Dick Wolfe is a man of lofty expectations, but even he has to search for words to describe the Zane Grey cabin replica that will open Saturday morning.
"We've had a number of people come through just informally and they walk in and they're shocked by what they see," he said. "They stop and their eyes get big and they can't believe it.
"I don't know what word to use, but you walk in and it just sort of takes your breath away," the former town councilor and chairman of the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation said.
The official dedication and opening of the Zane Grey Cabin is the highlight of the Sixth Annual Rim Country Western Heritage Festival unfolding Saturday, Oct. 15 in and around the Rim Country Museum and Green Valley Park.
Fifteen years after being destroyed by the Dude Fire, the cabin will once again provide visitors a look at how "the father of the Western novel" lived during his frequent visits to the Rim Country.
Grey spent each October at the cabin as he hunted for game and collected material for stories. Of his 62 Western novels, 24 are set in Arizona and 13 in the Rim Country.
State historian Marshall Trimble recalled an experience that captured the significance of the setting for a writer.
"Just a year before the fire, we were camped in a little valley down below the cabin and I took a walk out there that night about sundown and looked out over the Rim, and I remember thinking, no wonder this inspired that great writer," Trimble said.
Bill Furman, a Zane Grey fan and management consultant who coordinated the cabin project, spoke of the historical value of the author's writings.
"Whether his creations are fiction or not, they actually depict our early time -- our love stories, our ranching, our trials and tribulations," Furman said.
Beth Counseller, one of the original cabin's caretakers, elaborated on Furman's thoughts.
"When he came here, he was interviewing and visiting with people who actually settled the area," Counseller said. "The old timers were here to spin stories for him and explain, because they knew firsthand what the old adage meant -- that ‘Arizona ain't for amateurs.' This was a wild and wooly place, and Zane Grey learned that right from the people who experienced it.
"So he took their -- I guess I can tactfully call them quasi-historical accounts of what happened -- and added a love story, and added character, and added a background, and came up with these wonderful, kind of historical documentaries about this area where we live. Zane Grey opened Arizona, not only to the whole country, but to the whole world, and Payson is the gateway to that world, and the Zane Grey cabin is going to reopen that to future generations."
Grey abandoned the cabin in 1929 following a spat with Arizona Game and Fish and it fell into serious disrepair. In 1962, Valley air conditioning magnate William Goettl had the structure restored.
It became a major tourist attraction and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The cabin was destroyed in 1990 by the Dude Fire.
The new cabin in Green Valley Park is a full-size, historically-accurate replica.
"We had a difficult time finding certain materials and furnishings we needed so the cabin would look as it did when built 83 years ago," Wolfe said.
"Being faithful to the original cabin, we are not using any modern materials such as particle board or laminated beams. All the beams are big, solid, huge, heavy beams. I just love it because that's the way it was originally."
A closer look at old photographs of the original cabin revealed some interesting imperfections.
"We were making a book of photographs of the old cabin for the contractor and we were poring over it the other day and we noticed what we thought were some design flaws," Wolfe said. "We had them blown up and, lo and behold, there were. I told the contractor I want him to duplicate those flaws."
Western Heritage Festival
Following the cabin dedication, Rim Country residents and visitors alike are invited to step back into the area's storied past through an action-packed array of events and activities for cowboys and cowgirls of all ages. The Western Heritage Festival runs until 4 p.m.
Other events and demonstrations scheduled for the Western Heritage Festival include free admission to the Rim Country Museum, Parry Morton as Milt Dale from Zane Grey's "The Man of the Forest," an "Art of the West" exhibit in the museum featuring local artist Jim Strong demonstrating his technique, western artists Jim Hagen and Conrad Okerwall outside, a saddle making demonstration with Jim Weeks, an engraving demonstration by Ken Shepherd, a Native American craft demonstration by Hubert Nanty, a blacksmithing demonstration by Jaime Escobedo, town historians and authors Jayne Peace and Jinx Pyle, a presentation by Chuck Jackman, Hashknife Pony Express swing boss, and a children's minifest featuring pot painting with the Payson Community Kids and a children's art activity with local western artist Donn Morris.
"I'll have a table there for kids to come and color, and I've designed a five-page coloring book of the covers of Zane Grey novels," Morris said. "And I'll be doing a painting of Zane Grey during the day as well.
A full day of western music, cowboy poetry and yarn spinning is also on the agenda, including local favorites John Carpino, Dee Strickland Johnson, Chuck and Barb Casey, Eddie Armer and the Sandoval Family. Two separate stages will be utilized simultaneously.
In addition, the Boy Scouts will be serving barbecue dinners.