Carved from years of erosion, the multicolor spires, buttes, mesas, and walls of the Salt River Canyon—which dramatically drop 2,000 feet—have inspired this marvel’s nickname, the Mini-Grand Canyon. But you don’t need mules (or your feet) to get to the canyon floor. From Phoenix, U.S. 60 climbs through rolling hills as it approaches the Salt River Canyon, and the terrain changes from high desert with cactus and mesquite trees to forests of ponderosa pine. After entering the San Carlos Indian Reservation, the highway descends sharply into the canyon, making a series of hairpin turns to reach the Salt River. Hieroglyphic Point is just one of the viewpoints along the scenic drive. Stop to stretch your legs at the viewing and interpretive display area before crossing the bridge. Wander along the banks below and enjoy the rock-strewn rapids. On hot days slip your shoes off and dip your feet into the chilly water. The river and canyon are open to hiking, fishing, and white-water rafting, but you need a permit, as this is tribal land. For information and recreational permits, contact the individual tribes.
The Apache people migrated to the Southwest around the 10th century. Divided into individual bands instead of functioning as a unified tribe, they were a hunting and gathering culture, moving with the seasons to gather food, and their crafts—baskets, beadwork, and cradleboards (traditional baby-carriers)—were compatible with their mobile lifestyle. The U.S. government didn’t understand that different Apache bands might be hostile to each other, and tried to gather separate tribes on one reservation, compounding relocation problems. Eventually, the government established the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in 1871 and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in 1897. Both tribes hold on fiercely to their cultures. The native language is still spoken and taught in schools, and tribal ceremonies continue to be held. Both tribes have highly acclaimed "hot-shot" crews that immediately respond to forest fires throughout the West. The Salt River forms the boundary between these two large Apache reservations in Eastern Arizona.