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The Salt River is formed by the confluence of the White River and the Black River in the White Mountains of eastern Gila County. The White and Black rivers, and other tributaries of the upper Salt River, drain the region between the Mogollon Rim in the north and the Natanes Mountains and Natanes Plateau to the east and south. Tributaries of the Salt River also drain the Sierra Ancha and Mazatzal Mountains. The White and Black rivers drain the White Mountains in the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Together the two rivers drain an area of about 1,900 square miles (4,900 km2). The Salt River, along with the Black River, forms the boundary between the Fort Apache Indian Reservation to the north and the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation to the south.
The Salt River is fed by numerous perennial streams that start as springs and seeps along the Mogollon Rim and in the White Mountains. The Salt River is perennial from its tributary headwaters to Granite Reef Diversion Dam near Mesa.
Salt River Arizona: From the Black and White confluence, the Salt River flows generally west and southwest. It is joined by Carrizo Creek, a 25-mile (40 km) perennial stream, and then flows through the Salt River Canyon. Cibecue Creek, a 36-mile (58 km) perennial stream, joins the river in the canyon, flowing from the north through the Fort Apache Reservation. Between Carrizo and Cibecue creeks, the Salt River becomes the boundary between the Tonto National Forest on the south and the Fort Apache Reservation on the north. Another perennial stream joins from the north, 46-mile (74 km) long Canyon Creek, followed by Cherry Creek. Just downstream from the Salt’s confluence with Medicine Creek, a portion of the Tonto National Forest is designated the Salt River Canyon Wilderness. The Salt River forms the northern and western boundary of the wilderness for several miles, after which the national forest and wilderness occupy both sides of the river.