Apache County is in the northeast corner of Arizona. According to the 2010 census, it had a population of over 71,000. Since its formation in 1879, the county has had quite a few interesting stories to tell from its history to its most current events
County Overview and History
Apache County’s name came from the Apache Native American people. The county was established on the 24th of February in 1879 during the Tenth Territorial Legislature. It was formed out of Yavapai County, which was one of the four primary counties in the state of Arizona.
When it was created, Apache County included Navajo, which it still does up to the present day. It also consisted of other parts of Greenlee and Graham counties. Apache has a total land area of 11,218 square miles and most regions were uninhabited and unknown when it was established.
Navajo and Apache Indians did not stop raiding settlements at that time. There was a range war happening between Texas cattlemen and Indian and Mexican sheepmen, which put most of the county in peril. The natives were divided because of what was going on. During that period, the cattlemen who hailed from the state of Texas were new to the place. These groups, along with Mormon pioneers in the area, inhabited the region for a while. The rest continued to be empty and wild.
The soon-to-become Apache County did not stay undisturbed for a long time. In 1881, the area where the Black and Gila Rivers flowed, which was originally a part of Apache, was taken from the county. It was designated to Graham County, which still owns this region. Later on, Navajo County was established and it also took a significant territory from Apache.
Back in the day, Apache had almost 21,000 square miles of total land area. However, because of the divisions and the inception of the two mentioned counties, Apache now only has 11,000+ square miles, which it has kept up to this day.
Apache County is believed to be unique among all the other counties in the nation for quite a few reasons. One is that it is the longest county in the entire United States. Apache runs 211 miles from the borders of Utah and reaches the south of Alpine. Additionally, the county’s population – about two-thirds of it – comprises of the Navajo Nation, along with more than a half of the total land area of the county. The Navajo is the biggest Native American tribe.
The inhabitants also agree that Apache is a county of contrasts. It starts with mountains close to Nutrioso and Alpine, which are covered with aspen and blue spruce. The trail moves forward to the Greer Valley all the way to the clear waters of the Little Colorado River, which then flows northward proceeding to St Johns and Round Valley.
The northern half of the county is within the boundaries of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, which runs for more than 21,000 square miles. While the reservation has changed in many ways over the past several years, its history and landmarks remain without modifications. The Navajo land has some of the most remarkable monuments that nature has created, prompting the belief that the Seven Wonders of the Navajo World lie in this land. It shows that the Navajo Nation is a world apart while the Navajo Indians dwell in many parts of the county. They refuse to leave and reside on their part of the reservation.
The Indians mostly prefer to drive their cattle and sheep on lands that are situated outside the Navajo reservation since grazing is better, especially the southern part of the county. On the other hand, the northern area has picturesque canyons and gorges because of the floods that affected the region a few centuries ago.
The county is remembered for its natural resources. Even back in the day, its residents knew that it was destined to have a massive agricultural population. Today, Apache has numerous herds of cattle as well as flocks of sheep roaming over the county’s fertile valleys and wide mesas.
Apache County is indeed growing with a population that is well over 71,000. Its main population centers are Fort Defiance and Window Rock in the South, while the north has Chinle, Ganado in the center, and there are several other little towns in between. Aside from this growth, it has also experienced various positive changes, including the creation of new permanent jobs that can help support the expanding population in the county’s communities.
The increasing land values are a testament to Apache’s progress. Many subdivisions have received approval and having second homes have become the norm, especially for those who live in the metropolitan areas of Arizona.
Over the past few years, the county has been viewed as one of the places with a rich culture. It offers numerous recreational activities and sceneries that are difficult to forget. With such attributes, Apache County has turned into an important travel destination in the state. Among its widely known attractions are Canyon de Chelly National Monument and Four Corners Monument.
For scenic opportunities, Wheatfields Lake is a must-see, which is just close to the base of Chuska Mountains. Its ideal location puts it at the east of Canyon de Chelly National Monument and at the southern part of Tsaile. To get a glimpse of the Navajo culture, the Navajo Nation Museum is a great start. It was established way back in 1961 and is now situated in its new home since 1998.
The Navajo Nation Zoo and Botanical Park is also an excellent place to visit since it is the only zoo in the country that is owned and operated by a Native American. It does not just feature more than 50 species of animals but also provides the visitors a peaceful site to reflect.
Since the county’s celebration of its 125th year in 2004, Apache has seen many significant changes. During the last few years, several improvements to its justice courts, schools, jail, and roads were evident. Additionally, there have been a few technological advances, which are expected to continue in the future.
Directions from the County Seat to Phoenix, Arizona
For those planning to drive from St. Johns to Phoenix will have to travel more than 200 miles on the road. It will take almost four hours to get to the destination. Of course, the values mentioned are approximate. The accurate driving duration depends on several factors, including the type of vehicle used and the number of passengers in the automobile.
Apache County has a few major highways serving it, including Interstate 40, US Routes 60, 64, and 180, and State Routes 61 and 260. The fastest route to take to get to Phoenix from St. Johns is to via AZ-87, which can take approximately three hours and 48 minutes. The second fastest is via US Route 60 W, which adds about 10 more minutes to the travel time. Travelers should expect a bit of traffic, which usually does not get too heavy on normal days. The route starts from US Route 180 to AZ-61 W where driving can take about less than 10 minutes for the five-mile trip.
Drivers can take on the road until they reach Co Road 5020 and proceed to AZ-277 S passing through E Concho Highway. The path should continue to AZ-260 W in Heber-Overgaard and drivers can follow AZ-260 W up to AZ-87 all the way to E Washington Street, which is in Phoenix.
For those driving to Albuquerque in New Mexico, St. Johns is located along the most scenic and shortest route starting from Phoenix. About an hour of driving will lead to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, as well as the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National park, and the Lyman Lake State Park.
Along the way, there are more Indian reservations, including the Navajo Nation, San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, Zuni Indian Reservation, and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.