Zane Grey was an American author who wrote an extensive amount of fiction centered in the west, and who also traveled the world, telling stories of the exotic places that he visited. Amongst the places he spent a great deal of time in was the area around Payson, an area that did not have main line roadways during the time he spent here. Traditionally, fall was a time for Grey to come and hunt in this area, while also gathering material for his novels. Thus, it’s a good time of year to look at his lasting impact on the region.
During his time here (1918 to 1929) locals had mixed opinions of Grey. Some believed that he and his hunting parties killed more than their fair share. Nevertheless, it’s clear that he brought a great deal of attention and ultimately revenue to the area. He utilized the Haught family and other locals such as Floyd Pyle as guides, and he insisted that movies made of his novels be filmed on location — which meant that many including “Under the Tonto Rim” and “To the Last Man” were filmed in the area.
The decision to locate Camp Geronimo in Rim Country in the early 1920s almost certainly was at least partially impacted by the presence of Grey’s cabin up the road. (The first Camp Geronimo was located at the approximate junction of Highway 260 and the Tonto Fish Hatchery Road.) Thus, even initially Grey’s presence had a positive financial impact on the area.
Zane Grey had a falling out with Arizona in 1929 and resolved to never come back. With the exception of a brief jaunt across the border while working on his book “Boulder Dam,” he never did either.
He died in October 1939 and it took time for his impact to further reverberate through the area.
After World War II, Arizona began to grow rapidly and soon more and more began to come to the Payson area. At this point, the region was very much so known for its connection with Zane Grey, as this clip from the June 30, 1947 Arizona Daily Sun shows.
“Zane Grey, with all his ability in describing the beauties of nature, could not do justice to the grandeur of this area. The forest abounds in Wild Game and is a paradise for the big game hunter.”
As the 1960s arrived, though, Grey’s old cabin between Myrtle Point and Promontory Butte was in disrepair. Don Dedera described its condition in an April 10, 1963 Arizona Republic column.
“Since Grey turned his back on the cabin in 1931, weather and vandals have defaced and gutted it. Furniture has been hauled away. The walls are scarred by whittled initials. Cabinets are smashed. The roof is falling in.”
The cabin needed a hero, and without one, Grey’s legacy in Rim Country would have almost certainly faded away much sooner. However, Bill Goettl, a Phoenix businessman, turned out to be exactly the hero that the cabin needed. Goettl had a vision, something he explained in that same April 10, 1963 column of Dedera’s.
“‘To me,’ he said, ‘the cabin is something of a shrine. I mean to look for the original furnishings and restore it with the same materials.’
“‘Wouldn’t it be right to have the place all put back together, and maybe stocked as a Zane Grey library, where tourists could sit out on that porch and read the books where they were written?’”
Grey’s restored cabin soon became a tourist attraction and by the 1980s it was drawing as many as 20,000 visitors per year. The region became branded as “Zane Grey Country,” something that was even carried on the newspaper heading. Not only did tourists flock to the region, but so did new residents. Many had read Zane Grey’s novels and become interested in the area, ultimately deciding to come here.
In 1990 the Dude Fire struck, killing six firefighters near Bonita Creek. The fire continued to roar through the area, ultimately burning Zane Grey’s cabin to the ground. Not only had the cabin burned, but the beautiful pines nearby had been reduced to ashes, dramatically changing the very landscapes that Zane Grey had helped make famous. Ultimately Grey’s cabin has been rebuilt at Rim Country Museum at Payson’s Green Valley Park, and his legacy, and the landscapes he made famous, continue to live on in the region.