Late-afternoon sunlight suffuses the cottonwoods and knee-high grasses along Frieborn Creek at the entrance to Blue River Wilderness Retreat. Wearing a straw hat, Janie Hoffman pauses from her work in a large vegetable garden to greet arriving guests. Near the barn, her husband, Don, strips bark from a beam with a drawknife.
If it seems a picture of a simpler time, that’s not an accident. The Hoffmans bought this land near the Blue River nearly 40 years ago with the idea of homesteading their dozen acres on the Arizona-New Mexico border.
Occupying a small, unfinished cabin, they raised two children and an assortment of animals. They sent their kids to the old two-room school in Alpine, 13 miles north. When they built a larger home, they opened their cabin to guests. Eventually, they added three vintage aluminum trailers at the edge of an expansive lawn planted with bluegrass and fruit trees.
Over the years, the property has seen many uses, and people have come back to share old pictures and stories with the Hoffmans. The grandson of a woman who lived on the property with her husband in the 1940s brought copies of his grandmother’s diaries. Her husband built their cabin on the site of a former sawmill. In the 1960s, the Arrowhead Lodge occupied the property, its owners digging out three stocked fishing ponds.
The earlier structures all burned in fires, and the Hoffmans bought the property from the family of a man who was building a hunting cabin when he died. They completed the dwelling, filled in all but one spring-fed pond (which no longer is stocked) and once again made it a special place to visit.
Blue River Wilderness Retreat began as an artists getaway. Janie weaves tapestries from natural-fiber yarn, which she dyes using hollyhocks, bronze fennel and goldenrods from her garden, and saw the retreat as an opportunity to meet other artists.
But word spread, and during summer months, guests now include artists, families and individuals who enjoy walking, hiking, birding and fishing. Pricing is calculated by the week, and many guests who return year after year stay for a month.
“It’s been a wonderful venture for us,” Janie says. “It’s provided a social life, and we’ve met so many remarkable people.”
Forest Road 16
Off Apache County Rd # 2104 (National Forest Road 281)
Near Alpine, AZ