The weather of the past week has made it clear: fall is nearly upon us. For those who love to hike, it’s time to think about where we want to go to enjoy the wonderful fall colors. Many of these hiking areas also have some terrific history. Let’s take a look at some spots very near the Rim, going from west to east across Rim Country.
During much of the 20th century Fossil Creek was diverted from its natural course to feed the Childs and Irving hydroelectric plants. In 2005 normal water flow was restored. This was still a very scenic area though. A main roadway was put through there in the mid 1920s. It became a scenic route and was advertised in the 1960s as part of a loop from Phoenix up through Payson to Camp Verde and back down today’s I-17. Fossil Creek Canyon was described this way in the May 21, 1963 Arizona Republic.
“The pastoral mood ends here. The road takes you along the edge of a gorge 2,000 feet deep. Brilliant red rock formations crowd the deep valley. At the bottom of the Canyon, you ease along past the cottonwood-shaded Irving Hydroelectric Plant of the Arizona Public Service Company; a modern addition in strong contrast to the petrified objects that have been hardening in Fossil Creek for thousands of years.”
There is also a hot springs nearby with the remnants of a wonderful resort that was built in 1930 and burned in the early 1960s. Due to road closures, you cannot drive the route straight through to Camp Verde like you were once able to, but there are still plenty of hiking opportunities.
Tonto Natural Bridge
David Gowan is generally credited with being the first white person to have come across this incredible natural wonder. Gowan was a miner from Scotland who settled the area around the bridge. In the late 1890s his nephew David Gowan Goodfellow arrived from Scotland, fell in love with the area, and patented the bridge in 1921.
The wonderful historic lodge at the bridge was built in the 1920s and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Trails abound with incredible natural beauty.
Rim Trail/Washington Park area
During the 1880s efforts were made to build a railroad that would connect Flagstaff with Globe. It was called the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad and was to come through the Payson area. Excitement abounded, but ultimately the railroad never came. However the start of a tunnel did come and that makes for one of the more scenic hikes in the area. It is reachable from either the Washington Park Trailhead under the Rim or from FR 300 on top of the Rim. Numerous other trails are located in this area, including one to an old fish hatchery that existed for a brief time in the 1930s, established by Elmer Pieper and Jay Vann. There aren’t many signs left of the old hatchery, but the area is very beautiful.
The Rim Trail subdivision, which you’ll pass through when headed to the Washington Park Trailhead, was patented by Bartolomeo Belluzzi in 1909, and his son Bert later patented the area now known as Beaver Valley.
Less than a mile from where Zane Grey’s Cabin was located prior to burning in the 1990 Dude Fire is Tonto Creek. The Highline Trail cuts through the landscape, offering a variety of hiking opportunities around it. Go west on the Highline Trail from the Tonto Fish Hatchery Road and be just south of the old cabin site and the old A.L. Babe Haught Homestead. Haught was one of Zane Grey’s guides and a well-respected hunter in the area. You can also take the trail that he used to go on top of the Rim, the Babe Haught Trail, which will give you a great view of the area.
Less than a mile east from Tonto Creek lays Dick Williams Creek, a tributary of Tonto Creek. Not a whole lot is known about the man that this creek was named for. He may have been a Hashknife cowboy who changed his name upon coming to the area.
Further east is Horton Creek, named for L.J. Horton who was there around the time of the Pleasant Valley War.
At the headwaters of Tonto Creek is the Tonto Fish Hatchery, which was built during the 1930s and provides fish for many streams across the region.
Located in the Christopher Creek area See Canyon is another great spot for fall colors. It gets its name from the See family, which lived in the area at some point prior to 1900. That’s where the story gets fuzzy. It’s generally been believed that John See and his wife Annie were the ones who lived there. Some variations on the story allege that John killed Annie in this area, though records seem to indicate that the alleged murder actually occurred in Tonto Basin. I’ve never been able to find a record that affirmatively puts the Sees there, but it’s clear that they were in the region and likely there at one point.
Ernest Sweat patented land in See Canyon in 1924, though it’s important to note that this land primarily encompasses where Mountain Meadow Ranch is. See Canyon Summer Homes was put in by the Forest Service in the early 1950s and later became deeded land. See Canyon was one of several Forest Service leased subdivisions built during that era.
The Kiser family bought Sweat’s property in the late 1920s or early 1930s and reportedly they did some bootlegging there. A hike to the See Canyon Spring makes that statement seem pretty plausible, as there’s plenty of places where you could hide stills.
Frenchman Isadore Christopher, who branded CI and had a mail order bride, first settled Christopher Creek itself. When he left, John Bowman settled at Christopher Creek and patented the land in 1917 that now forms the heart of the area.