The highways in Rim Country have gone through constant realignment; realignment that continues as Highway 260 is expanded just outside of Little Green Valley. So let’s take a look at a little bit of the history of roads spanning from Phoenix to Payson, as well as two key figures involved with them.
Early roads centered on the Fort McDowell to Camp Reno connection. The Army utilized these trails while they tried to pacify the native peoples. In the course of this, the Reno road became the stuff of legends, as this clip shows.
“At the bottom is a deep gorge, and, peculiar it is to the uninitiated to note that it is almost filled with cedar and juniper trees, cut off at the butt and tumbled to without method. No junipers or cedars grow at the low elevation. The mystery finds explanation in the fact that few teamsters ever trust to the strength of their brakes in descending the hill, and even the old familiar “lock” on the wheels is not to be used on account of the pounding received by the vehicle in dropping from stone to stone on the downward way. So a tree is cut in the cedar forest at the top of the ridge, and lashed to the hind axle of the wagon, and with this as a drag, the journey to the regions below is accomplished with a far greater degree of safety than could otherwise be done.
“Wrecks of wagons strew the roadside and bits of boxes and of household effects, show where the many have come to grief. Sudden turns are necessary, where the raging torrent of the creek has cut off the road so carefully and expensively made, and occasional stretches there are where the roadway has been thrice constructed at different levels. Yet it is the only ‘wagon road’ into Tonto Basin from the west and must be traveled.”
It was hard to maintain and not all that great of a road, which led to the construction of the Apache Trail to aid in the construction of Roosevelt Dam. There was a little bit of a push to reconstruct the Reno Road during that time period, but ultimately what is known as the Apache Trail was built and was used as a main road for a long time to get up into this area, along with secondary paths that follow today’s Beeline Highway.
Things changed though in the early 1930s and it was a Phoenix area businessman’s interest in the area that helped change it. Harvey Granville Bush was a Mesa lumberman who also had a second place in Rim Country. He pushed through the construction of a roadway that still bears his name, the Bush Highway. The Mesa Times Journal in 1935 gave the following description of Bush following his passing.
“Harvey Bush, it may be said truthfully, was one of the most hard-working and conscientious citizens Mesa ever had. It is doubtful that his service to this community was fully appreciated. Not many knew of the many things he did for the people’s good.
“Harvey Bush was such a dynamic personality that it is hard to believe that a great heart has stopped beating. His presence in any group made things brighter. His fiery debates and his sense of humor will never be forgotten. He loved mankind and the animal kingdom. His bird sanctuary, his zoo and his cabin in the heart of the big game country were his great loves.
“He was a political power in municipal, county and state affairs. His judgment was respected by hundreds whom he had befriended and it was usually better to have Harvey Bush ‘for you than against you.’”
This roadway, completed in the 1930s, helped open up the region further at about the same time that today’s I-17 was better connecting Flagstaff with Phoenix. But as this clip shows, it still wasn’t that great of a roadway.
“Completion of the Bush Highway a few years ago opened up a new method of approach to the beautiful vacation area in the vicinity of the twin mountain hamlets of Pine and Payson.
“The road, named in honor of the late Harvey G. Bush, prominent Mesa civic leader, who was a moving force in bringing about its construction, turns off the Stewart Mountain Dam road about half a mile west of the dam.
“It winds and twists through miles of rolling desert hills abounding with picturesque scenery and a wealth of interesting desert flora, follows Sycamore creek for some miles and finally hugs the side of steep mountains in the higher elevations, at last leveling off into a gently rolling cedar-dotted country that soon gives way to the pines as the traveler nears Payson.
“From Pine or Payson, roads radiate away in almost every direction into the Tonto forest and its fishing paradises and camping grounds.
“Almost throughout its length, the Bush highway leads through a country where decomposed granite forms a fine road material that makes for smooth going.
“It is, however, twisty and in some places is narrow and has considerable grades. It is not, therefore, recommended for fast driving. The route does however, have the advantage of being shorter by about 25 miles than the only other avenue of access into the Payson country. It is freed of heavy travel.”
In the post World War II era, Phoenix experienced significant growth. One of the places that successfully positioned themselves for the post war boom was Arizona State Teachers College at Tempe, under the guidance of President Grady Gammage. Naturally, Rim Country was affected by the growth, with camping under the stars becoming a popular thing. In the early 1950s the road from Phoenix to Payson was once again improved, and yet again it would be a Phoenician who would help.
A significant portion of today’s Beeline Highway lies in Maricopa County and it was the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors who made the decision to fund the initial paving of that portion. James G. Hart was an influential member of that board who also happened to have a place in Rim Country. Throughout the 1950s the roadway was constructed and paved, funded by a variety of agencies including Maricopa County and the Tonto National Forest. Eventually the roadway was taken over by the Arizona Highway Department, the precursor to today’s Arizona Department of Transportation.
News and Notes
Condolences to Pat Randall on the passing of her husband Rony Randall. The area lost yet another great old-timer.