Touring Campgrounds in the White Mountains, AZ

Luna Lake Campground

Near Alpine, Arizona

After last summer Terry vowed not to let us be marooned in Tucson again with nowhere to go camping to get out of Tucson’s epic summer heat. So armed with determination and generator, off we went!
 
 

Last year Terry confessed that he wasn’t on the ball

enough in planning summer trips to places where we

could get out of the heat. Part of the problem was

that we didn’t have our generator last summer, so we “needed” hookups because we didn’t feel comfortable relying solely on the solar panel for extended periods … and all the places that offered electrical hookups were completely booked over weekends by the time Terry thought about making plans. He was not an early bird and therefore did not get “the worm.” Lesson learned. This year he vowed not to let us be marooned in Tucson, unable to get out of town for cooler weather camping. We got the generator at the end of summer last year, and though we can’t use the AC with the single 2000 watt generator, we are less dependent on electrical hookups, and that helps a great deal … we can now dry camp successfully, and as long as it isn’t too warm (85+ is too warm), we can go places that don’t have electricity and don’t require reservations. Since those places are further away, we tend to take fewer, but longer trips in the summer. Our first “It’s-Too-Hot-in-SoAZ” trip this year was in May to Fool Hollow Lake State Park with friends and and then the Mogollon Rim between Heber and Payson, AZ when we were gone for 10

                                      days. It was great… For our June getaway we decided to

                                              go to the eastern part of the Mogollon Rim to the

                                                 Alpine, Big Lake and Greer areas. We had been

                                                   through the Eager/Springville area several times

                                                   traveling Highway 60 and 260 and through

                                                  Alpine once on a car trip years ago, as we 

                                                 returned from a road trip to New Mexico,

                                                  but we had never been to the Big Lake or Greer

                                                     areas. They sounded inviting and we’d heard from friends about how nice and cool the area is in the summer, so we were looking forward to new places and new adventures.


We decided to go to the Alpine, AZ area ... near the AZ/NM border south of Eager/Springerville first and work our way back west. It was an adventure right off the bat ... our first route consideration was to go the normal way we travel to the Show Low area…up to Globe, AZ and then north on Route 60 through the Salt River Canyon and on to Show Low…then east to Alpine. We’ve made the trip through the Salt River Canyon and Globe so many times that we decided to look at alternatives. A friend, Heather, owns a summer cabin in Alpine, so Terry dropped her an email regarding how she and her husband usually go to Alpine and which route is the fastest. There are a few alternate routes to Alpine so he figured she’d know which was fastest and best route to take. She replied saying that they usually take I-10 east to Highway 191, then north to Safford (which is how we go to Roper Lake State Park near Safford) … and from Safford, east on Route 70/191 until 191 heads north. If you stay on Route 191, it winds through mining country on that side of the state and eventually meanders through the mountains to Alpine. It is a very high, winding course with dramatic views and equally dramatic sheer drop-offs, at the edge of the road … We had driven that route from Alpine to Safford (on the same trip we had been through Alpine), so we were not sure we were ready to pull the Bambi through its 10 mph white-knuckle hairpin curves … maybe at a later time … maybe. We were relieved to hear that Heather and her husband don’t take Route 191 all the way up to Alpine … instead they take Route 191 to Guthrie, AZ and head east on Route 78 toward Mule Creek, NM to catch Highway 180 north to Alpine… So that’s the way we decided to go. It would be new territory for us!


We got out the driveway about 10:45 AM on Friday and headed to I-10 and Safford. Our Airstream and 4 Corners Unit friends Louis & Sergio and Mark & Ron were headed to Bisbee for the Bisbee Pride Celebration that same weekend. They were going to be joined by Jim & Rod from Albuquerque. We had tried to join them but by the time we decided to go along, we couldn’t get reservations at The Shady Dell, our favorite place to stay in Bisbee …

Anyway, Louis & Sergio were meeting Ron & Mark on

I-10 just east of Tucson to caravan the rest of the way to

Bisbee … We thought we might be there in time to stop

and say “hey,” but by the time we got there, they had no

doubt already met and were on their merry way to Bisbee.

Bummer. It would have been nice to see them, but we’re

sure we’ll get a full report later. They are some of our

favorite people to camp with. So not seeing aluminum

gleaming at the designated rendezvous point, we stayed on I-10 and proceeded on our way. We’d never taken this southerly route to the White Mountains before. Frankly, unless you’re headed to the eastern-most part of the White Mountains, the route through Globe is probably better in terms of travel time. Interestingly, however, the actual mileage from Tucson to Alpine through Globe is within a few miles of the mileage from Tucson to Alpine going through Mule Creek, NM and up to Alpine! We were kinda surprised when we learned this (thank you, Google Maps!) We were happy to go a different way for a change. There are just so many routes to take when we go anywhere in Arizona, unlike other parts of the country where there is a maze of roads criss-crossing the state.


When we reached Guthrie, AZ and took Route 78 northeast toward Mule Creek, we were officially on new turf ... and before long we found ourselves on one of those roads that keeps getting narrower and narrower  ... and windier as you proceed ... with little traffic. This is always a little unsettling when you have a trailer in tow … but we saw a couple of larger RVs coming from the other direction, so we figured it would be OK. (Either that or they had turned around and come back! Yikes!) But wait ... Heather wouldn’t send us on a bad road ... would she?? Not only was it twisting, but it climbed at a very steep grade. We persisted, though, and were rewarded with some fabulous views along the way. We did OK with the Bambi … it was an adventure, for sure, but it was fine!  Certainly no worse than the Salt River Canyon, and we’ve done that dozens of times. Besides, new adventures is what it’s all about, right?


As we approached the AZ/M border we entered the very southern tip of the Apache National Forest. Once we were over the summit of the Big Lue Mountains, (highest point 7000’), we entered New Mexico and the Gila National Forest ... then arrived at Mule Creek, NM, which is a small burg that definitely qualifies as a wide place in the road. We proceeded east on 78 and picked up Highway 180. We had descended from the mountains to a high desert area terrain. At the junction of 78 and 180, if you turn south on Highway 180 it’s about 50 miles to Silver City, NM. If you turn north, you travel along the

                                  AZ/NM border in a wide valley between mountain ranges,

                                        passing through Glenwood and Alma, NM, and finally

                                          Luna, NM. We turned north, of course. Just before

                                            Luna, NM you can turn east on Route 12 to head

                                             toward Reserve, NM and on to Daytil, NM. We

                                            remembered seeing a sign for Reserve, NM when

                                            we were headed home to Arizona on Highway 60 in

                                            New Mexico on our way from the Balloon Fiesta

                                              Rally last October. It’s funny how, when you travel the same area from different points you make the connections between towns and geographic features ... in this case our trip home from Albuquerque and an even earlier trip to Silver City in 2008. It all sort of falls into place and you gain a sense of a mental “lay of the land.” Heaven knows we’ve traveled a good share of the roads in Arizona and parts of New Mexico. It nice to make those connections.


At Luna, Route 180 continues west to the Arizona border and you begin to climb from the high desert terrain with scrub oak and piñon pine into the ponderosa pine of the White Mountains. At some point around Luna Terry told Greg that we needed to make some serious elevation climbs in the last 30 miles to be at 7900 feet of Alpine! Sure enough … by the time we got to the Arizona border we were in the mountains and ponderosa pine forests. It’s a pretty drive and a dramatic change in elevation and vegetation heading west from Luna. Along the way, we had to slow suddenly to a near stop as two

deer ran across the road in front of us … we were glad we

saw them in time to slow down and let them pass! They

were so pretty. That’s the first time we’ve encountered deer

in the road in our travels, and it’s something we’d rather

not experience in the extreme ... there are road signs all

along the way warning motorists to be on the lookout for

deer and elk, and we’ve heard horror stories of hitting deer

and elk in the White Mountains. No thank you!


Just inside the AZ border is Luna Lake and Luna Lake Campground, our first destination for the trip. Alpine is about 5 miles further west on 180. As mentioned earlier, we had never been to Luna Lake Campground before. You can see Luna Lake from 180 but you can’t see any signs of a campground … all we knew was what we’d read on line. We turned off Highway 180 into the Luna Lake Recreation Area, not sure that was where we were supposed to go, then we say a sign for the campground and followed the gravel road to the campground. We thought we’d never get there. It’s not that far, really, but because we didn’t know where we were going exactly, it seemed further. The road took us around the east end of the lake through a wide valley and up a hill … the lake sits away from the woods and a grassy high prairie setting. You can see that it has been at different levels off and on … it looked at its fullest at the moment. The campground sits in the woods on the hill ... on the opposite side of the lake from the highway. That’s why we didn’t see any signs of the campground from the highway. 


We reached the campground about 4:30 PM. There was a sign at the host’s site saying to pick a spot and they’d be by later … so we took a tour of the campground. Some of the sites were reserveable. Those were marked with the dates they were reserved. But there were quite a few that were either not reserved or were first come first served. As we came around the end of one loop, there as a steep hill that caught us by surprise. We were moving slowly

of course ... the road was dirt and gravel, and our tires spun a bit as we edged

up the hill. We don’t have 4 wheel drive on the truck, but we can lock the rear differential if we need to. We didn’t have to do that (we never have), but we came close. We ended up choosing a site that was right at the top of the hill, and during our stay we saw that we were not the only ones who had a bit of spinning wheels on that hill ... especially trucks pulling much heavier rigs than ours!


We were very happy with the site we settled on. It was a pull-through overlooking the sites on the lower part of the campground, and facing the east end of the open valley were the lake was located. There were no nearby campsites and those closest to us on the road below were vacant. We were on the far end of the campground from the entrance on a one-way road ... and since that hill was there, passers-by were not driving very fast as they passed our site ... so there wasn’t a lot of dust thrown up from the road. This was a good

thing!


It was about 82 degrees when we got there … we’d gone through temperatures

                                 that day ranging from 104 in Tucson when we left to the

                                        lower 90s along the way … it had been a day of lots of

                                           ups and downs, altitude-wise. Once we selected our

                                            site, we took the Girls out to sniff around and do

                                            their duty, and began setting up camp. Once settled

                                            in we relaxed and had a very nice dinner of grilled

                                         steak, sliced thinly and wrapped in tortillas with home

                                            made salsa courtesy of our neighbor, Irma. We love

                                               her salsa! It was a sort of “fajita” dinner. We had another treat for dessert … Greg had made a yellow cake with chocolate icing for the trip. Boy, did that hit the spot! (And it continued to be a good ending to several dinners on this trip.)


Happily, we had a good Internet connection, too, so we checked in with folks at home to let them know we arrived at Luna Lake as planned and all was well …

We cranked up the genny for a movie … gave the Girls their last walk of the day and hit the hay at 10:30 PM. We slept well that night in the 41-degree fresh mountain air ... the elevation of Alpine is 7900 feet.


Saturday we were up about 10:00 AM … after a nice night’s rest. Terry made coffee and took the Girls for their morning constitutional … We were surprised to see that quite a few campers were gone … It was only Saturday … then we figured that some of the dads in the campground needed to be home on Sunday for Father’s Day. So we were virtually alone at our end of the campground … we couldn’t see any other campers from our site.


It was good we had a decent Internet connection because Terry had two client requests that weekend, and he was able to take care of the client’s immediate needs remotely with a good connection. There is an Internet God.


We talked to Heather, who Terry works with. She and her husband have a summer cabin in Alpine. They were there with their grandkids for the week, but she said she could come by our campsite toward the end of the afternoon if we were going to be around. That was perfect.


We drove to Alpine that afternoon to see what was going on there. Not much. We stopped and got a partial fill-up of gas ($2.979/gal … we planned to fill again in Eager where it ought to be less expensive) and bought some ice after driving around a bit. There were some nice areas of summer homes in the area. On the way back to the campground, we stopped at the lake to get a closer look. We were a bit disappointed that the lake is so far from the campground. You can walk to the lake from camp, but it’s quite a walk … and all the campsites are fairly removed from the lake. You do have a glimpse of the lake from some of the sites on the lower part of the park.


Heather arrived about 4:00 PM in her Solara convertible with the

top down. So stylish! We were prepared with a bottle of wine and

snacks. It was good to see her, and we had a very nice time chatting

and catching up. She said the grandkids were dears, but they had

nearly worn her out … we think she was pleased to have a break!


After Heather left, we had a salad, grilled chicken strips and baked potatoes for dinner. Terry had to take care of a little business for one of his clients, and after that was done and sent off for approval, we watched a movie and went to bed … another good day on the road.


Sunday (Happy Father’s Day!) we got up after a pleasant night time low of 41 … great sleeping weather … and enjoyed the quiet of the campground and a cool breeze. Greg took a walk to the lake to see what he could see (there were rumors of elk and other wildlife who frequent the lake) … We had only paid for two nights at Luna Lake but had decided to stay until Monday before heading to our next destination. So Terry drove to the host site to pay for Sunday night, get a jug of water, and take the trash to the dumpster. The host was out, so we figured they’d catch up with us later in the day and we could pay then. The fee, by the way, was $12/night for dry camping with vault johns and drinking water available … not bad. We spent the afternoon in camp … late in the afternoon a few more campers came in to claim spaces. The sites are nicely spread out, so it never did feel “crowded.”


The camp hosts did eventually show up so we could pay for our next night. Greg made cole slaw and we had grilled burgers for dinner. Our friend Sandy from Utah called that evening, and we had a nice chat with her to catch up. Another nice day … and a good close to our time at Luna Lake.


Look at the pictures below by clicking on the “Slide Show” icon below …or you can jump to the other two legs of our trip by clicking on the Big Lake or Greer buttons. At the end of the pictures section you can click on “Other Trips” to return to the trip list page where you can access any of our trip logs.

We tried to meet Louis & Sergio and Mark & Ron at their rendezvous point as they traveled to Bisbee that weekend, but we missed them.
The trip up the AZ/NM border helped us “connect” other routes we’d taken in our travels ... to Silver City and our return from the ABQ Balloon Fiesta.
>Introductionwhitemts_jun10_intro.htmlwhitemts_jun10_intro.htmlshapeimage_5_link_0
This was our first time camping in the eastern areas of the Rim in the White Mountains. We’d been through there before but not with the Bambi. We were excited to find some new haunts!
We had to slow for a couple of deer that ran across the road ... we’re glad we saw them in time to slow down!
Our neighbor Irma had given us a jar of her signature home made salsa for the trip, making our dinner of grilled steak tortilla wraps just perfect!
Heather arrived in style in her Solara convertible!
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