Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Our Exploration of the Tonto National Forest

Our last day trip from Payson was with our friends to the Tonto National Forest east of Payson, Arizona. The logical and proper thing to do when exploring any state or federal lands is to stop at the local field office and gather as much information as possible. This was very easy, as the field office is right on Highway 260 just east of Payson on the south side.

Our friends were interested in crystals and geodes, and the rangers are always very helpful in knowing the areas they should be found. Such things are not usually shown on most maps.

The Tonto National Forest map showing our route.

We continued out east on Highway 260 for several miles until we reached the (fire) Control Road turn off. Not too far in we came across Tonto Village on the right. This is a small mountain community made up of 260 privately owned lots, and there is a small restaurant, bar and store complex to service the residents and visitors, as well as a few other services.

The Tonto Village restaurant, bar and shopping complex.

(Please excuse the small photo above as it was borrowed and cropped from another visitor's photo on Google.)

We continued on into the forest, and eventually the paved road ended. However, the bridges and other structures within the park were all top notch and in excellent condition. We passed many areas with pull-offs and turn-outs that can be used for primitive camping, and many were in use. The only problem for anyone with larger or low-profile rigs would be the burms and drainage canals at the edge of the roads created by the road graders. Our motorhome would not clear most of them as it sets lower than many other RVs. But for those with the right equipment, these make great options for camping where you can get away from "organized" campgrounds.

Part of Diamond Point Road with the Mogollon Rim in the background.

For those that don't like being too close to a road, there are many other sites that branch off the main and secondary roads where there is very little traffic. Many had much smoother entrances, and those with larger RV's could get into some of the sites. The pavement ends after a couple of miles and the rest of the roads are gravel. We found no "washboard" roads, but Diamond Point Road had a couple of sections with deep ruts from recent rains. But most vehicles could easily straddle the ruts and get through with no problem.

Wheel ruts on Diamond Point Road.

We eventually took a left turn and went onto Diamond Point Road... an area where the ranger said that crystals could often be found. About a third of the way up the road we pulled off and parked. We saw many areas where others had the same idea, as there were many digging sites in the surrounding woods. We even followed one lane farther in and found another primitive camping area where people had abused the privilege of using the property. We found rocks that were painted on, and several different types of firearms cartridges laying around (including one live .22 LR HP round), as well as broken glass and other trash.

Painting rocks in public lands is just plain vandalism!

It is unfortunate that uncaring slobs get to use the same facilities that clean, respectable individuals have to share with them. ALL garbage, from cigarette butts to glass and cans should be cleaned up and carried out, and the property left in BETTER condition than it was found if our park systems are to be kept clean and affordable for all to use! The more the park personnel have to do to clean up after people, the more manpower it is going to take and the more the expense of using the facilities will go up! But some low-lifes will never learn... or care.

The best, clearest, and largest of a half-dozen crystals we found.

Anyway, we found a few small crystals of no real consequence, and continued on up Diamond Point Road, all the way to the end at the top of that particular mountain, where we found a viewpoint of the valley below and and a locked gate, behind which was a fire tower and several antenna arrays. From there, we could see all the way back to Star Valley, east of Payson.

The fire tower and antennas on top of the hill at the end of Diamond Point Road.
One of many views from the overlook on Diamond Point Road.

After taking a few photos from the overlook, we decided we should eat, so we went back down the road, all the way back to Tonto Village. There is a small restaurant at the east end of the Village called the Double D Bar and Cafe.

The Double D Bar and Cafe at Tonto Village.

(Please excuse the small photo above as it was borrowed and cropped from another visitor's photo on Google.)

We all found a Mexican pizza on the menu in individual portions, so we all ordered the same thing. It came on a flat, thin, crisp tortilla, similar to a casadilla, and was topped with all the typical things found in a Mexican salad, as well as a melted cheese base. It was very good, and just the right amount for lunch.

From there, we continued back toward Diamond Point Road, but instead of turning left, we continued on down Control Road... just to explore. We stopped at a few other places along the route, where the ranger had said geodes are often found, but we didn't have much luck. Despite the spring rains and flash floods constantly turning up new stones, even the creek beds were void of any geodes. We were probably too close to the road, where other people had already picked over what may have been there.

One of many creek beds we explored along Control Road.

There was very little traffic on this road, and what was there, was most likely local people, judging by the types of vehicles they were driving... mostly 4WD trucks, Jeeps and ATV's designed for year-round living in that type of mountainous and often snowy country.

Another creek bed along Control Road with the mountains of the Mogollon Rim.

Somehow, after many miles, we eventually found our way to the village of Whispering Pines, at the northern terminus of Houston Mesa Road, where we finally found pavement once again. From there the road headed south, through more beautiful country. We stopped at a turn out with a view about half way back to Payson, which again overlooked Star Valley, but from a different direction. The road finally came out at the northern edge of Payson, almost directly across from the new Home Depot store.

Star Valley from Houston Mesa Road, near Payson.

By then, it was getting late in the day, and it was a Tuesday, so we stopped at Del Taco again to take advantage of their "Taco Tuesday" special... 3 tacos for $1.29. After dinner, our friends dropped us off at our other friend's house where we were parked with our motorhome, and we said our goodbyes, knowing that we had to head out soon and may not see them again for awhile.

During the nine days we stayed with our old friend whom we have known for nearly 30 years, we shared many meals, caught up on the (roughly) ten years we have not seen her and her family, and even played a few games of cards with them. It was an enjoyable time, but we prefer to limit our stays "anywhere" to a week... maybe two at the most... depending on circumstances.

We were still waiting for our mail to be forwarded (my fault for not requesting it soon enough), and it did not arrive until the second Friday we were there. However, it was a cold, windy and rainy day... a bad day to be on the road with a motorhome. Plus, we had promised to meet with another social media "new friend" at the Mazatzal Casino for breakfast one morning, so we decided to stay until Saturday morning and then leave after that breakfast.

The meeting was with a van dweller friend of another blogger, who was also staying in the Payson area, and he had found out that we were in the area as well, and wanted to meet us, so we obliged. We had a good hour and a half visit over breakfast, and then stopped to get fuel at the nearest station and headed east on 260.

We had to face our biggest obstacle yet, as far as hills go, and that was the long, steep, 1000-foot climb up the side of the Mogollon Rim. That climb goes on for several miles before it finally tops out at a forest service overlook. However, we didn't stop to look at anything, as we were already late in getting left.

The Chevy 454 P-30 chassis labored under the long climb... down to 30 MPH and second gear at times, sometimes for a mile or more, but it performed flawlessly, with no overheating. Other than needing a new serpentine belt (or at least tightening the one we have) (it squeals sometimes when the air conditioner kicks on) the motorhome has been running well with the trailer in tow. Still, we look forward to the day when we no longer need the trailer and can get down to one vehicle, or at least something lighter to tow.

After seeing some of the forest roads and camping spots, we are seeing the need for a light 4WD vehicle to use as a scouting vehicle before we actually take the motorhome into some places. We are sure that will come about in time, but not for at least a couple of years yet. We still need the trailer until we empty out both of our rental storage units... and that may take awhile!

But before we end up with a book about this particular section of our journey, let's continue it in the next post as we work our way eastward. I also need to decide on a newer updated photo for the header, as we no longer have the van. Hopefully, I will have that before the next post is published.

Thank you all for joining us on this journey. It isn't just "a trip". This is still the beginnings of our new lifestyle, and most recently in a more suitable vehicle for our travels. We appreciate any clicks on our links whether or not you purchase anything, but purchases are always good, too!

And don't forget to take a look at Sharon's blog, also, as she often has different photos with her own perspective on things. She even has been creating some "still-shot" videos for her blog! You'll find the link in the top of the side bar. Thanks again!

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