Payson (elev. 5,000 feet) stands at almost the exact center of Arizona. The sheer cliffs of the Mogollon Rim tower 2,000 feet above to the north. Forested mountains lie in all directions and provide many opportunities for outdoor recreation. Hikers can explore the Mazatzal Wilderness to the southwest, Hellsgate Wilderness to the east, and Sierra Ancha and Salome Wildernesses to the southeast. Trout-filled streams and stocked reservoirs lure anglers to the water. Hunters come in season to bag elk, deer, turkey, and other game. Payson (pop. 15,000) boasts a few sights of its own, and makes a good base for exploring the surrounding countryside.
It wasn't the cool climate and beautiful scenery that attracted Payson's first settlers, but the glitter of gold. Miners set up camp in 1881, though ranching and lumbering soon reigned as the most rewarding occupations. A fort provided protection against Apache raids in the precarious early years.
The town's name honors Senator Louis Edwin Payson, who had nothing to do with the community and never came here. Frank C. Hise, former postmaster, assigned the name to repay a political favor.
Novelist Zane Grey fell in love with the canyons, towering forests, and expansive views of the Rim Country. He built a lodge at the foot of the Rim in 1920, then stayed often over the next nine years, enjoying the wilderness while working on novels about the American West. His hunting expeditions secured both ideas for stories and trophies for his walls. The devastating Dude Fire burned the lodge in 1990, but you can see a reconstruction of it along with exhibits of Zane Grey's life and books at the Rim Country Museum in Payson.
Rim Country Museum
Visiting and permanent exhibits (928/474-3483, www.rimcountrymuseums.com, noon–4 p.m. Wed.–Mon. $3 adults, $2.50 seniors, $2 students 12–18) take you from the days of the earliest peoples of the region to the Apache conflicts, timber and mining operations, agriculture, and pioneer entertainment. A blacksmith shop and a 1908 kitchen portray aspects of life in early Payson. The display on Zane Grey, who produced 131 novels, has some of his books and personal belongings. The museum complex includes Payson's 1930s forest ranger's station, a 1930s forest ranger's residence (now the Museum Store and ticket office), a replica of the two-story Herron Hotel (the main exhibit hall), a replica of Zane Grey's cabin, and the upper section of the Mt. Ord Firetower. The Museum Store sells books on local and Arizona history as well as gift items. You can picnic on the tables outside or frolic in the adjacent Green Valley Park's playground and lake (electric motors okay). From AZ 87, turn west one mile on Main Street (at the chamber of commerce), turn right on Green Valley Parkway, then take the next left into the parking lot.
Museum of Rim Country Archaeology
The collection (510 W. Main St., 938/468-1128, noon–4 p.m. Wed.–Sun. $3 adults, $2.50 seniors, $2 students 12–18) displays tools, jewelry, and other prehistoric artifacts from the area along with exhibits on trade routes and archaeological techniques. A gift shop sells local crafts.
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