Thursday, May 19, 2016

Exploring in Tonto National Forest


Our main focus when going to Payson was to visit an old friend we have known for nearly thirty years. Our visit included a lot of bonus things we were not expecting during those nine days. Not only did we play cards with our friend and her daughter and son-in-law, we also visited during dinner with her son, and even got to see photos of flowers from and talk on Facetime with her other daughter who lives in the northwest.  And during a couple other evenings, we also watched several shows on HGTV, and episodes of Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and Dancing with the Stars, the latter of which featured several dance couples who received perfect scores all across the board.

One day we looked through the kitchen window and in the middle of the bird bath was a large bird setting on a rock just as peaceful as could be. None of us were sure what kind he was.  He was all white, and much larger than the size of a dove or a pigeon, but he was in no hurry to vacate the bird bath. The next time I looked out the window, he was gone, and we did not see him again while we were there.

Tonto National Forest

It was May 3rd, actually a lovely, sunny, not too hot, not too cold, kind of day when our friends picked us up in their 4WD pickup and we headed east out of Payson to explore in the Tonto National Forest. Payson, if I have not mentioned it, is surrounded by the Tonto National Forest. Our friends were interested in looking for crystals and geodes, so we stopped at the Ranger Station as we headed east out of town on Route 260. The ranger was very knowledgeable in telling us the best places where people find these gems, and providing us maps for the area. Checking at the local ranger station when exploring new areas is always a great idea.  There may be dangers as well as sightseeing opportunities of which you are not aware, and the maps may also have information for primitive camping in the area.

The names of these forest roads have not yet sunk into my brain, but having the map from the Ranger Station was a great aid. We made a left off the highway on (Fire) Control Road. As we drove by Tonto Village, we made a mental note of a little restaurant/bar/grocery combination, just in case we were still in that area if or when hunger struck. Soon after that, the pavement ended.

First we explored for Crystals

There was a site on the map marking the area people search for crystals. At this time of year, we were not allowed to do any major digging other than with small hand tools. On the other hand, we were allowed to pick up specimens on the surface. There were some places where other people had dug and never bothered to cover the area where they had dug. Crystals are clear, but if they are covered with mud, you have to train your eye on what to look for. It is possible to find them in sizes ready to mount, yet many may be smaller and possibly broken.

Did we find any?

Here is a picture of the nicest, clearest one I found –

Nicest, clearest crystal I found compared to a penny

This was truly another adventure – and I would not recommend it if you are not equipped with a 4WD vehicle. The video below will show some forest roads that we traveled. This was on a dry day. If it had recently rained, the surface would probably appear much different.

Overlook at the end of Diamond Point Road

A sign along Diamond Point Road said there was an overlook up ahead, so we continued on to find it. Highway 260 from the overlook was out of sight, but the view below over the valley was awesome. It was possible to get photos of trees at the higher elevation with the valley below. Trees, living and dead, created some impressive pictures against the landscape. There was also an off-limits fire tower and antenna on the mountain top. As a matter of fact, when John and I left Payson, we could see the fire tower and antenna perched high on top of the mountain above us on the north side of the road. We recognized these as being the ones we photographed on this outing.

Muddy Tracks

Muddy, but negotiable tracks on Diamond Point Road
We encountered some muddy looking deep tracks on some of the forest roads. That is why it is best to have a 4WD vehicle when exploring, especially if it's raining. Interestingly, the road was smooth in other places. As we continued to explore off road we found a washed-out road and a small tree across the road. Since the three of us could not begin to budge the tree, it was necessary to back up and take another fork.  I am always on the look out for wildflowers, and this trip was no exception nor disappointment.

Dead Trees and Trunk Barks

So much beauty is in the forest! All we had to do was look. We saw different kinds of bark on the trees. Some dead trees looked like they had a story to tell just by looking at them. In some areas, there were piles of trimmed branches where it looked like the forestry service was thinning out or doing what they do to preserve the forest. It was amazing to me to see the number of dead trees in various sizes that were left standing. Their barren, naked, look really stood out among the live trees and surrounding greenery. It was as if they became the focal point.

Tree in the Forest
Lunch Break at the Double D

We took time for a lunch break and retraced our route back to the little restaurant/bar/grocery at Tonto Village that we had driven past earlier in the day when we entered the forest.  We enjoyed a tasty Mexican pizza, made from scratch, and ate it in the dining area. To get to the restrooms, we walked through the bar area. In the bar area, peanuts in their shells were setting around in small buckets for customers to nibble. We sampled a few and, like everyone else had done, threw the shells on the floor. The ceiling area of the small bar had caps attached everywhere.  The entire ceiling was covered. A note at the door told clientele that alcoholic beverages were allowed on the porch, but not off of the porch, nor in the parking area.

Stream Beds and Geodes

After leaving the restaurant, we continued our trek on Control Road. Most stream beds where we stopped were dry. Some beds had been washed out and had limb debris within their walls. Others seemed to travel a greater distance as far as the eye could see. One particular stream bed had many different-sized rocks. In fact, as we walked we began to hear some buzzing and soon realized there was an area with bees, so we gave them plenty of room and retraced our steps.  They did not bother us other than to let us know they were there.

One of the stream beds we explored
Another area near a rock type of wall, we found more rock specimens, some very nice and sort of round. Geodes, we learned, are not all alike. The locale where they are found affects their makeup. Some geodes if not broken can be shaken and a sound can be heard. Most of the rocks we identified as geodes did not make any sound if shaken. Many already broken, had a hard lighter color surface inside.

The Mogollon Rim and more…

Mogollon Rim
The Mogollon (mo-ge-on) Rim came into view several times during the day from different views. It is a rim that appears around the highest point of the mountain range, with the sky above it. It is way above the greenery of any valley below.

As we continued sightseeing, we saw a few areas where people were camping in individual dry campsites. Some selective spots could have accommodated a motorhome. The biggest problem would be getting over the ridge on the roadside created by a plow.

If we saw a trail leading off of the forest road, it was not uncommon for us to check it out. This is how we happened on to a special memorial. It was in memory of the firefighters who lost their lives in the Duke Forest Fire.

Eventually, our road turned to blacktop and we drove through a settlement called Whispering Pines. We came upon a sign that said something about a water wheel or mill, so we turned around. It was a walking trail, but when we saw the fee was $8 per person, that convinced us to change our mind and continue on our route. As we turned around, we noticed a beautiful, high cliff across the road, not to be confused with the Mogollon Rim, however. The high cliff was beautiful, but totally different in appearance from the rim.

The overlook at Star Valley afforded us even more views in Tonto National Forest as we continued our route back into Payson.

This has been a quick review of our day exploring in Tonto National Forest. It was a gorgeous day and it was our last outing before we left Payson. Click on the video If you would like to see photos of many of the things and more that I described above.

When we arrived back in Payson, we were on the Houston-Mesa Road, which brought us out across from the new Home Depot. It was time to celebrate another fun day, so we headed for Del Taco to enjoy their Tuesday night special – 3 tacos for $1.29.

When we left Payson we headed for both new and familiar territory. A word of caution, though -- You may want to “eat” some of my photos in the next post.

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