The first week of August is the time to start picking blackberries from your favorite patch. Residents who have picked in previous years know when to make that first trip with bucket in hand. Most major drainages, which originate at the base of the Rim, will have ample water and at least a few patches of blackberries. The area of Christopher Creek on the east to Pine Creek on the west and all the minor watersheds in between are within easy driving distance of Payson and any of these canyons may have that “honey hole” for the picker’s delight.
Picking berries is an outdoor activity that everyone in the family can enjoy with the common goal being a fresh blackberry pie or jam. A pie, jam, or any other berry dessert just tastes better knowing that it has been picked fresh from the vine through your own efforts.
It is the perfect day trip for the very young to get an appreciation of the outdoors with some real family bonding. When we take our grandchildren, the rule of thumb is two in the mouth, one in the bucket, and a purple smile from ear to ear.
It is important to dress for the occasion as a protection from the always-present thorns that leave their mark where there is any exposed skin. Long pants are a must and the more rugged the fabric the better, with jeans being the best leg protection. Always wear a long-sleeved shirt, which will shield your arms from all those thorns that can scratch the skin and usually draw blood. A complete covering of the skin also can protect from that ever-present poison ivy or oak that also seems to thrive in the same places berries grow.
I prefer wearing only one glove on the non-picking hand, which can be used to move the brambles aside to get those hard to reach ripe berries that always seem to be at a full arm’s length. If someone is not dressed properly, it can be a miserable experience and the result might be a reluctance to pick berries again.
My bucket is a gallon plastic coffee can with a handle made out of light wire or a shoe string with the hope of filling it before returning home.
In many places, the brambles are so thick that the ground where you step may not be very visible, so always take a walking stick that can be used for balance as well as a precaution before taking that next step. These cool moist areas where berries grow also may be a place for cold-blooded reptiles to escape the summer heat. Arizona has rattlesnakes, so always be careful and know where the next step will be — that walking stick can be used to expose the ground before making a move.
Another valuable tool is a map, which identifies the major drainages in addition to the Forest Service roads, which will get you closest to the places you want to explore. The Tonto National Forest Payson office has these maps on the shelf for only a couple of dollars and they are well worth the purchase.
If this is your first time, take a friend and tell someone else where you are going before you head for the berry patch.
Good luck during the August season of blackberry picking in the Rim Country — God’s creation.