Find Peace And Quiet In Tiny Forest Hamlets

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Novelist Zane Grey wrote in many of his Westerns about the wild forests of central Arizona. The charming communities located east of Payson on Highway 260 and southbound on Highway 87 offer remarkable weekend get-a-aways for adventurers of many persuasions.

The escarpment of rock known as the Mogollon Rim shelters several small communities and get-away destinations. Like a ribbon, Highway 260 cuts a path through juniper, pinion and ponderosa pines.

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A view from the road above Woods Canyon Lake. Forest Road 300 will take motorists all along the Mogollon Rim, from Woods Canyon Lake to Highway 87 north of Strawberry.

On the drive east from Payson, the scrub pines give way quickly to tall pines. Bright orange poppies grow at the edge of the divided highway. The pines become taller the farther in elevation one travels. A mere 18 miles out of Payson, and about a two-hour drive from the East Valley of the Sun freeways, is Kohl's Ranch Lodge.

A popular gathering place for the past century, the resort offers hospitality to lodgers and their pets year round.

Lewis and Neecie Kohl moved into the large dwelling on their newly purchased property in 1924. They began renting rooms and serving meals to folk traveling the wagon trail to the Rim.

Local cowboy Charlie Henderson recalls riding on horseback to the Saturday night dances that were held at the ranch.

Now, guest rooms are available for both timeshare customers and conventional hotel guests.

Nestled among stately pines and meadowland, the lodge offers accommodations decorated in western contemporary style. The timeshare offers exclusive cabins.

Kennels are offered to house smaller pets, and stalls are offered for horses.

Without leaving the ranch, one can go on a horseback ride to the shores of Tonto Creek and fly fish for trout. You can be back at the lodge in time to practice on the putting green before going for a refreshing dip in the newly remodeled hot tub or swimming pool.

For the romantic adventurer, there is a wedding chapel at Kohl's.

Access to other adventures at Kohl's includes mountain biking, hiking, tennis, pool, karaoke in the bar, badminton, tennis and boccie ball.

Guests on the property are offered special rates on 4x4 junkets courtesy of Payson Adventures. Promontory Point on the Rim and Doll Baby Ranch are just two of the scenic destinations.

Summer rates range from $115 for the Zane Grey Room to $295 for the Canyon Creek Cabin.

You don't have to be a guest of the resort to have a fine culinary experience in the restaurant at Kohl's. A reservation in the busy summer months is advised.

Farther east

As you continue east on Highway 260, several sets of signs read "Watch your speed," "Keep it slow," "Watch for elk," "As you go." The signs, reminiscent of the old Burma Shave signs, serve as a reminder that travelers have entered the forest where an abundance of wildlife dwells.

Native wildlife is what you will have a chance to see when you visit the tiny community that sits on the shores of its namesake.

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The Village at Christopher Creek's catch-and-release trout pond offers anglers a challenge. Visitors will find a variety of cabins available for a relaxing mountain retreat.

Christopher Creek is named for pioneer settler Isadore Christopher. The spring-fed creek meanders through the trees. Private homes, two restaurants and cabin rentals line the banks.

"We have elk walking down the center of the highway through town, stopping to graze by the side of the road," said Susan Keown of ERA Realty.

Deer, elk, raccoon, wild turkey and 250 species of birds dwell along the 51 miles of hiking trails adjacent to the hamlet.

The entrance to forest road 284 is directly across from the Tall Pines Market. The graded road dead ends after a mile and a half where it meets a portion of the Highline Trail.

Resident Debbie Aschbrenner recommends the six-mile round trip hike as one of her favorites. The path is well marked and quite beautiful where it crosses the water.

Fish hatcheries have been stocking trout in the creek, and the expectation is that it will continue to flow.

According to local residents and business owners, Christopher Creek's small village atmosphere has become more pure since the bypass was created.

The highway bypasses Christopher Creek, but roads access it at mile markers 272 and 277. John Matus likes the peace and quiet of a road that is now traveled by locals and guests rather than 18-wheelers.

"When I get off work, I go home and I sit on my porch and get ready to go to bed and it's quiet," Matus said.

Plans for festivals and craft shows that line either side of the street are in the works. These fun events will be open to everyone.

Tasty steaks and seafood align with local warmth and camaraderie at Christopher Creek's two restaurants, the Landmark and Creekside.

The Landmark often has live music for patrons to get out on the floor and dance to in the summer.

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The hiking is beautiful in and around Christopher Creek. The entrance to Forest Road 284 is directly across from the Tall Pines Market. The six-mile round trip hike through the pines and across the creek is a favorite of hikers.

In another year or so, Creekside Restaurant will give way to timeshare developer Creekside Mountain Homes. A restaurant is planned as well.

Christopher Creek's many cabins have made it a destination for getting away from city life. At 6,500 feet in elevation, it is sheltered by the majestic Mogollon Rim.

Links to cabin rental and information on other recreational opportunities can be found online at christophercreekarizona.com.

Follow the highway farther east as it ascends another 600 feet to the Rim lake area. The views are spectacular from atop the Rim where the Tonto and Sitgreaves national forests meet.

Lake levels are up due to late winter and early spring rains and the fish are biting in Woods Canyon Lake, Willow Springs and Bear Canyon Lakes.

Down south

The Rye Bar and Grill south of Payson on Highway 87 is the hub of the tiny community of Rye.

The restaurant and bar is open seven days a week, and there is live entertainment every Friday and Saturday.

Thursday nights there are free dance lesson for those with two left feet or folk just wanting to improve their dancing skills.

Highway 188 connects with Highway 87 17 miles south of Payson. Saguaros stand as sentinels and the Sierra Ancha Mountain range provides the backdrop to your journey down the road.

Nestled along the extreme northern shore of Roosevelt Lake at Tonto Creek is the growing community of Tonto Basin.

The Butcher Hook is the place to catch up on local gossip or to find out where the fish are biting on Roosevelt Lake. The Butcher Hook boasts a gas station, a restaurant, a store and a bar.

There are plenty of new spaces for summer residents to hook up their RVs. New housing and the real estate market are looking good according to Jerry Miles of the local chamber of commerce. The guides at the chamber are happy to give information on their welcoming community. The chamber is at Rattlesnake Lane and Highway 188 and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Phone: (928) 479-2839.

Campers are attracted by four wheeling, wildflowers, bird watching and hiking.

But the big news this year --nd fishermen hope for many years to come --is the fishing opportunities on Roosevelt Lake.

Avid fisherman Matt Chmiel, who works as a technician in the state's Urban Fishing Program, predicts that while the fishing this year will be excellent, the size of the fish next year may be unsurpassed.

With lake level at 92 percent capacity, new ecologies are forming where entire trees and cacti have been covered by water.

Whether your boat floats allegorically by hearing the wind blow though stately pines or literally on the waters of lakes adjacent to Payson, the communities of the Mogollon Rim are full of outdoor escapes to suit most anyone.

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