Stop Up North And Stay A Spell

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The Rim country's charming twin sisters, Pine and Strawberry, are all set to lure visitors to taste the delights of village life in the cool pines at the annual Strawberry Festival June 9.

The snow may have barely melted, but you can count on plenty of strawberry shortcake, arts and crafts, and lots of old-fashioned, country-style friendliness as you meander through the street festival held in downtown Strawberry.

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The Northern Gila County Fair is one of the events that makes the Pine-Strawberry area an attractive option for visitors to the Rim country.

That's just the beginning of the summer fun in this popular high-country community.

The Pine-Strawberry Arts and Crafts Guild sponsors a series of two-day Mountain Arts and Crafts Festivals on July 1-2 and Sept. 1-2 in the Pine Community Center.

Music lovers will welcome the 108th Army National Guard Band July 10 for a concert in the Pine Community Center Cultural Hall. You might want to stick around for the Old Time Fiddlers Jam Session on July 18 and again on Aug. 15 and Sept.19. The Pioneer Day Celebration takes place on July 21, also at the Pine Community Center. For more information on these events, call 474-3547.

Any summer day is a good day to visit Pine and Strawberry. You can browse through quaint antique and collectible shops and stop for a bite to eat at a 1950s style cafthe historic Strawberry Lodge, the Randall House or any number of other fine dining establishments.

You don't want to miss seeing the Strawberry Schoolhouse, built in 1885. The oldest standing schoolhouse in Arizona, it's a treasured landmark and registered historical site. The building was abandoned eventually and forgotten for more than half a century. In 1965, local residents raised the money to restore it and opened it to the public as a museum. Besides being a favorite of tourists, the historically authentic school is used to demonstrate activities such as butter churning, weaving and roping.

Mother Nature also provides an alluring setting for hiking on numerous trails accessible from the Pine Trailhead at the southern edge of Pine. Mountain biking and horseback riding and backpacking are popular activities. There's fishing in the streams and lakes in the area. Birdlovers can keep their eyes peeled for 239 species, including eagles, hawks and ravens. Other wildlife in the surrounding forest includes elk, deer, javelina, coyote, bobcat, and even black bear and mountain lion.

Just five miles south of Pine is the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. The scenic wonder is the largest travertine bridge in the world, and features picnic areas and a gift shop in the historic lodge.

A unique way to enjoy the outdoors is available at Fossil Creek Llamas and Hikes on Fossil Creek Road in Strawberry. Owner Joyce Bittner arranges llama hikes in July and August along with tai chi and yoga lessons. An on-going activity by individual arrangement is Build Your Own Spa Day. It's a relaxing retreat you design yourself with massages, hot-tubs and other calming activities. Guests can stay in the Tipi Bed and Breakfast facility. Weddings and small-business dinner parties are another on-going option offered.

A special benefit event for Payson's Time Out Shelter for abused women and children will be held Sept. 8 at the Llama Ranch. The event, Late Summer Night's Fantasy, will feature a concert and a Renaissance theme. Guests will be encouraged to wear costumes. Call 476-5178 for more information on Llama Ranch events.

The Northern Gila County Fair tops off the festival season in Pine and Strawberry. It features everything from homemade beef jerky to handmade sun bonnets like the pioneer women wore. Local gardeners show off their bounty amid horse shows, food booths and musical entertainment. The fair dates back to 1932, and it still has all the downhome flavor of those bygone times. It will be held at the Pine Community Center Sept. 14-16.

Cozy inns and cabins such as Strawberry Lodge, Cabins on Strawberry Hill, Windmill Corner Inn and Pine Haven B&B and Retreat offer accommodations to those who want to prolong their stays in the community. Campgrounds also are available. Call the National Forest Recreation Reservation system at (800) 280-2267 or the Payson Ranger Station at (520) 474-7900.

For more information on all events and accommodations, call the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce at (520) 474-4515.

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