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Monday, July 23, 2018


View from the Rim Lakes Vista Trail
About halfway up the Military Sinkhole Trail, I thought of Michael Corleone. In a memorable scene from the 1972 film The Godfather, protagonist Corleone rebuffed a ride as he approached his ancestral Sicilian village for the first time, deciding to savor the experience by walking to it instead. I get it.
Mixed conifer woodlands on Military Sinkhole
There’s a sort of reverence associated with trekking to special places. A slower, boots-on-the-ground pace syncs well with epic experiences. Like the village of Corleone, the Mogollon Rim is a place best crept up to on foot.
Arizona Thistle grow in Rim-top meadows
The Rim is a roughly 200-mile escarpment at the edge of the Colorado Plateau that runs east-west across central Arizona.  It’s easy enough to drive right up to its precipitous cliffs and take an edgy, 40+-mile motor tour along Rim Road 300, but to get a better sense of the scale and structure of this geological wonder, you need to climb it from base-to-ceiling.
Shady forests define the Military Sinkhole Trail
One of the most convenient ways to do this is to hike up the Military Sinkhole Trail. 
One of many soulful sights on Rim Lakes Vista Trail.
Located 27 miles east of Payson on State Route 260, the historic route makes an aggressive, 850-foot ascent to scenic ledges on the top of the Rim. The multi-faceted route begins with a walk through deep, mixed-conifer woodlands of the Tonto National Forest. Shaded by enormous Douglas firs with their characteristic barbed cones, spruce and pines, the first mile is a cool and gentle climb.
There's little shade, but great views, on parts of the trail.
Top of the Drew Trail
Where the trail dips into drainages, canopies of Bigtooth maples cast filtered sunlight on moss-embellished boulders and mushrooms popping through carpets of pine needles and cracks in decaying logs. (Keep this one in mind for a fall foliage hike.) Beyond the maples, the forest thins out, emerging onto an exposed ridge to merge with an abandoned military road built by General George Crook in the 1870s.  Like many old roads in the area, this one plows uphill without the benefit of climb-calming switchbacks. 
Butterfly on Gregg's Ceanothus shrub.
It’s a rocky, quad-burning segment with little shade, but great views of the Mazatzal Mountains and green valleys mitigate the pain.
Defunct military road built by Gen. George Crook.
The ankle-twisting road gradually levels out as it enters a corridor of arching Gambel oaks and fields of bracken ferns.  At this point, vertical walls start to flank the trail, hinting at the enormity of thrills that follow. 
Bigtooth maples thrive in moist drainages.
With the hardest parts over and the jumbled cliffs of the Rim’s edge hovering above, the trail enters the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest for the final slog to the top.  At a signed junction just below Rim Road, Trail No. 179 continues straight ahead on a not-very-interesting path that connects with the General Crook Trail.
Limestone escarpments flank the final slog to the top.
 To reap the rewards you came for, head west (left) at the junction and follow Rim Lakes Vista Trail No. 622.
Keep this trail in mind for fall foliage hiking.
After a short traipse through a flowery meadow, breathtaking vistas and refreshing mountain breezes overwhelm the senses. 
Ferns grow waist-high in damp spots below the Rim.
The tough pilgramage culminates at scenic overlooks that frame wildland views. Here, hordes of camera-toting visitors stream from parked vehicles to stroll a few yards from the road for the same result.  However, regarding this experience; hiking is to driving as a clarinet is to a kazoo.  
Hooker's Evening Primrose blooms close by noon.
After savoring your hard-won eye candy, head back the way you came, or make an 11.7-mile loop by continuing 3.3 miles on Trail No. 622 to the Drew Trail No. 291.  Head 1.8 miles downhill to Highline Trail No. 31, turn left and hike 4.1 miles back to the trailhead.
A particularly fragrant section of the Military Sinkhole Tr.
A distinctively-barbed Douglas fir cone
LENGTH: 5 miles up-and-back or 11.7-mile loop.
RATING: moderately difficult
ELEVATION: 6750 – 7600 feet
Two-Sixty Trailhead (SR260):
From Payson, go 27 miles east (right) State Route 260 to the “Two Sixty” trailhead turn off on the left. Follow the good gravel road for a quarter-mile to the trailhead parking area where there is a restroom and a corral.
Rim Lakes Vista Trailhead (Rim Road): For an optional top-down hike. From Payson, go 30 miles east (right) on State Route 260 Rim Road (Forest Road 300). Go 2 miles on FR300 to the trailhead on the left.

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