The Tonto National Forest, Arizona, embraces almost 3 million acres of rugged and spectacularly beautiful country, ranging from Saguaro cactus-studded desert to pine-forested mountains beneath the Mogollon Rim. This variety in vegetation and range in altitude (from 1,300 to 7,900 feet) offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it's lake beaches or cool pine forest.

As the fifth largest forest in the United States , the Tonto National Forest is one of the most-visited “urban” forests in the U.S. (approximately 5.8 million visitors annually). Its boundaries are Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east. The Tonto National Forest has a rich heritage reaching thousands of years into the past. Originally home to several prehistoric Indian groups who hunted and gathered wild plants in the Mazatzal Mountains and Sierra Ancha and along the Salt and Verde Rivers and their tributaries, it was colonized more than a thousand years ago by a related group of people known today as the Hohokam.

The Hohokam were accomplished farmers, craftsmen, traders and warriors who built large towns and villages and dug hundreds of miles of irrigation canals along the Salt and Gila rivers around Phoenix. Centuries of trade and conflict then gave rise to several distinctive new cultures, the best known of which is the Salado of Tonto Basin.

Eventually, by about 600 years ago, the effects of several hundred years of droughts, floods, and warfare took their toll on the Salado, the Hohokam, and their neighbors and most of these people left the Tonto area, never to return. Their descendants, however, can be found today among the Pima, Hopi, and Zuni tribes.

A twenty-year struggle with the U.S. Army ensued (approximately 1866-1886), resulting in the removal of both the Apache and Yavapai to reservations at San Carlos and Fort Apache. Today the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache reservations border the forest on the east with the Tonto Apache Reservation located inside the forest at Payson, and the Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation situated along the southwest edge. The Apache in particular still use the forest for gathering wild plants and other traditional practices.

Once the army had removed the Indians from the area, the Tonto filled up rapidly with settlers. First came the miners and Mormon farmers, followed quickly by sheep and cattle ranchers. The Mormon colony was withdrawn after a few years and the sheep are all but gone today, but mining remains a major industry around Globe and Miami and cattle ranching continues as a traditional economy and lifestyle, with many of the ranches on the Tonto remaining in the same families who originally homesteaded the area in the 1870's

©National Forest Service

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