We’re now in October, which brings us many things in Rim Country: cooler temperatures, changing colors, possibly the first frost. It’s also the month of the year that’s probably most associated with Zane Grey. After all, October was often the month that Grey spent time here, hunting various animals under the Rim and researching for his many novels. So I thought that this might be an appropriate time to once again discuss Zane Grey.
Who was Zane Grey?
Zane Grey was perhaps the preeminent American writer/adventurer of the early 20th Century. He was born Jan. 31, 1872 in Zanesville, Ohio. Later he moved to New York before coming west and eventually made Altadena, Calif. his home base. He often spent more than half the year on the road, traversing the mountains of the West and the high seas of the Pacific Ocean, while writing about far out “unexplored” places.
Grey wrote a mixture of non-fiction and fiction, although he is best known nowadays for his novels.
Typically, his writings first appeared in literary magazines over the course of several issues. It was a time when there was no TV, no reality shows, so it was the written word that allowed people to “visit” other places. Grey was one of the best at providing vivid descriptions which he mixed with juicy romantic plotlines.
Between 1918 and 1929 Grey made annual trips to Rim Country. It was a remote place back then with no railroads and no paved roads. He got to know the locals and eventually bought two parcels of land: part of the Babe Haught Homestead near today’s Tonto Fish Hatchery, and most of the Boles Homestead, where the Zane Grey Meadows and Collins Ranch subdivisions are located.
Grey wrote numerous novels and non-fiction pieces about the area, and movie adaptations of some of his novels were filmed in the region during the 1920s.
Grey died in 1939, but his former cabin here became a tourist attraction in the 1970s and 1980s before burning in the 1990 Dude Fire.
rim country legacy
After Grey left, his cabin on the Babe Haught Homestead fell into disrepair. But in the 1960s Bill Goettl of Phoenix bought the cabin.
“Restoration is my main goal, but I’m not sure how I’ll go about it,” Goettl said. “All I know is it ought to be saved. The destruction has to be stopped right now or it will all be lost.” (Albuquerque Tribune, Aug. 30, 1963)
Goettl succeeded in restoring the cabin and throughout the 1960s and 1970s it was a major tourist attraction. Unfortunately, it burned in the 1990 Dude Fire.
During the 1960s and 1970s the area accentuated its ties with Grey, with the header of the Payson Roundup referring to the area as “Zane Grey Country.”
After the Dude Fire burned Zane Grey’s Cabin there was an effort to rebuild it at the site, however, the value of the land ultimately proved too great and today there is a five-lot subdivision where Grey’s cabin once stood.
Eventually though, Grey’s cabin was rebuilt, albeit 20 miles to the southeast in Payson at Green Valley Park, and is open to visitors.
Experiencing Zane Grey
This is a topic that some will disagree with me on. While the cabin is worth a visit, I find myself connecting best with Grey in the places that he once roamed. As a resident of part of the land that Grey once owned, I’m in the heart of the area where he spent most of his time. It’s an area close to the Mogollon Rim, anchored by two large outcroppings: Myrtle Point and Promontory Butte, both of which have a peak elevation of about 7,900 feet. Numerous hiking trails are in the area, most notably the Highline Trail, which runs beneath the Rim, connecting Highway 87 near Pine, with Highway 260 just east of Christopher Creek.
Fittingly, the Highline Trail is the site of a 50-mile endurance run each spring called the Zane Grey Highline Trail 50. Last year 70 runners competed in the 50-mile race, and another 64 runners competed in the shorter portion.
Also in this area is the Babe Haught Trail, located near the Tonto Fish Hatchery and close to the former cabin site. While this trail was forever changed by the Dude Fire, it still provides a challenging trek up the Rim, and marvelous views as you go — views that Grey undoubtedly once enjoyed.
The top of the Rim also offers opportunities to connect with Grey. Forest Road 300 goes the length of Rim, providing breathtaking vistas at numerous points along the way. Forest Road 76, off of FR 300, provides terrific access to the top of Promontory Butte; an unburnt area where Grey surely spent time. When sitting out on a crag it’s easy to go back in time and imagine how Grey must’ve felt sitting there. Clearly it is Zane Grey’s Country.
Local places under the Rim like Creekside Restaurant in Christopher Creek and the Double D in Tonto Village offer insight into the area’s culture. While things have changed quite a bit since Grey was here, there is still a country spirit that can be felt.
It’s not a place dominated by political figures, or folks playing head games, but just good, old-fashioned, hardworking, down-home folks. Just as Grey found locals like the Haughts in his day to be colorful and interesting, these area residents have their own talents that are fascinating once you get to know them.
Times have changed but there is still a distinct rural spirit in these areas, one that I think Grey would enjoy if he were around today.
Ultimately, there are many, many trails around Rim Country, and the farther one goes into the backcountry, the closer you get to Zane Grey. He loved the “unexplored” places. He loved places untouched by man. And while many of these places have trails now, it doesn’t take that much of a mental leap to step back in time.
As fall moves closer to winter, it’s a great time to get out and hike under the Rim. Grey’s gift was to put what we see, what we feel, in those places, into words. Read a Zane Grey book first and you might just be surprised how much stronger of a connection you feel with the land, and Zane Grey himself.