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Monday, April 10, 2017


Stewart Creek trickles along Boulders Loop
Sometimes, a trail’s name and its reputation dovetail like a fine hewn joint. The Boulders Loop Trail in Payson is such an excellent example of this that it has earned a local moniker: “Boulderpalooza”.  And that’s not the only home-grown terminology inspired by this twisted little trail that whirls through creek-scoured back country a few miles southeast of town.
Resident trail maven, photographer and hike-stick-maker Randy Cockrell, who leads treks for the Payson Packers hike group, shared some insight into the informal names locals have bestowed upon landmarks along the route.
Hikers navigate "Boulderpalooza".
But first, let us discuss why this entertaining Payson Area Trails System (P.A.T.S.) route might also be dubbed, “Boulder Confusion”. Finding the trailhead is the first of several challenges. To get to the loop from the Monument Peak trailhead, hike 0.5 mile down FR 435 to where the gorge of Stewart Creek appears on the right. An unmarked trail on the right had been the access point, but was washed out during the heavy rains of 2016-17. Instead, continue another 0.25 mile and locate the wide, sandy ATV access point. Hike down into the gorge, veer right and look for the tiny P.A.T.S. trail sign up on the opposite bank. Scramble up the embankment to reach the loop.
The loop's north leg has great views.
Go right to hike the north loop first. This way, you’ll get all the tough climbing out of the way. This easy-to-follow section makes its ascent through a shady cypress-oak woodland. Use your huffing and puffing as good excuses to stop and view the “shark fin” rock formation and a stunning landscape emerging behind you. The trail then dives back down to meet Stewart Creek again for the first of several effortless crossings. At the one-mile point on the loop, the trail intersects “sign vortex”. This apt alias describes a clearing cluttered with both forest service and PATS signs of wood, Carsonite composite and plastic tree emblems. Ignore the magical forces attempting to get you lost. Go left. Now on the south leg of the loop, the terrain changes from forest to an exposed pocket of granite heaps weather-sculpted into fanciful forms that resemble a certain cartoon mouse, dragons and bowling balls. There’s also the “world-famous Butt Crack Rock”. (Okay---that last name was on me.) The rocky corridor can be difficult to navigate. This past winter was not kind to the usually impeccable signage, plus, tight curves, slippery descents and tangent social trails might cause some head-scratching.
Randy Cockrell of Payson ponders the mystery circles.
Hang in there, though. Once through the maze, you’ll spot signs to get you back on the main course. 
Near the end of the loop, a massive slab of peachy granite bears mysterious circular impressions.
Certainly, there’s a scientific explanation for the curious pock marks. However, it’s more fun to toss around theories of space aliens, blunt-footed dinosaurs or freak forces of nature. Summon your creative energies because this is a phenomenon in need of a name.

LENGTH: 4 miles
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 4550’- 4750’
Butt Crack Rock
From the intersection of State Routes 87/260 in Payson, turn right and go less than a mile east on SR260 to Granite Dells Road (located just past the Safeway center). Turn right and go 3.3 miles on Granite Dells Road (which will turn into Forest Road 435 after 1.3 miles) and park at the Monument Peak trailhead on the left.


Unknown said...

Enjoyed the article. Good writing!

Walt said...

I just completed this trail and fortunately followed the advice of another's post advising to hike this trail counterclockwise. I have seen this trail rated from moderate to difficult. The correct label is illusive. If you are in any kind of shape, the moderate depiction is probably accurate. However, if you don't do any regular exercise, I would advise you find another trail. The first half of the trail is pretty taxing unless you're in good shape. I'm 68 years old and have had two heart attacks. After my GPS said I had reached a mile I wondered if I overestimated my capabilities. The incredible views gave me a second wind. Gratefully, the last 2 miles were a walk rather than a hike. My decision to continue was rewarded with incredible mountain views, strewn with huge boulders. The trail itself was really well marked and in pristine condition. The only litter I encountered was an empty plastic water bottle that appeared to have fallen into an irretrievable crevice. Additionally, I only saw one other person on the trail. I was delighted by the solitude and equally bewildered by the lack of other travelers. I went on a Sunday morning with the temperatures in the mid seventies. I have hiked all over the Payson area and this is now my favorite trail.