Archeologists say there's evidence of nearby settlements dating to 9500 B.C., though the most visible sites were occupied from about 1000 to 1150 A.D.
Just 5 miles northeast of Payson on Houston Mesa Road are Shoofly Village Ruins. The 3.75-acre site is encompassed by a large, masonry wall and includes remains from 79 visible rooms.
According to the Shoofly Chapter of the Arizona Archeological Society, Shoofly Village dwellers were farmers and hunters who grew corn, beans, squash and possibly cotton.
The ancient people hunted deer, rabbits, rodents and birds and probably got water from what is now a seasonal stream known as Shoofly Wash.
Most of their pottery was jar-shaped and made of undecorated brown clay.
There's also evidence of stone pendants, figurines and quartz crystals.
Not many trade items have been found, though obsidian fragments have been traced to Flagstaff, Superior and New Mexico.
Today only a few rock walls are still standing, but clear evidence of the village remains. A paved path winds around the site, marked with interpretive signs and drawings to help visitors imagine what once was.
Modern amenities -- such as covered picnic tables and a public rest room -- are also nearby for those who want to linger on the quiet, breezy plateau called Houston Mesa.
The ruins are open daily. Admission is free.
Tonto National Monument
Another good place to observe life in the past is Tonto National Monument, about 65 miles southeast of Payson near Lake Roosevelt.
The monument contains 800-year-old Indian ruins in the shallow caves overlooking the Tonto Basin near Roosevelt Lake.
The Salado, or People of the Salt River, used rocks and mud to build apartment-style homes in the hillside caves.
The area now called the Lower Ruin consisted of 16 ground-floor rooms, three of which had a second story. Next to this was a 12-room annex.
A second area, known as The Upper Ruin, is located in a similar shelter on a nearby ridge. The Upper Ruin had 32 ground-floor rooms, eight with a second story.
At both sites, smoke stains from cook fires, Saguaro ribs used as wall supports and hand prints on pueblo walls link today's visitors with those who lived there.
The Salado lived in the Tonto Basin for about 300 years, but mysteriously abandoned their homes between 1400 and 1450 AD.
Time and humans have destroyed some of the dwellings, but many of the buildings have been preserved -- along with sandals, clothing and pottery.
Because summer temperatures often reach 100 degrees and higher, no tours of The Upper Ruin are offered from April through November.
However, the Lower Ruin trail -- a paved, one-mile round-trip path with resting points -- is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day of the year except Christmas.
Begin at the visitors center, which houses artifacts found in the ruins, a brief movie about the Salado people, a gift shop and rest rooms. A picnic area is located one-half mile from the center, but no camping is allowed in the park.
To get there from Payson, take Highway 87 south to the Highway 188 turnoff and travel east toward Roosevelt Lake. The monument entrance is on the south side of the road, and is clearly marked with a sign.
The visitors center is open until 5 p.m., but the deadline for starting the trail is 4 p.m. Allow plenty of time to enjoy your visit, and take plenty of water.
For more information about Tonto National Monument, call (520) 467-2241.