Geography of Greenlee County, Arizona

By | March 14, 2024

Greenlee County is situated in the southeastern region of the state of Arizona, United States. It is characterized by its rugged terrain, diverse landscapes, and unique climate, making it a fascinating area to explore. From towering mountain ranges to expansive desert valleys, Greenlee County offers a wealth of geographic features to discover. Check beautyphoon to learn more about the state of Arizona.


Greenlee County’s terrain is varied and rugged, encompassing a range of landscapes from high mountain peaks to arid desert plains. The county is largely defined by the Gila Mountains, which extend across its northern and central regions. These mountains are part of the larger Rocky Mountains system and feature steep slopes, deep canyons, and rugged ridges.

In addition to the Gila Mountains, Greenlee County is also home to the Pinaleno Mountains in the northeast, which are known for their scenic beauty and diverse wildlife. These mountains, also referred to as the “Mount Graham,” rise to elevations exceeding 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and are characterized by pine forests, alpine meadows, and rocky cliffs.

The southern portion of Greenlee County transitions into the Sonoran Desert, with vast expanses of desert valleys and rugged terrain. This arid landscape is punctuated by rugged rock formations, dry washes, and sparse vegetation, creating a stark contrast to the mountainous regions to the north.

Rivers and Lakes:

Despite its arid climate, Greenlee County is traversed by several important waterways, which have played a crucial role in shaping the region’s landscape and supporting its ecosystems. The Gila River is the most significant river in the county, flowing from its headwaters in New Mexico through Arizona and into the Colorado River. The Gila River and its tributaries provide vital water resources for wildlife, agriculture, and human populations in the region.

Other notable rivers in Greenlee County include the San Francisco River and the Blue River, both of which are tributaries of the Gila. These rivers originate in the surrounding mountain ranges and meander through the county’s valleys, contributing to the region’s biodiversity and providing habitat for a variety of aquatic species.

While Greenlee County is not known for its lakes, several reservoirs have been constructed along its rivers to regulate water flow and provide recreational opportunities. Clifton Lake, formed by the San Francisco River, is one such reservoir and is popular for fishing, boating, and camping.


Greenlee County experiences a diverse range of climates due to its varied topography and elevation. The climate in the mountainous regions differs significantly from that of the lower-elevation desert valleys.

In the mountainous areas, including the Gila and Pinaleno Mountains, the climate is generally cooler and more temperate. Summers are mild with daytime temperatures typically ranging from the 70s to the 80s Fahrenheit (21-32°C), while winters can be cold with temperatures dropping below freezing at night. Snowfall is common in the winter months, especially at higher elevations, and can accumulate several feet deep in some areas.

In the lower-elevation desert valleys, such as those found in the southern part of the county, the climate is more arid and desert-like. Summers are hot, with daytime temperatures often exceeding 100°F (38°C), while winters are milder but can still be cool, with temperatures dropping into the 30s and 40s Fahrenheit (0-10°C) at night. Rainfall is scarce in the desert regions, with most precipitation occurring during the summer monsoon season, typically from July to September.

Flora and Fauna:

The diverse geography of Greenlee County supports a wide variety of plant and animal species, ranging from desert-adapted species to alpine flora and fauna. In the mountainous regions, forests of pine, fir, and spruce dominate the landscape, providing habitat for deer, elk, black bears, and numerous bird species.

In the desert valleys, vegetation is sparse and consists primarily of drought-tolerant plants such as mesquite, creosote bush, and prickly pear cactus. Small mammals like jackrabbits, coyotes, and desert rodents are common in these areas, along with reptiles such as rattlesnakes and lizards.

The rivers and streams of Greenlee County support diverse aquatic habitats, including freshwater fish such as trout, bass, and catfish, as well as amphibians like frogs and salamanders. Birds such as herons, egrets, and kingfishers are also commonly found along the county’s waterways.

Human Impact:

Human activity has had a significant impact on the geography of Greenlee County, particularly in the areas of mining, agriculture, and recreation. The county’s rich mineral deposits have attracted mining operations for over a century, leading to the development of towns like Clifton and Morenci, which are known for their copper mines.

Agriculture is also an important industry in Greenlee County, with irrigated farming occurring in the fertile valleys along the Gila River. Crops such as cotton, alfalfa, and pecans are grown in these areas, supported by water diverted from the river and its tributaries.

In recent years, tourism and outdoor recreation have become increasingly important to the economy of Greenlee County. The region’s rugged mountains, scenic rivers, and diverse wildlife attract outdoor enthusiasts seeking opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting.

In conclusion, Greenlee County is characterized by its diverse geography, including rugged mountains, desert valleys, and meandering rivers. The county’s climate varies depending on elevation, with cooler temperatures in the mountains and hot, arid conditions in the desert. Despite its sparse population and rugged terrain, Greenlee County offers abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation and exploration, making it a unique and fascinating destination in the state of Arizona.