Payson, Arizona, Part Two
The Payson visitor center and Payson Ranger District office loaded us up with so many pamphlets and maps I knew we’d never see it all in the week we had allotted. The following are sights we managed to fit into our schedule from October 6 – 12, 2019.
A 20-minute drive from Payson on scenic route 260 takes drivers along a road with wonderful views of the mountains and forest, past the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (more about the park later), and into Pine, Arizona. Four Mormon families established Pine in 1879. The 2010 census showed approximately 1,963 residents. This compares to Payson, which had a population of 15,301.
“Open house” signs enticed us to follow the arrows. We weren’t in the market to buy, just playing lookie-loos. A family of elk crossed the road in front of us so we stopped to wait for them to pass. Another car came up behind us. They didn’t have patience for the elk and drove around. We could almost hear the epithets they hurled our way as they zoomed by. Where we live, we stop for deer and wild turkeys on the road. It’s better than running into them and wrecking our vehicle.
Strawberry/Pine Fall Festival
After touring the house, we found the main road lined with trucks and cars, and people walking around. “Oh, look. Kettle corn,” we said in unison. The popcorn vendor wasn’t sure what was going on, but the banner across the road advertised The Strawberry/Pine Fall Festival, so we walked down the street, peeked in a few antique and craft stores, and cruised the vendor booths. The limited storage space in the fifth wheel prevents us from buying stuff while traveling. I did splurge on a few bookmarks, though.
Three miles further north is Strawberry, which is even smaller than Pine. They claimed 961 residents in 2010. Many of the houses, cabins, and cottages in both Strawberry and Pine are vacation homes or rentals, which increases the population at times.
In Strawberry we stumbled upon the oldest standing schoolhouse in Arizona. District #33 in Strawberry Valley was established in 1884 and still stands in the same place where it was built.
Besides a school, the building served as a meeting place, social center, and a church. Closed in June of 1916, by 1961 only the log frame remained.
On August 15, 1981, the Pine/Strawberry Archaeological and Historical Society dedicated the structure as a Historical Monument after they renovated the school. It is open to the public from May through mid-October on weekends and holidays. https://www.pinestrawhs.org/schoolhouse.html
Driving through Strawberry, Pine, and even Payson, we noted homes hidden among shrubs and trees. This is what Paradise, California, must have looked like before fire wiped out the entire town in November 2018. Only a few residents in these communities had protected their homes from fire. Did most of the occupants not get the memo to create a defensible space zone around their home, or did they choose to ignore it? I could easily see how the entire communities of Strawberry and Pine could go up in smoke. I wish them well and pray it never happens.
Pine View Loop Trail
The Pine View Loop trail wraps around a hill for 2.8 miles. Wandering through piñon and ponderosa pines, and alligator junipers, Jon made it without trekking poles along the up and down trail with occasional switchbacks. This was his longest hike yet after his sciatic pain had disappeared.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
After thirty years on the State Parks Board priority list and a few approvals by the state legislature to purchase the land, lack of funding delayed natural bridge becoming a state park. The board finally purchased the 160 acres on October 1, 1990, and the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park held its grand opening celebration on June 29, 1991.
Believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world, the 400-foot long tunnel contains turquoise pools fed by a natural spring. The park offers several short trails making this a perfect place to bring young children.
We managed steep hills and a scramble over huge boulders and rocks along the Anna Mae Trail. The trail ends at the cavern under the bridge.
While working my way over the boulders to reach the opening, I passed a woman sketching on a pad. We spoke a few words and I found a spot to sit and take photos. A few minutes later, the woman, Kathy Mann from Canada, asked if she could use my camera to take a photo of me sitting on the boulder.
Without thinking, I handed over my Sony and turned my back. After several minutes, I turned around to see if she was still there. She said, “Just a few more.”
I’m used to taking photos, not modeling for them, but if I could help an artist in her work, I was glad to do it. I sent the photos to her a few days later and hope to one day see her creation. Her paintings emote a sense of calm and peace. If you are interested in seeing her work, go to kathymannfineart.com.
Waterfall Trail is about 300 feet long and ends at a waterfall wall. A walk down approximately 120 steps takes visitors to an extremely narrow and short space to view water flowing out of the side of the cliff. More than five people created a huge crowd, making it difficult to maneuver. Kids will most likely enjoy the cool spray from the falls on a hot day. For us, it was a disappointment.
The short trails to the third and fourth overlooks provided additional views of the bridge. At the fourth overlook, Jon pointed out the hole in the walkway where you can look through the grates to see the water from the bridge top. It wasn’t that spectacular, but at least it was something different.
Mogollon Rim (pronounced mōgə-yōn, mo-go-yawn, or muggy-on, depending on your source) is a 200-mile geological formation composed primarily of limestone and sandstone. It runs across Arizona from northern Yavapai County in the west to the New Mexico border in the east and forms the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau in Arizona. Piñon pines, junipers, and ponderosa forests abound on the plateau.
North of Strawberry is Arizona Forest Road (FR) 300, a dirt and gravel road that skirts the Rim for 43.3 miles from State Route 87 to State Route 260. FR 300 intersects with the General Crook Trail, a historic wagon route used in the 1870s and 1880s to provide logistical support for General George Crook in the U.S. Army’s war against the Apaches. Since we started our day too late to drive the entire route, we settled on checking out a few spots on the west end to get a feel for what the road had to offer.
Land south of the Mogollon has an elevation between 4,000 and 5,000 feet while the plateau rises to 8,000 feet.
The forest is the last place I’d expect to see a typewriter. But there it was as if someone staged it just for me to come take a photo.
Another day we drove out to the east end where parts of the rim are visible from the highway without driving on dirt roads. The visitor’s center had already closed for the season so we snapped a few pics and climbed back in the truck.
We stopped in at The Tonto Creek State Fish Hatchery located 21 miles east of Payson off Route 260 on Tonto Creek Road. Although the visitor center had already closed for the season, the building was open.
Displays inside gave information about how the fish eggs are imported from other hatcheries and grown at this facility. The Work Projects Administration (WPA) originally built the hatchery in the early 1930s for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The hatchery’s expertise is hatching and growing trout eggs to three-inch fingerlings and nine-inch catchable fish. Once matured, approximately 165,000 rainbow trout, 400,000 brook and cutthroat trout, and 150,000 Apache trout are stocked in Arizona waters.
That wraps up our time in Payson, Arizona. For those who can’t take the Phoenix heat in the summer, Payson seems to be a good place to cool off and enjoy the Rim Country great outdoors.
As our time in Payson ended, we turned our focus on Phoenix and visits with family and friends.