A Travellerspoint blog

Oct 7 - Circle Drive, Payson to Payson 145 miles

Lake Roosevelt, Tonto National Monument, Desert to Forest Drive, Sully gets a Car Wash

sunny 29 °C

We headed south from Payson, down Highway 87, which plummets 2,000 feet from the highlands to the valley below. Within a few miles the forest disappeared and we saw out first saguaro cactus. At Jake's Corner we turned onto Highway 188 and headed towards our first stop of the day...Lake Roosevelt.

Lake Roosevelt was formed when the Salt River was dammed in the late 1890's to provide year round access to water for the local area. Previously, the river would alternately flood in the spring, then run dry in the middle of summer. The dam created a year round supply of water as well as provided hydro part of the year. During construction 41 workers died, according to the sign on the overlook. An attractive structure:


The Highway 88 bridge in front of the structure is ranked as one of the top 10 bridges in America:


Lake Roosevelt's recreation areas are closed for part of the winter because it is a wintering spot for none other than Canada Geese:


People camp right on the beach here, at least when the water level in the lake permits:


Our main destination for the day was the Tonto National Monument. Here there are two cliff dwellings dating back to the 1300's, the lower one is accessible all year round, and the upper just for guided tours from November to April.

The area around the Salt river has been inhabited for 2000 years,. It is estimated that 10000 people lived in the Salt River Valley at its peak. Climate change in the 1330's made the valley less productive and forced many to leave, but one segment built dwellings in the cliffs and continued to live here until around 1450 when they too left the area. No one knows their fate, or why they abandoned their homes.

We hiked up hill (350 feet elevation gain) on a 1/2 mile trail. Steep! Along the path are many fine examples of Saguaro cactus. An sign informed us that Saguaro don't even begin to get branches until they are 75 years old and many are over 200 years old.


Of course there is the sign about how man has affected the area, particularly in the past 200 years:


The cliff dwelling are pretty spectacular, from a distance:


The climb up was very hot and we drank two bottles of water. And up close:


The view from the dwelling is pretty nice as well. The inhabitants continued to farm down on the flats by the river during their time here. As many as 60 people inhabited the lower dwelling and 80 in the upper dwelling:


After our visit to the Tonto National Monument, we drove back towards Payson on a secondary road: AZ 288, called the desert to forest scenic route, about 75 miles of switchbacks and climbing 2000 feet from the valley to the rim area. Well, with all the ups and downs on that road, we probably did the climb and descent three times. About 30 miles of it was gravel and we completely dirtied Sully. It was really interesting to see the change from desert to scrub brush to full ponderosa pine forest as we drove.

We left Payson at 9:30am and returned to town 7 hours later, at 4:30pm. We ran Sully through the car wash and spent a good half hour cleaning the inside. It looks like a Honda Pilot again, and not some dust covered lump of steel and plastic. :)

It has been a good stop here at Payson. This area has hundreds of miles of hiking trails and the views from the rim into the valley below are excellent. The temperatures down below are dropping into the high 80's beginning tomorrow and we are headed to Tucson.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 06:36 Archived in USA Tagged tonto_national_monument roosevelt_dam salt_river az288_desert_to_forest_scenic_r

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