Western Trips

Western Trips

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gila County Arizona / History and Hiking

arizona state flag
Gila County and Payson Arizona are a vacation playground with fun and historic sites and lots of outdoor recreation opportunities.

Historic sites, museums and scenic hiking trails abound. The area around Payson AZ in Arizona's beautiful Gila County is often referred to as the Rim Country and sometimes Zane Grey Country.

You may have also heard of it as The Heart of Arizona. When adding this stop to your Arizona road trip, Payson is located about 90 miles northeast  Phoenix and about 75 miles south/southeast of Flagstaff . Payson, located in northern Gila County, is indeed a very scenic part of the state. Being only a ninety minute scenic drive from Phoenix, the Payson Arizona area makes a good side trip during your Phoenix vacation. If you decide to spend the night there are several excellent Payson hotels available.

The county was named from the Gila River, which is a part of its southern boundary. The county seat was originally Globe City and is now called Globe. The entire county is a history and outdoor playground with historic sites everywhere. Mining was and still is a major industry along with tourism. The history of Arizona is remarkable and the Gila County region is a good example.

Visiting Payson Arizona

gila county arizona
Gila County AZ
So what are the fun and historically interesting things to do in Payson AZ?

The Rim Country Museum consists of the oldest Forest Ranger station and residence in the American southwest. The structure was originally built in 1907 and then later rebuilt on the same foundation. The Rim Country Museum is operated by the Northern Gila County Historical Society. The exhibit hall in the museum is a replica of the Herron Hotel which was dubbed the "Hilton of Payson" during the early 1900's. Driving directions to Payson from Phoenix... take Loop 202 east to Country Club exit. Turn left on Country Club which will turn into Beeline Hwy (87) and go north on Hwy 87 for about 75 miles.

Another excellent site, and a part of Arizona history, is the replica of Zane Grey's cabin which is also a museum. Zane Grey, the famous western writer of over 60 novels and 300 short stories, was very fond of this area. Grey was one of the most popular western writers in the 1920's and 30's and Hollywood produced dozens of westerns based on his writings.

An interesting side note is that Grey started out as a dentist before becoming a writer. Zane Grey left Arizona in 1929 after a dispute with Fish and Game officials. In the 1950's a local businessman refurbished the worn down structure to it's original condition and did it with his own funds. Because of that, today visitors can enjoy viewing the cabin which was once owned by one of America's most celebrated western writers.

Also, make a fun stop at the one room Strawberry Schoolhouse in Strawberry Arizona, about 30 miles northwest of Payson, which was erected in 1884. The structure is the oldest standing schoolhouse in the state of Arizona. Amazingly, a group of volunteers joined together and built the schoolhouse in only one day. Strawberry is surrounded by beautiful tall pines and the area has several popular lakes.

Prior to the Civil War the Apache Indians lived in the area but with the influx of the military they were dispersed. The height of white settlement in the area was pretty much connected with a gold discovery around 1878 with the largest emigration to the town in 1882. The schoolhouse was constructed a few years later. There's another site near Strawberry which you might want to add to your travel itinerary. Ten miles south of Strawberry is the large tourist attraction, the Tonto Natural Bridge, which is said to be one of the world's few natural bridges.

Arizona Hiking

arizona mountains
The southern Gila County area offers some of the very best hiking trails in the state. Indeed, there are hiking trails for all skill levels.

One of the more leisurely trails can be found at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The Arboretum has a 320 acre collection of plants operated in a partnership with the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Arizona State Parks.

The grounds of the Arboretum features more than two miles of hiking trails and paths. There are very good bird watching opportunities and you can even bring your leashed pet along for the hike.

The site is two miles south of Globe AZ. From Globe, take paved Jess Hayes Road southeast to the junction of Icehouse Canyon Road/Forest Road (FR) 112 and Sixshooter Canyon Road/Forest Road 222. Turn right and continue on FR 122 for 3 miles to the junction of FR 55 and FR 112. Stay left and continue following FR 122 for another 3 miles to the site entrance. Follow this access road, FR 112B, a short distance to the horse trailer parking at the hitching rail and further to the main site.

There's another famous landmark not far east of Payson. One of the key Arizona military outposts during the mid to latter 1800's was Fort Apache. Lots of great old west history there and a fun and educational stop foir the whole family. To take a road trip to Fort Apache..from Globe Arizona, follow US 60 north approximately 60 miles to the western end of AZ 73 at Carrizo Junction.  Turning right onto AZ 73 at the Fort Apache and Whiteriver signs, and continue on the state highway 25 miles, turning right at Fort Apache Road.  The park and fort is located ½ mile east of AZ 73.

arizona sceneryAn annual event which is popular in Gila County is the Payson Arizona Loggers Sawdust Festival.

The first thoughts concerning Arizona are usually the dry desert and cactus. In Arizona's high country it's a different story. The Gila high country is home to one of the world's largest stand of Ponderosa pines and logging has always been an important element to the counties economy. Most of the private timber was cut down by the start of World War Two. After that point, logging permits were required and several mills were constructed.

The first loggers festival took place in 1979. In 1984 the event was renamed the first annual Arizona State Logger Championship. This is an exciting outdoor event which is fun for the entire family. The loggers festival usually takes place in June. To coordinate it with your Arizona trip you may want to visit the Payson website at Payson Loggers Sawdust Festival.

(Article copyright Western trips. Photos and images in public domain)

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