakes and streams. Formed by Coolidge Dam, San Carlos Lake laps up to 158 miles of shoreline. Facilities include a picnic area and boat ramp. All recreational activities on reservation land require permits available only through specified vendors.
Off U.S. Route 70, south of Peridot; 928-475-2343; www.sancarlosrecreationandwildlife.com/fishing.html.
Fool Hollow Lake Recreation AreaFed by Show Low Creek, this natural lake rimmed with pine trees is a cool, lush feeding ground for a host of wildlife including great blue herons. Fishermen can cast year-round for rainbow trout, small and largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, catfish and walleye. Bring a picnic, or set your tent up at one of 123 sites. The park owes its name to Thomas Westly Adair, a settler who came to the area intending to farm. Locals joked that only a fool would try to farm this land, and the name stuck.
1500 N. Fool Hollow Lake, Show Low; 928-537-3680; www.azstateparks.com/Parks/parkhtml/foolhollow.html.
Lyman Lake State ParkThe living is easy on Lyman Lake, particularly in summertime, when visitors wile away the afternoons playing volleyball, pitching horseshoes, swimming and hiking. On weekends from May through September, park rangers lead guided tours on the Ultimate Petroglyph Trail, which can be accessed only by pontoon boat, as well as to Rattlesnake Point Pueblo Ruin. On the water, you'll find anglers catching walleye, channel catfish and largemouth bass, and boats of all sizes (there are no restrictions). For the warmer months, park rangers set up a tournament-grade slalom course for water-skiers. Camping can be cushy—ramadas, log cabins and yurts, electrical and water hookups—or primitive: just pitch a tent on the beach.
Eleven miles south of St. Johns on U.S. Route 191; 928-337-4441; www.azstateparks.com/Parks/parkhtml/lyman.html.
Patagonia Lake State ParkThis 2.5-mile-long lake created by the damming of Sonoita Creek is stocked with rainbow trout, largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish and catfish. But for bird-watchers, the area's real attraction is in the air. (Life-listers, take a breath.) You'll see loons, grebes, pelicans, cormorants, great blue herons, egrets, eagles, sandpipers, nuthatches, nighthawks, swifts, hummingbirds, trogons, kingfishers, flycatchers, tanagers, towhees and more species than we can fit here. Camping ranges from bare bones to well-equipped. Boats are available for rent, but for fishermen's sake, the east half of the lake is a designated no-wake zone.
400 Patagonia Lake Road, Patagonia; 520-287-6965; www.azstateparks.com/Parks/parkhtml/patagonia.html.
Roper Lake State ParkIf your idea of a great day is basking in a natural hot spring on the edge of a tranquil lake backed by, say, Mount Graham, then go east, young traveler. Roper Lake, near Safford, provides the perfect family getaway: Kids can cast a line into the catfish-stocked waters, play pirates on the day-use island, frolic on the beach and go camping. (Cabins are also available by reservation.) Only small, electric-powered boats are permitted, so feel free to try your hand at windsurfing without fear of capsizing in the wake of a houseboat. The state park also includes Dankworth Pond, three miles south, which offers picnic ramadas, an Indian Village and a playground.
101 E. Roper Lake Road, Safford; 928-428-6760; www.azstateparks.com/Parks/parkhtml/roper.html.
Alamo Lake State ParkThe fishing tournaments held frequently at this reservoir speak to its status as a premier bass-fishing site. Situated in Arizona's remote West in the Bill Williams River Valley, the lake was formed with the construction of Alamo Dam in 1968. The secluded setting attracts wildlife including bald and golden eagles, waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer and wild burros. In spring, wildflowers like purple owl clover and California poppies splash onto the scene. Campgrounds with water and electrical hookups are available.
38 miles north of Wenden and U.S. Route 60; 928-669-2088; www.azstateparks.com/Parks/parkhtml/alamo.html.
Lynx LakeLynx Lake's appeal lies in its smallness. The Lakeshore Trail, which traces its circumference through a ponderosa pine forest, is a mere 2 miles. Only electrically powered boats are permitted, so the lake's glassy waters are popular with canoeists and kayakers. Birders can point their binoculars at Cooper's hawks, acorn woodpeckers, hummingbirds, towhees and ospreys during the warmer months, and bald eagles and great blue herons in winter. Nearby, families can try their luck panning for gold along Lynx Creek in a designated area near the Salida Gulch trailhead.
Off Walker Road, near Prescott; 928-443-8000; www.fs.fed.us/r3/prescott/fishing/fishing_lynx.htm.