Sleep Beneath A Canopy Of Spectacular Stars

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There are few better ways to beat summer's heat than camping in the cool forests of the Rim country. Visitors to any of the area's popular campgrounds will awaken to the trill of birds, the crisp scent of pine trees and fall asleep beneath a canopy of stars.

Winter and spring rains have caused the water levels in the creeks and lakes to rise. The fish are stocked and the forest is lovely.

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Gerry Foster, and daughter, Madison, relax in the comforts of their tent while their dog, Hunter, frolics in the Tonto National Forest near Pine. The family traveled to the Rim country to escape the desert heat of their home in Gilbert.

More than 40 campgrounds are available to choose from in the three national forests of the Rim country. Each is within an hour's drive from Payson, while a few are just minutes away.

Houston Mesa Campground is two miles north of Payson. Turn east on Houston Mesa Road off the Beeline. If you are camping, turn left after a quarter mile onto the road leading into the campground. If you need facilities for your horses, a turn to the right leads you into the Houston Mesa horse campground. Both sites are fully equipped with picnic tables, rest rooms and showers. There is space to set up your tent or park your RV. During peak season weekends, interpretive programs are presented at the amphitheater.

Travel five miles farther down Houston Mesa Road to First Crossing. It is one of the nine campsites which comprise the East Verde River complex. First Crossing and Water Wheel offer hiking, wading and fishing. Cold Springs offers the special treat of waterfalls.

Also part of the complex, but located a few miles north of Payson on the Beeline, are the Flowing Springs and East Verde campgrounds.

The Coconino National Forest offers many camping and RV sites at higher elevations. The popular Clint's Well is free. It is located one mile off Highway 87 on Lake Mary Road. Knoll Lake has more than double the campsites and charges a $5 fee, but it is 10 miles closer to Payson.

If your camping trip would not be complete without fishing, then the campgrounds near Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes are perfect. Motoring 30 miles east on Highway 260 will take you to an elevation of about 7,000 feet. Primitive camping areas with no fee include Chevelon and Bear Canyon Lakes, and Forest roads 195, 169 and 9350.

If shower and rest room facilities make your trip easier, then Canyon Point offers three handicapped sites, 25 standard sites with electricity and 55 tent sites. Fees range from $16 to $20 for single family sites.

Closer to Payson on Highway 260, visitors will encounter the fine campground of Christopher Creek. Fees range from $5 to $13 for the 43 campsites. If you get tired of cooking your own food, the Landmark and Creekside restaurants are open for your dining pleasure. The Tall Pines Market has snacks, tackle and sundries in case run out of supplies.

Far way from the glow of city lights is the best place to see the Perseids meteor shower. Perseids are visible starting in mid-July and peaking Aug. 12.

In the quiet early morning hours, you might be fortunate to see a herd of elk grazing in a meadow or a flock of wild turkeys.

Keeping back-country areas in their wild state is something the Forest Service believes we can all do. They want hikers, campers and day visitors to "pack out more than they pack in."

Visitors can check with the Payson Ranger Station at 1009 E. Highway 260 or log on to their website www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto for information on forest conditions and a full listing of campgrounds.

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