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Tuesday, March 27, 2018


The Ortiz and Hull families of Mesa on Childress Tank Road
What do you do when you want to take friends or family with young kids or mobility issues on a hike but still want to get in a good workout? 
Childress Tank sits on a mesa below the Mogollon Rim
The answer might be found on dirt roads
that spiral off the short, barrier-free trails that cater to the “hiking lite” crowd.  One such place is the Shoofly Village Ruins north of Payson.  For years, this has been my go-to destination for introducing non-trekkers to the history and beauty that lies beneath the Mogollon Rim.  
A visitor reads a sign about an ancient room at Shoofly Village
The site offers an approachable, intriguing way to get outdoors without the preparations needed for more remote or wilderness hikes. 
Gateway to Childress Tank Road
All you need for gear is stable footwear, sun protection and a bottle of water.  The self-guided tour is outfitted with interpretive signs describing dozens of excavated ruins of a Native American community that was occupied between 1000-1250 A.D.
Southwestern lewisia blooms March -June
Stephanie Markoff of Chandler intros her dogs Kona & Louie
Although walking the roughly quarter-mile of easy trails with good company has always been a pleasure, the call of the wild sometimes left me wanting more trail time. Per the Tonto National Forest map of the Payson area, the “more” I craved was always right around the bend.  Adjacent Forest Road 1164 adds a refreshing 3.2 miles to the ruins hike. 
Eli, Annie and Jo Hull on Childress Tank Road
Although it’s too rocky for those without good balance or proper gear, the road can be a fun diversion for adults and energetic kids.  Also known as Childress Tank Road, the rugged two-track swoops through the juniper scrublands of Houston Mesa and Walnut Flat with unobstructed views of the Rim, foothills and rolling grasslands.
Twenty-two-month-old Jo Hull cries for more blueberries
Annie Hull and Anthony Ortiz of Mesa supervise snack time
To find this road, hike north from the parking lot and follow the wide dirt path to a barbed wire fence. Pass the gate and continue down the main course (go straight) to the Forest Road 1163/1164 junction. Turn right, hike one mile, take either fork at the FR 1167 junction and head toward the earthen berm of Childress Tank.  The hike has lots of interesting sights to keep antsy young ones engaged. 
Juliana Ortiz and Jo Hull take a snack break
Wildflowers, scurrying wildlife and continually-changing terrain put the kibosh on boredom.  The road ends at the stock tank where a muddy fringe of animal tracks inspires some detective work. The outdoor classroom is a fun place to try to identify prints that include elk, bobcat, skunk, deer, raccoon, coyote and of course, domestic cattle and dogs. 
I recently hiked this road with Juliana Ortiz (age 5), Eli Hull (age 3) and Jo Hull (22 months) and their parents. Juliana trekked like a pro while Eli and Jo alternated between walking and riding in kid carrier backpacks.  The boys’ mom, Annie Hull and Juliana’s dad Anthony Ortiz of Mesa, brought along plenty of water and snacks and took frequent breaks to keep the kiddos happy.  Except for one tiny meltdown---over blueberry snacks---the kids enjoyed the hike for its achievable length and entertaining qualities. The quick out-and-back trek satisfies the urge for an extra leg stretch while non-hikers can hang out at the trailhead to sketch, picnic or catch up on reading. It’s an outing that everybody can enjoy on their own terms.
Snack time.
Hiking with kids!
Juliana, Kona, Louie and Stephanie at the trailhead
Views of the Mogollon Rim dominate the hike

LENGTH:  3.2 miles roundtrip (4 miles with the ruins tour)
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 5075 - 5263 feet
From the State Route 87/26 junction in Payson, go 2 miles north on SR87 to Houston Mesa Road (Forest Road 199). Turn right and continue 2.8 miles to the Shoofly Village Ruins turnoff and follow the access road to the trailhead.  Roads are 100% paved.
An excavated room at Shoofly Village

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