Now that the closures and restrictions in the Tonto National Forest have been lifted, four-wheelers from around the Rim country will be hitting the trails in search of open-air adventures.
Most popular among the off-road set are little-used trails that wind along canyons, through lush thickets of vegetation and ultimately lead to majestic scenery, the likes of which can't be viewed by those plugging along in low-slung passenger cars.
One of the best local spots for a great four-wheeling adventure is on Forest Roads 49 and 1080 near the Frazier Trailhead of the Roosevelt Lake Trail system. These connecting routes, which can be impassable even for most four-wheel drives during the summer monsoon season, take you on a loop drive east of Alchesay Canyon, around Deer Hill and into Cottonwood Canyon.
Along the way, there are panoramic views of the Mazatzal and Sierra Ancha wilderness areas, Four Peaks mountain and Roosevelt Lake. The area, at about 2,500 feet, is alive with high-desert vegetation including towering saguaros, cottonwoods and oaks, along with chollas, jojobas and a variety of other cacti that can't be found at any other elevation. The trip is especially scenic in the fall when the leaves of the cottonwoods trees turn gold.
Along the way, you may also cross paths with a variety of wildlife including dove, Gambel quail, cottontails, coyotes, deer and a variety of birds.
The trail begins at FR1080 off State Route 188 to Roosevelt Lake. Drive through Punkin Center and cross the Roosevelt Dam bridge. State route 188 ends near mile marker 276 and becomes State Route 88. Drive past the Roosevelt Lake View Trailer park and turn south at the Frazier electrical generation plant. FR1080 is just off the highway.
For those who want to explore the wonders of the high country's Ponderosa pine forests, there is a variety of old logging roads that can provide plenty of adventure. Some old roads, however, are blocked by gates installed by U.S. Forest Service and should not be driven on.
Several of those old roads are just off FS 300, which many consider one of the most beautiful drives in Northern Arizona. As the road runs along the Mogollon Rim, there are numerous old logging roads that lead to scenic canyons and vistas which overlook Payson and Tonto Basin.
Elk, turkey and deer are often active in the area during the early morning and early evening.
A popular jaunt that doesn't require a heavy-duty four-wheel drive a high clearance vehicle will suffice is the Dude Fire tour. The Payson Ranger station offers a free, self-guided tour booklet that will guide you through the area.
While on the tour, side trips on FR 64 and 65 will take you to Diamond Point lookout. A popular pastime there is to search for "Arizona Diamonds" or quartz crystals that are often found in the area..
If the Forest Service gate is open, you may drive through to the lookout tower. All of last month's lightning-caused fires were spotted by workers at that tower. It's an integral tool in Forest Service's fire-fighting arsenal.
Another popular outing is located at the upper Pine Trailhead where FR 300 meets State Highway 87. There, you'll find FR 218, which winds south to the Milk Ranch Point overlook. For the most part, FR 218 is a maintained, all-weather dirt road, but there are several old roads along the way.
You also can access FR 218 several miles east of the junction of 87 and 300 near the Webber Trailhead on the Control Road.
Of course, good four-wheelers are responsible off-roaders and leave the environment as they found it. Never choose a course that will bring any harm to the vegetation or create ruts that can lead to erosion.
Also, weather along the Rim can be unpredictable during the monsoon season, which is off to an early start this summer. Visitors to the area should be prepared for inclement weather.
For more information, call the Tonto National Forest office at 479-2251.