Wind rushing through the tops of ponderosa pines sounds like a flowing river, one of the distinctive sounds of the Mogollon Rim. Nestled deep in a forested canyon, C.C. Cragin Reservoir (formerly Blue Ridge Reservoir) offers campers and explorers a piece of paradise — in addition to securing Payson’s water future.
This scenic high-country lake rests 30 miles above Strawberry just off Highway 87. The reservoir and campground support numerous activities, from spring to mid-fall, including fishing, hiking, boating, sightseeing and photography. Avid campers will find C.C. Cragin Reservoir a secluded, peaceful, and beautiful location.
The Salt River Project operates the long, narrow, deep reservoir, fed by one of the wettest watersheds in the state. SRP pumps the reservoir nearly dry every summer, putting the water into a pipeline that leads to the headwaters of the East Verde River. From there, the water flows down to the Verde River and into reservoirs near Phoenix. As a result of the fluctuations in water levels in the reservoir, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has removed the bag limit for trout taken from the reservoir this year — since SRP intends to nearly empty the reservoir to do maintenance work on the dam and pumping system. Game and Fish will take advantage of the low water to work on the boat launching ramps.
For those looking to spend more than a day at the reservoir, Rock Crossing Campground is conveniently located a few miles from the water. The campground offers some camping conveniences such as bathrooms, tables, fire rings and water. Limited space is available, but the dusty roads are worth traveling once you reach this quiet and majestic site.
Sharon Lins, a yearly camper and outdoorsperson said that the campground is “a wholesome party atmosphere.” She explained that she liked how the camp location was quiet, clean and great for fellowshipping with others.
Similarly, for those who love to kayak, canoe or paddle-board, the blue-green water of C.C. Cragin Reservoir allows for an easy and scenic ride. For those who prefer hiking, a section of the Arizona Trail runs right alongside the campground. Just walking to the dam from the boat launch offers a nice jaunt.
The C.C. Cragin dam itself remains one of the primary attractions to this unique and popular area. The Blue Ridge Dam was originally constructed by the Phelps Dodge Corporation during the 1960s to provide water for the company’s copper mine located in Morenci through a water swap with SRP. The crescent-shaped dam is supported by concrete that stretches 170 feet high and 490 feet wide.
When the lake is full, the reservoir contains a depth of about 100 feet and covers 15,000 acre-feet. A terraced-like construction reinforces the back of the dam, protecting the formation from erosion.
In the future, C.C. Cragin Reservoir will supply water to Northern Gila County areas, including Payson.