There is so much more to Arizona than the hard and arid valley surrounding Phoenix. Today I broke out of the Valley of Hell and drove to a part of the state where I had never been before - the mountains around the beautiful little town of Payson.
A friend had invited me to spend today at the cabin she and her husband own outside of Payson. I had good directions and set off early this morning for the two-hour drive (115 miles). The road climbed steadily out of Phoenix and led through some very beautiful country. At one point the giant Saguaro cacti were so numerous and thick that they resembled a large, bony forest. There were also several miles where the road was bordered by large, smooth, copper-colored rocks like those that line a big portion of Highway 8 as it winds its way toward San Diego. And there was lots of greenery, and plenty of wonderful cool air.
I stopped for breakfast in Payson before heading off for the ten mile drive toward my friend's cabin in the hills. I was wearing a tee-shirt that my sister brought me from Sloppy Joe's in Key West, which led to a prolonged conversation with the lady who served me my breakfast. She loved Key West as much as I do. Then I was off to find the cabin.
Unfortunately, that never happened. I got into the right community, but could not locate the errant street sign that would have pointed me toward my goal. I did find a couple of low-water bridges with clear mountain water flowing over them, and I crossed several cattle guards. I noted a sign that said the area was "Open Range."
The area that I explored reminded me of McDonald County, Missouri. There was lots of beautiful greenery, especially tall pine trees which were punctuated with small tourist encampments that seemed to have no order or plan. There were also sudden pockets of what appeared to be extreme poverty - rusty trailers, and tarps strung between trees. The dirt roads were buzzing with young people stacked dangerously onto four-wheelers.
I drove down two long roadways looking for Juniper Street - with no luck. I also stopped several tourists and a few others who appeared to be locals, but no one knew the little lane was located. To complicate matters, there was no cell phone service in the area, so I was unable to contact my friend directly.
But I did have a nice time exploring the scenic area. I got out of my car and walked along the mountain streams. (That was a high point. The low point came when I visited a filthy public restroom at a state park - and eight hours later I can still smell it!)
Aside from never reaching my goal, the trip was pleasant and showed me a part of Arizona that I would have otherwise missed during my stay in the Scorpion State. The outing was well worth the tank of gas that powered me on my tour!