Geography of Greenlee County, Arizona

Geography of Greenlee County, Arizona

Greenlee County, located in the southeastern part of Arizona, is a region of diverse and rugged landscapes, characterized by towering mountains, deep canyons, arid deserts, and lush riparian corridors. Its geography, shaped by millions of years of geological processes and the forces of nature, offers a unique blend of natural beauty, rich biodiversity, and cultural heritage.


According to Localcollegeexplorer, Greenlee County experiences a semi-arid climate with hot summers and mild winters, typical of the southwestern United States. The county’s climate is influenced by its high elevation and proximity to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, resulting in significant temperature variations and low annual precipitation.

Summer temperatures in Greenlee County can soar above 100°F (38°C), particularly in the lower elevations, where the desert heat is most intense. However, higher elevations, such as those found in the Blue Range Mountains, tend to be cooler, offering relief from the sweltering summer heat.

Winter temperatures are relatively mild, with average highs ranging from 50°F to 60°F (10°C to 15°C) and lows dipping below freezing, especially in the higher elevations. Snowfall is infrequent in the lower elevations but can occur in the mountainous areas, providing opportunities for winter recreation such as skiing and snowshoeing.

Spring and fall are transitional seasons characterized by moderate temperatures and occasional precipitation. These seasons offer pleasant weather for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing.

Mountains and Canyons:

Greenlee County is home to several prominent mountain ranges, including the Blue Range Mountains, the Pinaleno Mountains (Mount Graham), and the Gila Mountains, which dominate the landscape and provide habitat for diverse plant and animal species.

The Blue Range Mountains, located in the eastern part of the county, are renowned for their rugged terrain, deep canyons, and dense forests. The Blue Range Primitive Area, within the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, offers opportunities for wilderness exploration, backcountry camping, and wildlife observation.

Mount Graham, the highest peak in Greenlee County, rises to an elevation of over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and is home to the Mount Graham International Observatory. The mountain’s unique ecosystem, known for its rare plant species and diverse wildlife, is protected within the Mount Graham Wilderness Area.

The Gila Mountains, situated in the southern part of the county, are characterized by steep cliffs, narrow canyons, and pristine riparian habitats. The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area, encompassing portions of the Gila River and its tributaries, offers opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and kayaking amid stunning desert scenery.

Rivers and Streams:

Greenlee County is crisscrossed by several rivers and streams that flow through its rugged terrain, providing vital water resources and habitat for wildlife. The Gila River, the largest river in the region, originates in the mountains of western New Mexico and flows westward through Greenlee County, carving deep canyons and fertile valleys along its course.

The San Francisco River, a major tributary of the Gila River, flows through the northern part of Greenlee County, offering scenic beauty and recreational opportunities for visitors. The San Francisco River Canyon, designated as a Wild and Scenic River, provides habitat for diverse plant and animal species and is popular for hiking, fishing, and camping.

Other notable rivers and streams in Greenlee County include the Blue River, the Black River, and the Eagle Creek, each contributing to the region’s ecological diversity and providing opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Lakes and Reservoirs:

Although Greenlee County is primarily characterized by its arid landscapes and flowing rivers, it is also home to several lakes and reservoirs that offer recreational opportunities and serve as important water sources for local communities.

One of the largest reservoirs in Greenlee County is the San Carlos Reservoir, located along the Gila River near the town of Clifton. The reservoir, created by the construction of the San Carlos Dam, provides water for irrigation, hydroelectric power generation, and recreational activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming.

In addition to the San Carlos Reservoir, Greenlee County is dotted with smaller lakes and ponds, including Horseshoe Reservoir, Luna Lake, and Riggs Flat Lake, each offering opportunities for fishing, picnicking, and wildlife viewing amid scenic desert landscapes.

Desert Landscapes:

Greenlee County encompasses vast expanses of desert terrain, including portions of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, characterized by sparse vegetation, rugged mountains, and unique plant and animal species adapted to arid conditions.

The Sonoran Desert, known for its iconic saguaro cacti and towering ocotillo plants, occupies the western part of the county, while the Chihuahuan Desert, characterized by creosote bushes and yucca plants, extends into the southeastern part of the county.

These desert landscapes are home to a variety of wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, roadrunners, and various species of reptiles and birds. The desert also holds cultural significance for Indigenous communities, who have inhabited the region for thousands of years and continue to maintain traditional connections to the land.


Greenlee County, Arizona, offers a diverse and captivating landscape that reflects the rich tapestry of natural and cultural heritage found in the southwestern United States. From the rugged mountains and deep canyons to the flowing rivers and arid deserts, the geography of Greenlee County invites exploration, adventure, and appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.

As stewards of this remarkable landscape, residents and visitors alike cherish and protect Greenlee County’s natural resources for future generations to enjoy. Whether hiking through pristine wilderness, fishing in crystal-clear streams, or marveling at the stark beauty of the desert, Greenlee County invites all who visit to experience the magic of the American Southwest.