All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) trail riding has grown in the last decade to become an immensely popular sport on the Rim Country recreational scene.
The local popularity is partly due to hundreds of miles of trails around Payson, many of them old logging roads, that provide riders with an up close and personal look at the countryside.
For experienced ATV riders, the challenging route into Metate Canyon will test your resolve and the wilderness worthiness of the four-wheel drive vehicle you're straddling.
The route begins in Star Valley and extends onto the Mayfield Canyon Trail before winding through the ponderosa pine forests to Metate Canyon. Along the way, rest stops can be enjoyed at what once was a Native American village, and another at a decrepit cabin that is rumored to have been the home of a miner decades ago.
But be prepared, often the route becomes only a wash, wild animal trail or simply an area between trees wide enough to steer your ATV through.
Less adventurous riders might want to explore the many forest service roads and old logging roads that connect to Chevelon Loop Drive atop the Rim. The drive can be accessed off FR 300, which is touted to be one of the most scenic drives in the state. From FR 300, riders should proceed north on FR 115 past the O'Haco Fire Lookout Tower to the junction with FR 225.
The 60-mile loop eventually returns to FR 300.
For local ATV-owners, one of the most popular spots to ride is the Hayfield Draw/Bryant Park OHV area located eight miles west of Camp Verde and south of Highway 260.
The 80-acre open area is limited to ATVs and trail bikes, and there is access to more than 100 miles of designated routes.
Another popular area is the Long Draw route, found on the Mogollon Rim northeast of Payson. Located in the Black Mesa Ranger District, it consists of a 30-mile loop trail beginning near Chevelon Crossing at the Long Draw North Trailhead.
The route extends to the Long Draw South Trailhead near Chevelon Lake. Both trailheads have toilets and campsite facilities developed through Arizona State OHV Recreation Fund grants. Along the route, there are many opportunities for side trips on shared use, forest service trails.
In the cold of winter, snowmobilers use the area frequently.
An exciting ride to enjoy during the cooler temperatures of fall and winter is the Rolls OHV area located east of the Beeline Highway and south of the Four Peaks Road in the Tonto National Forest.
The 27,000-acre area features trails that can be enjoyed year-round, but vehicle travel is allowed only on existing routes.
To the south, near Roosevelt Lake, there are many forest roads to explore, including FR 49 and FR 1080 that take you on a circular loop around Deer Hill and into Cottonwood Canyon. Along the route, riders will find pleasure in grandiose views of Four Peaks, the Mazatzal and Sierra Ancha wilderness areas and of Roosevelt Lake.
Along the trail, foliage includes towering cottonwood trees, saguaro, cholla, jojoba and oak.
Other popular ATV excursions are trips to Crackerjack Mine and the Verde River, along the Young Trail and through the Dude Fire area.
A new breed
The popularly of four wheeling can be attributed to the variety of high-tech ATVs now available to the public and the myriad of trails, routes and byways riders have to choose from.
Today's state-of-the-art ATVs -- with price tags that can now exceed $8,000 -- feature powerful 700 cc electronic fuel-injected engines, on-demand all-wheel drives, automatic transmissions, radial tires, independent rear suspensions and comfortable ergonomics for easy riding.
There's little doubt, today's machines are vastly superior to the original three-wheelers manufactured by Honda in the 1970s.
Longtime riders will remember those ATVs -- commonly called "Big Red" which sold for about $600 -- as being underpowered, recreation-only vehicles with balloon tires that were easily flattened, and a chassis shaped like an isosceles triangle.
After being introduced to America from Japan, popularity soared when sportsmen found the vehicles to be useful for exploring remote areas where larger four-wheel drive trucks and Jeeps couldn't reach.
Before venturing into the back country for an ATV outing, remember to be prepared for the unexpected.
To ensure a safe trip, always tell someone where you are traveling and when you'll return. Also, don't go alone, and pack at least one gallon of water per person per day.
Always wear eye protection, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and boots.
State motor vehicle laws apply on many FS roads, which means your vehicle must be registered and the rider must be licensed. In other words, being "street legal" is the best option before setting out to explore the countryside. Newcomers should take advantage of the ATV Rider Course.
If you bought your ATV after 1986, you may be eligible for free training. To sign up, call (800) 447-4700.
For information on ATV opportunities, call the Payson Ranger District, (928) 474-7900; or the Tonto National Forest office, (602) 225-5200. The Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce also has ATV recreation guides.