Fly-In Vacation: White Mountains

Fly-In Vacation: White Mountains

Fly high into Show Low for rustic recreation and small-town retail

By Niki D’Andrea

In 1870, two ranchers named Corydon E. Cooley and Marion Clark decided their shared 100,000-acre ranch wasn’t big enough for both of them, and decided to play a card game called “Seven Up” to determine who won the ranch and who had to leave the area. After several hands with no winner, Clark declared, “If you can show low, you win.” Cooley turned up the deuce of clubs and replied, “Show low it is.”

And that is the legend behind how the town of Show Low got its name. The story behind how it got its airport – Show Low Regional Airport – is less intriguing. A single dirt runway was dedicated in 1946 after the U.S. Forest Service issued a Special Use Permit. It has since expanded to include two asphalt runways, a terminal building, two parking lots and three aircraft storage ramps. San Francisco-based Boutique Air has a ticket counter in the terminal, and offers flights to and from Albuquerque and Silver City, New Mexico; Denver and Cortez, Colorado; and Phoenix.

It might have been true once that “if you can show low, you win,” but these days, if you can fly high, you win even bigger. The White Mountains area of Arizona offers some of the most stunning sylvan settings in the state, especially in the spring – sprawling forests of ponderosa pine (part of the largest stand in the world) populated with elk and deer stretching for thousands of miles over mountains laced with more than 50 lakes. People come here to hunt, hike, fish, camp and enjoy cabin life.

Pinetop-Lakeside in particular is a perfect place for relaxation and recreation in nature. Located a little more than 10 miles from Show Low Regional Airport, the town boasts a bevy of boutique shops, several spas, and a slew of superb restaurants in addition to its horseback riding tours and ATV adventures.

Deemed “Best Cabin Region in the U.S.” by the readers of Cabin Life Magazine a couple years ago, Pinetop-Lakeside offers several rustic lodging options, including pet-friendly Lazy Oaks Resort (lazyoaks.com), located along Rainbow Lake, with its own fishing dock for stocking up on rainbow trout and largemouth bass. The 15 log cabins at Lazy Oak are equipped with modern comforts, from fireplaces to full kitchens, and the commons area has grills and a game of horseshoes.

For families, PVC at The Roundhouse Resort (tinyurl.com/n59st7a) is a comfortable, fun and affordable option. Several two-bedroom, two-bathroom cabins are spaced out around a mini-golf course and bocce ball pits, and guests can also make use of the nearby resort’s amenities, including the pool, hot tub and fitness facilities.

If you’re going to cook in your cabin, Eddie’s Country Store (facebook.com/eddiescountrystoreaz) has everything you need and more. This quaint outpost of the Bashas’ grocery empire has been there for decades and caters to locals with custom sauces and dips, a deluxe deli, and a huge selection of wine and craft beer (including many Arizona brands).

Should you want to eat out, there’s no shortage of options, and there’s a wide range of cuisines dotting the Deuce of Clubs drag in Show Low and the 260 East (White Mountain Boulevard) in Pinetop-Lakeside. Breakfast is a big deal here, and popular spots include Darbi’s Café (expect to circle the bumpy, dirt-hill lot several times before finding a place to park, and be prepared to consume cowboy-size portions of good grub ) and Johnny & Dee’s Picnic Basket (slightly less of a wait, much smaller – but still tasty – portions). Find Darbi’s at darbiscafe.com or call Johnny & Dee’s at 928-358-1992.

Steakhouses abound, the most notable being Porter Mountain Steakhouse (portermountainsteakhouse.net) and Charlie Clark’s Steakhouse (charlieclarks.com). Both serve succulent steaks, but the latter is also notable because it was established in 1938, making it one of the oldest steakhouses still operating in Arizona.

Salt Restaurant & Wine Bar (saltpinetop.com) offers “rustic chic” fine dining in a laid-back, stylish and modern atmosphere. The menu changes fairly often, and has included everything from Australian lamb with Arizona dates to Alaskan halibut in purple ginger sauce. Salt Restaurant & Wine Bar has hands-down the best craft cocktail program in town; toast-worthy tipples include The Bath (Tullamore Dew Whiskey, ginger syrup and ginger ale) and Sib’s Cocktail (muddled basil, vodka and soda).

Terrific Thai food can be found at Mountain Thai (mountainthai.com), an eatery opened more than 16 years ago by Joe Garbeil and his wife Noy, a native of Thailand. Local favorites include the spicy Pad Kee Mow drunken noodles, and yellow chicken curry. Cool the heat on your palate with a Thai iced tea or coffee with Tapioca pearls, called “bubble tea.”

But it’s not just the marvelous mom-and-pop restaurants elevating Pinetop. Some small businesses are drawing attention to their products the old-fashioned way: by making high-quality goods. One such business is White Mountain Soap & Bath (whitemountainsoapandbath.com), a member of the Handcrafted Soap Makers Guild that offers an amazing array of aromatic products including essential oils, candles, fizzy bath bombs, bar soap, lotions and salt scrubs. The couple who owns the shop infuse their products with delightful dried botanicals like lavender flowers and oatmeal.

Pinetop Olive Oil (pinetopoliveoil.com) proffers fine quality olive oils, along with vinegar, pesto and other various sauces. More boutique buys can be had at Made in Greer (tinyurl.com/mr6bkg9), a purveyor of handcrafted goods made from local woods like Western red cedar and reclaimed wood from the 2011 Wallow Fire; and The Gingerbread Cabin (facebook.com/pinetopaz), a cove of cute, kitschy things, plus flowers and some fiercely good fudge.

You can even pick up a comic book at Valhalla Games (facebook.com/TrueValhallaGames). The comic book and gaming store also carried decks of cards, so there could be a close game of “Seven Up” in your future. Show low, but fly high.