For many Rim country residents and visitors, picnicking is the most pleasurable of summertime activities. An afternoon in the outdoors with family and friends can turn into a bonding experience that yields a lifetime of fond memories.
Growing up in Ash Fork in the 1950s, our family's favorite retreat was at the base of Bill Williams Mountain, about a 20-minute drive away from home.
Pa had to slowly negotiate the low-slung family car, a 1953 Mercury, over narrow, twisting and rocky roads to reach our favorite picnic site.
Loaded down with folding chairs, a barbecue grill, overflowing food basket, ground tarp and the family dog, we must have looked to strangers as if we were straight out of the pages of "Grapes of Wrath."
Once we arrived at the meadow, which was surrounded by towering pines, we knew we were in for an afternoon of sheer delight.
For our family, the spot was the ideal setting for us to while away a leisurely weekend afternoon. While kids played, mom read her novel and Pa showed off his considerable barbecuing skills over a bed of smoldering oak coals.
Surrounding Payson, there are several picnic sites that can recreate the same festive experiences the Foster family enjoyed near Williams.
Some of the best locations are:
Flowing Springs At an elevation of 4,600 feet, this area is located along the banks of the East Verde River and is sometimes a trout fishing hot spot. It's also a great place for the younger set to enjoy water play. Accessible almost year-round, the area offers several interesting rock formations and is a great place for hiking.
From Payson, drive north on the Beeline Highway to mile marker 257, turn east on FR 272. Continue 1/2 mile to the site. In the monsoon season, be sure to use caution as the area is prone to flash flooding.
First Crossing Also popular for fishing and water play, this area is bounded by Ponderosa pines on the shores of the East Verde River. It's accessible year-round by driving nine miles northeast of Payson. At the junction of Beeline and Houston Mesa Road (FR 199), turn east. Drive on FR 199, for about seven miles to the site.
Second and Third crossings The highly popular crossings on the East Verde can be found by continuing to drive FR 199 past the first crossing. The second is about an additional 1 1/2 miles. The third is another mile.
Like the first, fishing and water play are the two most popular recreation activities at the sites. Both are surrounded by beautiful pines and offer plenty of hiking and sightseeing opportunities. Both are situated at more than 5,000-feet altitude and are accessible most of the year. None of the three crossings offer trash service so be advised if you pack it in, pack it out.
Upper Tonto Creek Those searching for a myriad of recreation opportunities including access to the Highline National Trail, fishing and a visit to the Tonto Hatchery, will want to opt for this campground.
The site has 17 camp units with tables, grills, drinking water and toilets. It's a popular overnight campground, but when there are vacancies, it's also a great picnic spot despite the $8 fee. For those who forget any crucial picnic items, there are commercial services available at nearby Kohl's Ranch and Christopher Creek.
Near the entrance to the camp unit, visitors will be greeted by hosts who can provide information on how to find fishing hot spots and where to locate the hatchery and the Derrick Spur Trailhead to access the Highline.
When visiting any picnic site in the Rim country, remember to respect the environment and try to leave no traces of your visit. In dispersed recreation sites, plants and soil that are damaged might not recover for 50 to 100 years. Also, be especially alert for possible campfire restrictions and always be careful with fire.
Call the Payson Ranger District at 474-7900 for more information about recreational opportunities in the Rim country.