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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

HOUSTON LOOP

One of the Seismic Bunkers
HOUSTON LOOP Payson During the Cold War Era, Payson was a prime location for spying on the "commies"-- and the remains of a couple of seismic bunkers used in the cause still stand in the forests along the Houston Loop Trail. Perhaps they were/are associated with the Tonto National Forest Seismological Observatory, I’m not sure. What I was able to glean from the paltry historical public records is that the bunkers were used to house equipment that measured the rumblings of nuclear weapon testing across the globe. Kewl. It’s stuff like this that makes hiking the little trails like Houston Loop so much fun. Sure, it’s short and kinda easy, but few hikes offer a nostalgic glimpse of a time when the world was held hostage by  Atom-Bomb hysteria.  Although accessible, I did not explore within the one bunker I located because it smelled like, oh I don’t know---urine, maybe? This has not deterred beer-toting graffiti hooligans from lying siege to this relic of our great nation’s 1950-60s “duck and cover” days--as evidenced by a bevy of empty Bud Light cans littering the area. They've turned this idyllic woodland into a squalid kingdom of debauchery. Heed their crudely scrawled advise and "leave this place". But, I do digress--back to hiking. A pleasant stroll, this little loop connects with the longer Houston Mesa Trail and offers nice views of the chaparral-pine forests surrounding Payson. The route crosses two seasonal creeks—Mayfield and Houston---where water flows during spring snowmelt season and after rainstorms. The trail is wide, well signed and has only a few steep segments, making for a quick, carefree hike. I did this in combination with the Goat Camp Ruins Trail (see separate blog entry), which connects to the Houston Trail. From there, hike about 2 miles east to the Houston Loop. LENGTH: 4.5-mile loop from the Chaparral Ranch trailhead OR 9.6 miles roundtrip from Houston Mesa trailhead ELEVATION: 4,800’ – 4,950’ (Chaparral) OR 4,800’ – 5,200’ (Houston Mesa)
BEST SEASON: September - May RATING: moderate GETTING THERE: CHAPARRAL RANCH TRAILHEAD: From the intersection of SR 87/260 in Payson, go right (east) onto 260 and continue 2.4 miles to Chaparral Pines Drive. Turn left (north) and go 1.2 miles to the Chaparral Ranch Trail access turnout. Parking is very limited--room for 3-4 cars max. Do not block private driveways in the area. Large groups should access this trail via the Houston Mesa Trailhead. HOUSTON MESA TRAILHEAD: From the intersection of SR 87/260 in Payson, go 1.7 miles north on 87 to Houston Mesa Road. Turn right (east) and continue 0.8 mile to the trailhead on the right (past the “horse camp”). From here, follow Houston Trail 3 miles to the loop. INFO: http://www.paysonrimcountry.com/MountainRecreation/HikingTrails/PaysonAreaTrailsSystem.aspx

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