Welcome To Rim Country!

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During the dog days of summer, Arizona has a reputation for being a sweltering desert or, less politely, a dusty, cacti-riddled hell.

Of course, that's pretty much true about southern and central Arizona.

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The cool, green pools of the Narrows near Gisela south of Payson provide hikers with sweet relief from the hot summer sun.

But the scene changes dramatically a mere 75 miles northeast of metropolitan Phoenix among the towering ponderosa pine trees and majestic green mountain vistas.

Welcome, summer revelers and would-be heatstroke victims, to Payson and the Rim country, where you'll find countless natural and man-made attractions even during the dreaded Arizona months of June, July and August only a mere sampling of which have been jam-packed into this publication.

The star of the show, and the attraction that gives the area its nickname, is the Mogollon Rim, a 7,000-foot-high, 200-mile-long escarpment only minutes from Payson and visible from nearly everywhere or at least anywhere worth standing in Northern Gila County.

No kidding. The Rim is a visual stunner. In fact, it is not going too far out on a limb to say that, if the Grand Canyon is ever filled in by developers and turned into The Mall of America II, Arizona license plates will be altered to read, "The Mogollon Rim State."

But breathtaking beauty is hardly all the Rim country has to offer. This is, after all, the land that Zane Grey lived in and wrote about where rodeo and Old West hospitality are still alive and kicking.

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Settled by ranchers lured to northern Arizona by stories of grass that grew as high as the belly of a horse, the Rim country is home to the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo. Local cowboys started the rodeo as a way to kill time between roundups, but this rugged ranching tradition quickly grew into a community celebration called the August Doin's that attracted cowboys from all over the state. Today, local cowboys grow up around the rodeo, anxiously waiting for their chance to compete.

Payson, located in the geographic center of Arizona and encircled by nearly 3 million acres of forest, is one of only three pure air ozone belts in the world. It also is the hub of Rim country and a finer hub you are not likely to find.

According to the results of a nationally publicized study, Payson is now the nation's 10th fastest-growing retiree-magnet, due to the 46-percent influx of seniors the town has attracted during the past 10 years.

You know a town really has something to offer when so many of its visitors decide to become full-time residents.

Known for its beauty and year-round recreational opportunities, Payson is at an elevation of 5,000 feet precisely the right altitude for people who love the beauty of occasional winter snow on the world's largest strand of ponderosa pines, but not the huge drag of maneuvering automobiles through frozen slush.

Snow comes, boggles your eyeballs, then melts away into another gorgeous Arizona day.

But if you ask those who live in Payson why they live in Payson, they will almost certainly cite its rural, small-town atmosphere, along with most of the amenities one could find in a typical modern metropolis.

In the summer, however, you're not going to find a whole lot of folks who travel to Payson to check out the local Wal-Mart Supercenter.

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Cool is the name of the game in the Rim country a wondrous combination of a perfect climate, pristine lakes and streams, and stately pine and juniper forests.

No. They consider Payson their headquarters for sights, adventures and a level of relaxation they'll never forget or match.

They come to visit the Tonto National Bridge, the Rim Country Museum, the Shoofly Indian Ruins, the Tonto Fish Hatchery.

They come to experience working llama ranches, the 45-acre Green Valley Park and its three fishing lakes, the Tonto National Monument. To camp, fish, hike and otherwise recreate in pine forests where the fall temperatures and climate are better than the summer temperatures and climate almost anywhere in the world.

Natural attractions

While a number of Payson's man-made attractions have concluded by the official arrival of fall such as the August and spring pro rodeos, the June Bug Blues Festival, and the State Championship Fiddler's Contest in September the natural attractions never quit.

Start by test-driving one of the most scenic routes in all of Arizona: the 42-mile Rim Road, which clings to the edge of the Mogollon Rim and climbs to a height of 8,074 feet at Baker Butte.

Developed by General George Crook in 1872, the road became less traveled when the railroad came to Holbrook in 1882. But during the 1970s, the historical value of the Rim Road aka Crook's Trail and Forest Road 300 was preserved by white V's painted on trees and rock formations, marking the old route for young Turks.

(Take State Highway 87 north to the sign marking Forest Road 300, to your right.)

The Tonto National Forest hugs the crest of the Mogollon Rim and stretches 90 miles south over a spectacular 2.9 million acres of pine and cactus.

And on the top of the Rim, the wooded Knoll Lake, Bear Canyon Lake and Woods Canyon Lake beckon thousands when Valley temperatures begin to climb. (State Highway 260 north cuts through the heart of the forest.)

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is where you'll find the world's largest natural travertine bridge. At 400 feet wide, it arches 183 feet above sparkling Pine Creek. (About 13 miles northwest of Payson off Highway 87. )

Roosevelt Lake was created by Roosevelt Dam, the first major structure built by the Bureau of Reclamation on the Salt River Project. The dam 280 feet high, 723 feet long, and named after Teddy spans the Salt River.

Once the largest man-made lake in the world, the 17,000-acre Roosevelt Lake is still the biggest of the six SRP lakes. Its game fish include large- and small-mouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish and crappie. Both a wildlife area and refuge, Roosevelt Lake is posted to permit hunting at certain times of the year. (From Payson, take the Beeline Highway to State Route 188 east.)

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