San Carlos Reservation

The San Carlos Apache Reservation was established in 1872, spans 3 counties in Arizona, and includes 1.8 million acres of land. Currently there are approximately 10,000 Apache who live there, including 21 member tribes. The reservation was established by the US Government to address Apache raiding of pioneering American and Mexican settlements (the Apache Wars, 1849-1886). By removing them from their homelands and consolidating diverse Apache tribes, the government hoped to end the attacks. Extreme animosity displayed by the US Army, after years of fighting, was exposed by brutal treatment of the Apache, corrupt abuse of funds designated for the reservation, and blatant disregard for tribal custom, culture and languages.

Today, the economy is supported by forestry, tourism, and agriculture. The San Carlos Nation has a successful Chamber of Commerce, operates two successful casinos, a Language Preservation program, a Cultural Center, and a Tribal College. The Elders Cultural Advisory Council identifies the traditional values of self-reliance, respect, and a deep connection with nature, that has defined the resilience of the Apache.

33 10 55 N 11031 12 W

[1] You Know Or You Don't Know

Camping on the San Carlos Apache Reservation requires a permit from the administrative office in Peridot. The administrative office is packed with a massive display of hunting trophies (deer, elk, bear, birds, and fish) highlighting the sporting opportunities in the area. A 3-day pass is $30, with the instruction ‘not to camp within ¼ mile of the water’. The map provided was a hunting map. The hand-made sign stood at the start of several dirt roads, yet the destinations were mysterious.

The only obvious choice for accessing the reservoir was the Coolidge Dam Road (Rt 3). The road quickly became a narrow, unpaved dirt road. Just before the road also becomes steep with sharp curves, is the Soda Canyon Complex. We learned from a clerk in a small snack store, the road ahead was not passable for trailers, who also expressed a bit of shock at our intention to camp anywhere on the water. The store has only beer and fruit juices, some small beaded bracelets, and chips as most delivery trucks are not able to make it up the road and turn around successfully.

[2] Coolidge Dam

The Dam, named for the 30th president Calvin Coolidge was built 1924-1928. Known for its unique construction with 3 enormous domes, look out platforms, and decorative sculptural eagles, it dammed the water from the Gila River to create the San Carlos Reservoir and provide hydroelectric power. The dam was built to provide water to the Gila River Reservation (for the Pima Tribe, about 135 miles to the west) for irrigation.

Building the Dam was opposed by the Apache because the reservoir would bury important historical and religious locations. In fact, before the Coolidge Dam was built, the San Carlos Apache were leaders in breeding Hereford cattle and produced thousands of bushels of corn, wheat, and other crops, including operating a flour mill. According to the current Chairman, Terry Rambler, the dam flooded the farms and destroyed the agricultural economy.

[3] The Reservoir

Although the reservoir sits on federal land, it lies within the San Carlos Apache Reservation and covers Old San Carlos ruins as well as Apache burial grounds. A concrete slab was placed to protect the burial grounds, and when the reservoir is at its lowest some of the ruins can be seen. In 1997, the Apache Tribe tried unsuccessfully to limit draining the reservoir to 75,000 acre/ft of water to avoid “catastrophic fish-kill”, driving native birds from the area, and compromising the economic benefits from recreation on the lake. Previous water agreements prevailed.

Since its construction the reservoir has been nearly empty more than 20 times. A fact confirmed by a chance meeting with an employee of the Apache Forestry Service, who was crossing the dam to check on an Eagle’s nest during his lunch hour. Noting that when the reservoir is dry, thousands of fish are left to die in the sun. He also expressed some regret that the dam was now behind iron fences that block the lookout platforms and have changed the beauty of the dam and the view.

[4] The Reframe

In March 2023, the San Carlos Apache Tribe signed a contract with the US Dept. of Interior to construct a 336-mile diversion canal to deliver Central Arizona Project (CAP) water from the Colorado River to the reservation. The CAP water is expected to revitalize the cattle industry and the agricultural development, as well as create jobs to construct the canal and operate the delivery and distribution systems. The San Carlos Apache Tribe previously agreed to lease up to 14,000acre/ft of its CAP water, by means of an exchange at the Black River, to Freeport-McMoRan (1997), and to help a wealthy Scottdale unincorporated community (2022) when AZ water cut-backs threatened its water supply.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe owns the Apache Gold and the Apache Sky Casinos. The Arizona Tribal-State Compact dictates the types of games, conducts background investigations, and licensing of casino employees and vendor companies. Importantly, it requires all Tribes to contribute a portion of their net gaming revenues to state and local governments. Under this compact, 88% of the tribes’ total annual contribution goes to the Arizona Department of Gaming to be distributed to instructional improvements, trauma and emergency care, wildlife and conservation, and tourism for the state. A total of 12% of the tribal contributions are distributed to the communities, cities, and counties that are chosen by the tribe. In fiscal year 2022, the Arizona Benefit fund received over $41 million from the combined tribal gaming contribution to the state.

[5] Samples

9mm shell casings. Ammunition originally designed by Austrian firearm designer Georg Luger in 1901 it is widely considered the most popular handgun and submachine gun cartridge due to its low cost and extensive availability.

Water sample from San Carlos Resevoir. This reservoir is maintained by the by the USGS Arizona Water Science Center and has the identifier USGS-09469000. This site is in the watershed defined by the 8 digit Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC)15040005. This site has a drainage area of 12886 sq mi.

Natural grasses collected from irrigated farmland adjacent to the San Carlos Resevoir.

Misc. vegetation collected along shoreline used for nesting by gulls, terns, shorebirds, different herons, ducks, geese, and more.

6 lb. test mono-filament fishing line. Fish found in San Carlos Reservoir include Rainbow Trout, Smallmouth Bass - Largemouth Bass, Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Black Crappie, Bluegill, and Red-eared Sunfish.