Deep Roots Here
I spent the weekend up in the Mogollon Rim country of Arizona. We have an interest in a cabin in the woods outside of Pine, Arizona. I end up being the responsible party when there are issues with the cabin, and issues have stacked up since my last visit. While I was up there I had to do some sight-seeing. This is an area I have a strong attachment to since childhood. My father spent most of his youthful summers delivering supplies to sheep herders up on the Rim by horseback and pack mule. He took great joy in showing his boys the back country in this high wild and scenic part of Arizona. We explored, hunted and fished in the Rim country often as I grew up in the Phoenix area. It was a great cool escape from the low desert heat. It still is.
The Mogollon Rim (say “muggy-own” if you want to sound like a local) is one of Arizona’s most under-rated scenic wonders. People world wide know of the Grand Canyon and the red rock country of Sedona. The crowds of tourists in those two beautiful places are proof. The Rim country is not well known outside of Arizona. The Mogollon Rim runs on a diagonal from near Flagstaff to the White Mountains in the eastern part of the state. In it’s central region from where state highway 87 tops the Rim to where state highway 260 does the same, it is a dramatic escarpment rising over 1000 feet from the valleys and mountains below. From below it looks like one side of a massive canyon looking for it’s missing twin. From the top one can look down a sheer drop-off and overlook mountain ranges layered one after another as far as the eye can see. There is a dirt road one can take between the two main highways that rambles through the pines and aspens. There are a number of spots where the “Old Rim Road” literally hugs the edge of the sheer drop-off. The views are mind numbing and the drive can be unnerving to those with a fear of heights. It is a rocky, bumpy unimproved road and not recommended for passenger cars (trucks and SUVs only).
From the edge of the Rim the land drops off dramatically to the south (over 1000 feet in places) and gradually to the north. The edge of the Rim is mostly over 9000 feet in elevation. In a desert region like Arizona elevation makes a dramatic difference in climate and vegetation. The towns at the foot of the Rim, while cooler than Phoenix by 10 to 20 degrees most days, are often 10 degrees warmer than the high country on top. There are towns to the east of where highway 260 crests the Rim. Forest Lakes, Heber and Overgaard have some tourist infrastructure but are mostly summer home communities for people from the desert cities. Payson is the largest town below the Rim and has the most available in terms of hotels, dining and shopping. Pine and Strawberry are a bit higher than Payson and much smaller. The accommodations are mostly pretty basic unless one rents a summer home or cabin. Some of these are as nice the best homes in Scottsdale or Paradise Valley.
Below the Rim is cattle country with a mixture of grassland, juniper, and pine forests. Payson is one of several towns to claim the oldest rodeo. Up on top the high elevation is hospitable to spruce, fir, aspens and some huge ponderosa pines. As the landscape drops in elevation to the north it is cut by some deep canyons. Many are very hard to access, but all are scenic wonders. To the west of highway 87 several major canyons cut their way south from the Rim as well including Oak Creek Canyon and it’s famous red rocks.
The land on the Rim’s top is mostly in the Coconino National Forest and the Sitgreaves National Forest. Along with the White Mountains to the east and Flagstaff to the west, this is the coolest country in the generally very hot state of Arizona. It is no surprise that this area is very popular in summer for camping among the state’s desert dwellers. Most of the campgrounds were full over the July 4th weekend for example. This is the “monsoon season” in the Southwest and afternoon thundershowers are common in July and August. My car’s thermometer read 50 degrees during the downpour pictured below:
The Rim is a geographic feature so dramatic that it creates it’s own weather. While this storm raged on top, below there were only a few sprinkles. I have seen snow storms on the Rim in winter that were ferocious. All of this weather leaves water some of which is available for recreation. A number of fishable streams run both directions from the Rim’s edge. The streams that run south feed the Verde and Salt River watersheds and eventually make their way to Phoenix. The streams that run north feed the Little Colorado River and then into the mighty Colorado in the Grand Canyon. A number of the streams on top of the Rim have been dammed to create mountain lakes for boating and fishing.
Most of the lakes are near the Rim’s edge and in gently rolling country surrounded by green meadows and tall pine and aspen trees. Several are further down in rugged canyons. I hiked two miles into Chevelon Canyon Lake but did not take my camera. These two pictures are of Blue Ridge Reservoir where I launched my kayak and spent most of a day paddling on the blue waters surrounded by colorful stone cliffs covered in pines.
Now that I have our cabin squared away, I can’t wait to go back up to the Rim country! I have too much work to catch up on for now, but later this summer for sure!
Click on the first image below to see a slide show of all my photos from my Rim country road trip: