The Punchbowl is a pristine wilderness area found on the east side of Escudilla mountain (10,887′) along the new Mexico border. The area may be found on the official Apache national forest map available at the alpine ranger district office.
To access the area start from the intersection of US-191 and US-180 in alpine, Arizona. Travel east on US-180 toward new Mexico approximately 3 miles to county road 2117, also known as stone creek road or forest road 275. You know that you have turned onto the correct road as you will immediately pass the alpine cemetery on the west side of the road. County road 2117 is paved for the first half mile and then is a maintained gravel road. Travel north approximately 4 miles and the road will drop off sharply downhill along the stone creek drainage, continue approximately another 4 miles until you see a sign at the top of a hill reading “ELC Flat”. There is enough room to park your car safely at this point.
The southern end of the Punchbowl is due west of this small parking area. No trail head – or trails in this wilderness area. Travel due west approximately 500 yards slightly uphill and climb or crawl through a national forest service 4 wire fence. Continue traveling due west remaining as high as possible on the “saddle”. You will find yourself on a sandstone ridge overlooking the Punchbowl. For the best wildlife viewing continue in a southwestern direction along the sandstone ridge and take in the magnificent views of the Punchbowl to the north. A pair of field glasses will assist greatly in viewing wildlife.
One may choose to travel due north into the Punchbowl or elect to skirt the outer perimeter to the west and then dropping down on the north side of the bowl. There are a few old logging roads with down timber that may be dead-reckoned for direction. The bottom of the Punchbowl is full of aspen and waist high ferns during the monsoon (rainy season – July-September).
The Punchbowl is a non-motorized wilderness area – no ATVs! This allows for a fantastic personal experience with elk, mule deer, white tail deer, turkey and bear. Elk are the most popular species in the Punchbowl as they prefer to bed down in the area during the day and then head due east to feed on the meadows of ELC Flat during the evening. However, mule deer and white tail do visit the area as well – more muleys than white tail since the area varies in elevation from 8550′-9250′. Turkey are also abundant in the area, my last trip yielded one large turkey with 8 young turkeys traveling behind. This is also a favorite area for bear due to its non-motorized location. There are numerous over turned rocks and old stumps that have been pawed out by the local black bears searching for grubs, insects, etc. The black bears in this area are actually brown and quite often are a cinnamon color and occasionally blonde. As a rule they are not aggressive and will typically run away from humans or tree themselves. Obviously caution must always be exercised in the presence of a bear and a side arm to fire a warning shot is a good idea.
Author’s Note: Although the Punchbowl itself remains intact, the area was 80% destroyed by the 538,000 acre Wallow Fire (summer 2011). The area still remains a haven for elk herds.
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