The highway east of Payson winds through pine-studded mountains where pioneers made history, treasure hunters discovered Arizona diamonds, and visionaries carved out unique and interesting communities. This scenic two-hour drive is a relaxing way to get acquainted with the Rim country.
Before you head east out of Payson, make sure you have plenty of gasoline, oil, snacks and drinks to make the two-hour trip. There are several service stations and convenience stores in Payson and a store in Star Valley that sells fuel and snacks.
Zane Grey Country
Heading east out of Payson just past the concrete plant you will notice the stonewall entrance to Chaparral Pines -- 1,200-acre gated community with a world-class golf course. Just across the highway is its sister community, The Rim Club, which also features an impressive 18-hole course.
Star Valley is just a few minutes east at the heart of Zane Grey Country.
Decades ago, popular Western writer Zane Grey discovered the quiet pines, sparkling streams, cool mountain air and fine hunting opportunities that distinguish the Mogollon Rim area from other Western sites. Grey was so taken with the Rim country that he made it his home for many years.
At milepost 257 you pass through Diamond Point which was named for the "Arizona diamonds" -- quartz crystals -- found there.
Diamond Point Shadows, the residential area at Diamond Point, is home to a popular steakhouse.
Just up the road, you'll come to newly completed bridges over Preacher's Canyon.
Legend has it that the canyon was named for an unknown preacher who traveled the region at the time of the Graham-Tewksbury Feud.
Little Green Valley
As you wind east through the pines your view will suddenly open on a pastoral valley at milepost 263. You've reached Little Green Valley. You will soon pass the roads that lead to Thompson Draw and Bear Flats, residential areas populated with folks who like a little elbow room between neighbors.
Just to the east, Ponderosa Campground is nestled in a thick stand of pines. It features campsites, picnic tables, grills, running water, bathrooms and RV hookups.
Next you will come to the Control Road where a left turn will lead you to the forest community of Tonto Village, a residential area that boasts a few businesses.
The Control Road also winds through the destruction caused by the 1990 Dude Fire, a lightning-caused blaze that killed six firefighters, burned more than 24,000 acres of land and destroyed 63 homes. The trip is rough and bumpy, but can easily be made by passenger car.
Back on Highway 260 heading east, rumble strips in the road will let you know that you're approaching Kohl's Ranch.
Once a working cattle ranch, Kohl's Ranch is now owned by the ILX Corporation, which operates the hotel on the property as a time-share. The restaurant at Kohl's Ranch is open to the public and features world-class cuisine.
Just past Kohl's Ranch, a turn left onto Forest Road 289 takes you to the site where Zane Grey's cabin stood until it burned to the ground during the Dude Fire. Forest Road 289 also takes you to the Tonto Fish Hatchery, where Arizona Game and Fish employees raise thousands of trout each year to stock in area lakes and streams.
Milepost 273 marks your arrival in Christopher Creek, the last bastion of civilization you'll see before reaching the top of the Rim.
Christopher Creek and Christopher Mountain are named after the French explorer Isador Christopher, who lived in the area with his mail-order bride in the 1880s.
Christopher was a tenacious Indian scout for the U.S. Cavalry, stationed out of Fort McDowell. His homestead east of Payson was raided regularly by Indians, and during two of the raids, his cabins were burned down. Christopher responded to the raids by holding fast to his land and rebuilding his cabins.
Today, the area boasts a thriving community with restaurants, bars and other businesses.
If you're heading to the top of the Rim for a picnic or a little fishing, Christopher Creek is your last chance to buy snacks, supplies or bait.
Going up ...
Leaving Christopher Creek, you'll pass the entrance road to the Hunter Creek subdivision, Colcord Road, and the Arizona Department of Transportation maintenance site on the way up to the top of the Rim. On the right, you will see some of the most breathtaking scenery in central Arizona as you climb to 7,500 feet above sea level.
Once you've reached the summit of the Mogollon Rim, you will encounter cooler temperatures in a forest paradise that plays host to thousands of tourists each year.
The first turnoff to the left at the top of the Rim leads to Woods Canyon Lake, which features camping, fishing and boating opportunities as well as a general store.
Farther north on Highway 260 is the turnoff to one of the area's most popular lakes --illow Springs Lake. This 80-acre lake is man-made and is stocked with trout from the Tonto Fish Hatchery. A campground is located nearby and it's open throughout the summer.
For more information about Rim country journeys, call the Tonto District Ranger Station, 474-7900.