By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 9/20/2019
Occurred: 3/10/2008
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #Payson #Snow #Travel Page Views: 787
We take the boys on a drive from desert to snow!

Last Wednesday I bought a new car. (New to me; not to the world. It's a not-very-fuel-efficient 2004 Ford Expedition.) So, of course, we had to take it out to stretch its tires this weekend, even though simply owning it is enough to melt Greenland, not to mention actually driving it. Our destination: the snow I hoped was still lying on the ground at the top of the Mogollon Rim. Our purpose: to let Zach and his friend Chris play in the snow for a couple of hours. (Yes, there are pictures!)

Our path was to be the Beeline Highway, which extends from Mesa to Payson. Michael and I used to travel this road frequently, when we lived up in Snowflake. It was our route to the airport. Then, it was a simple country highway. Now, after nearly a decade of construction, it is for much of its length a limited access highway and the trip from our house to Payson takes just a shade over an hour.

This was Michael's day to go to the opera with our friend Willis, so he didn't go with us. Besides Zachary, "we" consisted of Zach's friend Chris; his mother Jenny and Aunt Karen; their mother Mary, and their father, myself.

Our shortcut to the Beeline from East Mesa takes us out to the Salt River, where we have spent so many weekends on float trips, East on the ill-named Bush Highway, past Saguaro Lake, and onto AZ-87 which is the Beeline.

Since the drive to Payson would be so short, we stopped at Ballantine Trail Head for a "hikelette", a short stroll among the Saguaros so the little boys would be able to contrast the weather and vegetation in the Valley with what we would find on the Rim.

Zachary and Chris on Ballantine Trail. Thanks to the winter's rains, the desert blooms.

Remember, Ballantine Trail (which is also, along this stretch, Pine Loop Trail), is only about 20 minutes from our house. And it's true you can see the highway from this length of it. Still, how wonderful we can still wander into the desert with so little effort or expense! Also, note how green it all is this year. This winter's rains have been most helpful. There were a profusion of delicate desert flowers growing from the various species of cactus that line the trail.

The highlight of this trail is that it passes between many examples of giant Saguaro (pronounced "Sa-where-oh") cactus, as close to a forest of them as is possible to be. Like any cactus, they are covered with spines; but if one is careful it's possible to slip one's finger between the spines and to touch the firm surface. This doesn't hurt the tree, and given the large number of hikers who pass this way and poke at the saguaros as they do, apparently the trees don't mind it.

Chris was reticent to touch the trunks but everyone else did. We could almost feel the strength and patience of these grand old trees, most of which here are well over a hundred years old.

Jen, Zach, Karen, Chris, near a 120-year-old saguaro.

This trail is mostly level. In fact, I took my Mom on it when she was in her nineties! And it provides many opportunities for relaxing, reflection, and observation.

Paul, Jenny, Zach

After our stroll, we returned to the car and continued up the hill to Payson, watching as the outside temperature (thoughtfully reported on the dashboard by our New Car) dropped. We stopped at Payson's Burger King where we had lunch and made another stop at Walgreen's for Bonine (we had a couple of cases of car sickness) and a new ball cap for yours truly. Then we turned onto AZ-260 and drove the switchback highway up the side of the Mogollon (pronounced "Mug-a-yon") Rim. Payson is over 5000 feet above sea level. The Rim is 2000 feet higher than that.

The Mogollon Rim towers above the forests below. Parking where there be snow.

At the top, where the great Colorado Plateau begins, was a stretch of snow and some recreational areas. The roads into them were closed, but we parked near the entrance to one and got out to play in the White Stuff. The temperature was a balmy 51F.

Yes, I wore shorts. What's your point?

Paul in shorts and new cap.

My new cap says "Rim Country".

Chris, Jenny, Zach, Karen Mary: Stylishly dressed to harmonize with the snow.

Even Mary ventured into the weather, which after all wasn't really brutal. In fact, the snow was melting pretty fast though it wasn't obvious to look at it.

But it was quite deep in spots, especially between the trees. Walking on it was a challenge, because while it would usually hold a person's weight, you never knew when the next step would sink six or twelve inches. At one point, my left leg actually sank to my hip, and my shoe fell into a hidden puddle deep enough to soak it with freezing water. No one was near me at the time, but I managed to extricate myself despite having the strains of "My Heart Will Go On" run through my head.

Jenny Karen

Again, it's fine to have fun in a natural setting; but it's also an appropriate place for a little introspection.

Zach: Introspective, or just cold?

I asked Zach if he could explain why Ballantine was so warm and filled with cactus, and here on the Rim there was snow and pine trees. He didn't hesitate a moment. "It's the difference in altitude," he said. And so it is.

AZ-260 lures motorists with its scenic turns.

On our return, Jenny took over the camera and snapped photos out the windshield. Such pictures rarely "turn out" but thanks to digital cleanup later, she got some spectacular shots. On the way up, we'd been focused on getting to the rim and our snowy destination. Now, we could enjoy the scenery, well worth appreciating for its own sake.

"The Green Hills Of Earth"

Again, we were amazed at how green our normally brown desert had become.

Four Peaks, almost hidden by the nearer hill, is one of our neighborhood landmarks.

And with the appearance of our neighborhood landmark, the Four Peaks, we knew we were nearly home.

One of Arizona's many delights is the range of climates, each at its own altitude, and each accessible via a relatively short Sunday drive. This was a particularly enjoyable one.