Camping Options Need Planning

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Camping in the cool forests on the Mogollon Rim is one of the favorite ways people throughout the state, and visitors too, like to spend at least part of the summer. Guests in 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.

The scarcity of winter and spring rains have forced the U.S. Forest Service to enact restrictions, allowing camping only in the developed grounds around the Rim. The available sites are: Houston Mesa, Ponderosa, Upper Tonto, Christopher Creek and Sharp Creek.

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Fire restrictions are limiting the available camp sites where a roaring fire can be built this year. The U.S. Forest Service is asking that camp fires like the one pictured here be limited to developed campgrounds. More contained means of cooking will be allowed elsewhere -- at least for the time being. The restrictions went into effect May 4 due to the continuing dry conditions and lack of winter moisture.

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.

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 fee, but it is 10 miles closer to Payson.

Closer to Payson, on Highway 260, visitors will encounter the fine campground of Christopher Creek. Fees are charged 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 you 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 Web site, www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto, for information on forest conditions and a full listing of open campgrounds.

Be prepared

Camping Check List (compliments of camping.about.com)

Shelter and Bedding (essentials)

__ tent

__ tarp

__ sleeping bag

__ sleeping pad

__ headrest

Cooking and Dining (essentials)

__ water

__ food

__ cooler

__ camp stove

__ mess kit

__ can opener

__ charcoal

Miscellaneous Items

__ binoculars

__ bird guide

__ bug spray

__ bungee cords

__ camera

__ candles

__ cards, games

__ cell phone

__ clothes pins

__ compass

__ duct tape

__ flashlight

__ GPS

__ knife

__ lantern

__ matches

__ pen and paper

__ rope

__ shower bag

__ sun block

__ tools

__ water filters

__ whistle

Take your food of choice and the necessary tools to prepare it. Have a well-stocked first aid kit to handle any minor emergencies: the occasional cuts, scrapes, and scratches. Camping chores can be hazardous; hiking through brush, thorn bushes, or cactus; cooking outdoors or around campfires; and the elements and insects are just some examples of the outdoor hazards that might require attention.

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