|Cold War Era bunker|
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
For a short, moderate-rated trail, this one really packs a punch. It's wide, well-signed and within shouting distance of suburbia, but what's not advertised about Payson's Houston Loop is its unrelenting ups-and-downs that can catch the first-timer off guard. The quad burning workout pays off with
high point vistas of the Mogollon Rim hovering above the metal rooftops of woodland retreats. Where the trail dips into the canyons around Houston Creek, Ponderosa pine trees throw shade over moist drainages imprinted with elk tracks. Elk rarely venture more than a quarter mile from water sources, so keep an eye out for them where the trail hops over rivulets and puddles. The trail's bonus attraction is a Cold War Era curiosity known as a seismic bunker. The metal structure built into a hillside has been abandoned for years and is now under siege by local graffiti rebel forces. It's a dank, creepy place (mind the Bud Light cans underfoot) that you'll want to observe from the outside only. Beyond the den of debauchery, the trail redeems itself as it ascends an exposed ridgeline and heads into the woods. The route follows deeply rutted, dodgy 4x4 roads that are popular with bikers and ATV riders. In my experiences on this trail, the wheeled users have been responsible and courteous around hikers. With its carousel of changing scenery, history side show, challenging dips and climbs and close-to-town access, this trail makes for an entertaining Rim Country trek.
LENGTH: 4.5-mile loop from the Chaparral Ranch trailhead OR 9.6 miles roundtrip from Houston Mesa trailhead
4,800’ – 4,950’ (Chaparral) OR 4,800’ – 5,200’ (Houston Mesa)
Chaparral Ranch Trailhead: From the intersection of State Routes 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. There's parking for about 3-4 vehicles. 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 State Routes 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 & MAPS: