By Robert Stieve | Photo by Richard Maack
The meadows in the White Mountains are called cienegas. It's a Spanish word meaning "wet, marshy areas," which are rare in Arizona. They do exist, however, and the best-known is Hannagan Meadow. If you've never been, Hannagan Meadow is one of the most beautiful places in the state. Keep in mind, this is a state that includes the Grand Canyon, Sedona and the San Francisco Peaks, so that's really saying something.
In a place as beautiful as this, you might expect to see a string of B&Bs, hotels, motels, RV parks and campgrounds. But you won't. The only thing around is Hannagan Meadow Lodge, which stands alone in the middle of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, a place generally off-limits to commercial development. In fact, if it weren't for the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, even the lodge wouldn't be there.
Here's the story. In 1926, Governor George W.P. Hunt was in the area to celebrate the opening of the Springerville-to-Clifton highway, which was called Route 666 back then, and has since been changed to U.S. Route 191 — the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway. As part of the dedication, the Forest Service issued a permit for a store to be built, and later a service station, cabins and a restaurant. After that, the main lodge was built to accommodate travelers who made the two-day trek either up or down the Coronado Trail.
Today, Hannagan Meadow Lodge, which has undergone numerous upgrades since 1926, is still the only place to stay, and it's still in the middle of nowhere. Of course, the remote address is the main attraction, but the lodge itself is nice, too.
In all, the lodge offers eight rooms, which are scattered on various levels connected by narrow hallways and creaky staircases. The Cosper Room, which is named for the original permit holder and founder of the lodge, is the most popular, and features a king-sized four-poster bed and dark cherry furnishings. More importantly, it comes with a great view of the meadow.
Downstairs, in the log-walled lobby, you'll find a fireplace, a cozy sofa and lots of books on the White Mountains. Just off the lobby is the dining room, which features log beams (both vertical and horizontal), log walls and a spectacular stone fireplace with a wooden, hand-carved mantel. Allegedly, John Wayne's signature is somewhere on the wall behind the fireplace, but no one knows for sure. Another legend suggests that a ghost lurks somewhere inside. Again, no one knows, but sitting alone in the lodge at night, there's definitely a sense of being a bit player in an episode of Scooby Doo.
Because of the remoteness of the lodge — and the 10 surrounding cabins — there's no maid service, but that only adds to the charm. Besides, when you're sitting on the front deck, overlooking the surrounding forest, the last thing you'll be thinking about are mints on your pillow. This is Hannagan Meadow, after all, one of the most beautiful places in Arizona.
Hannagan Meadow Lodge is located 22 miles south of Alpine on U.S. Route 191. For more information, call 928-339-4370 or visit www.hannaganmeadow.com.