4-Wheelin' In The Payson Outback



As Art and Elaine Ferrance bounced around in the back of the truck like ice cubes in a blender, it might have seemed to the casual observer that they were not having the time of their lives.

Especially when Art quipped, "This is definitely not recommended for people with hemorrhoids."

But the fact is that this Tempe couple was having a blast, doing what they enjoy more than just about anything: going places and seeing things that few other people know exist.

They had signed up for a morning outing with Payson Adventures, Inc., a year-old outgrowth of Rim Travel Service that offers a variety of four-wheeling adventures throughout Rim Country.

The company's brochure lists three- to four-hour excursions around Payson, along the Young Trail, to Crackerjack Mine and the Verde River, to the site of the Dude Fire and the Tonto Fish Hatchery, along the Rim Trail, to the Tonto Natural Bridge, and/or to various locations around Roosevelt Lake all on relatively smooth Forest Service roads.

The Ferrances, however, were in the mood for some real adventure. So their driver and tour guide, Randy Roberson, suggested an option not on the company's official menu

"The Metate Canyon Tour," a true four-wheel-only trek that begins in Star Valley and proceeds up the Mayfield Canyon Trail and bounds across terrain that consistently looks flat-out impossible to pass until you see it in the rear-view mirror.

Although the truck stays on designated trails, there are no real roads, or anything that resembles a real road, even when you stand back and squint. In this part of Rim country, the thoroughfares are washes, animal trails, and (as it seems to the untrained eye) any space between trees or boulders that looks large enough for your driver to brave often at gravity-defying angles which elicit the type of human screams most commonly heard on roller coasters with names like "The Disemboweler."

But that's not the sole source of adventure. Driving through this forest maze, there is also the thrill, if you want to call it that, of never knowing exactly where you are ... and wondering if, at any given moment, you might find yourself screaming, "WE'RE LOST! WE'RE LOST! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE IN THE FOREST!"

Fortunately, Roberson quells that fear early on.

"I've spent 12 years hiking this area with a buddy of mine, who's been out here for about 18 years. It took me a good three years of coming out here with him before I could find my way back to these places."

Roberson pointed to a spot where the, ahem, trail seemed to go off in five different directions at once.

"I can tell you where all five of them go," he said with a cockiness that was deeply appreciated by his passengers. "One of them splits off in another five directions a little north of here, and I can also tell you where those trails go."

Roberson is also filled with information that may be fairly useless in town, but that could come in real handy in the wilds like how to best avoid rattlesnakes and which types of forest vegetation, if ingested, can "shut down your central nervous system real quick."

That is precisely the brand of tour guide you want on an adventure like this.

Somehow, Roberson found his way to the gorgeous Metate Canyon, named for a common site along the canyon's rim: bowl-shaped indentations that ancient Indians carved into boulders to grind their corn.

The next stop in the deep wilderness was at the remains of what was once a small Indian village now a jumble of native stones that still, incredibly, elicit a genuine sense of awe and a magnified appreciation of Rim country history.

"One of the reasons we like bringing people to these ruins," Roberson said, "is that we know they'll never be able to find their way back to it on their own. Its location is its protection."

Finally, there was the bring-your-own lunch stop at an old, ramshackle, abandoned, cabin that was once headquarters for a nearby and since-imploded gold mine.

During their return to civilization, the Ferrances could not conceal their glee.

"This has just been fabulous," Elaine said. "Being cooped up in an office eight hours every day, 40 hours a week, and then to come out here in nature and just feel it, it's just wonderful. It's so revitalizing.""

"I can't believe we only got eight miles (as the hummingbird flies) from town," said Art. "The whole experience is really like water-rafting like being in a boat and going places you could otherwise not get to. It's not a sit-back-and-look-at-the-view type thing. This is the first time we've ever gone 4-wheeling, and I can see why people do it."

They were equally impressed with their driver and tour guide and not just because he defied all odds more than once by not rolling the truck.

"Randy is great to have around just to chat with," Art said. "He's got a great personality. It's like a bonus to seeing all this incredible scenery. And he's very informed."

As for high points, the Ferrances said, there were many. But there was one that really stuck out in Art's, um, mind.

"Boy, there was one bump in the trail that was truly exciting," he said, rubbing his posterior.

To make reservations with Payson Adventures, Inc., call (520) 474-1948 or (520) 474-1655. From outside Rim country, the toll-free number to call is (888) 746-3545.

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