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December 09, 2019


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I feel genuinely sorry for children who didn't grow up with these sorts of freedoms and experiences. Likewise, we got to roam freely, with the only "rule" being to come home when the whistle at the volunteer fire department blew at noon and 6 PM. It was pretty much Mayberry.

And we would periodically get "farmed out," in the summer, i.e., sent to relatives' farms to run wild with cousins in rural settings.

Wonder when parents got scared of life and the real world?

Jon. Good piece. You were a fortunate kid.

Currently Ruben in this blog is hiding out in Payson but will meet you at Starbucks. Retired Arizona Columnist and author Don Dedera lives up the road from Ruben.

In 1950 i was at Camp Geronimo for a week. It was a terrible experience. That same year i went with the Boy Scouts to Crown King and got lost for a while.

I guess some of you all got that "Mayberry" experience. I discovered it when i watched American Graffiti.

In 54 i finally couldnt take the home infused religiosity, so i took my Arizona Republic paper route savings and boarded a Greyhound bus near 5th and Jefferson.

I went back and forth for a while. But finally settled on the Great Sonoran Desert. I still enjoy the scenery on a drive from The Superstitions to Payson on occassion. Generally on a Tuesday. That's also the best day to ride a bicycle to Payson and on to Happy Jack.

Here's to the Sajuaro's and 2020

Sweet memory of youth was doing business with the store offering the largest selection of penny candy. Thick and long pretzels came in two's and one also got two scoops of red hots for this cost.

Riding a bicycle to location had parents nod of approval as long as we stopped and looked both ways before crossing the street. Not doing so could have deadly consequences.

My Dad and I visited the original Cabin before the roads were paved. I remember the trips to Kohl’s Ranch and Wood’s Canyon Lake. My folks purchased land there ( with Native America ruins }and built a home after my sister and I left the nest and then became pillars of the community; the church overflowed at my Father’s memorial service.
Problem was that there was never ever any follow-on industry or development for the future.
We moved my Mom to more accommodating pastures a few years ago. My sister and I couldn’t drop everything and travel to provide support.
Despite many friends (and indeed, those that established the
wonderful Public Library) it wasn’t enough.
Her memorial (when it happens) and the scattering of her and my Father’s ashes will take place (probably in Granite Dells) when the day comes.
I loved Payson. I can still remember the smell and glow of the sawmill when coming over the hill).
I don’t look forward to my upcoming, last visit.
Like the wonderful city I grew up in, it’s been ruined.

Cal, the Camp Geronimo you were at was where the Forest Service Campground near Kohl's Ranch is now. I haven't gone into that campground in many years, but in the 1960s there were foundations of some of the Scout camp buildings still extant.

In 1956 the BSA Roosevelt Council (Phoenix) acquired the 5000-acre Spade Ranch nestled in a heavily forested bowl beneath the Mogollon Rim's Milk Ranch Point and Lee Johnson Butte. The confluence of the east and west forks of Webber Creek were on the property. Camp Geronimo was transferred to this site and is there still: A magical place for boys. (And scarily fun, too, with stories told under a dark sky and around dying embers of encounters with the Mogollon Monster, Arizona's own Sasquatch. The cabin east of Payson attacked one night in 1942 by a band of the cryptic primates!! Yikes! Sleep well, boys...)

I was at the "new" Camp Geronimo every summer from 1961 to 1965, and Payson was as Jon describes. (When my family first traveled up the Beeline Highway in 1959, paving work was still in progress though mostly finished.) The town pretty much ended at St. Philip's Drive; the intersection of 87 and 260 was about a mile north of town.

Arizona logged about 1.3 million residents in the 1960 census, but even in 1960 the campground at Kohl's Ranch would fill up on summer weekends. (Less refrigeration and much more swamp cooling in Phoenix in those days... people wanted to get away to the mountains.)

More recently arrived Arizonans may not even realize it, but a heavy Ponderosa pine forest cloaked the area below the Rim as well as on top of it. Much of this was lost in the 28,000-acre Dude Fire (as well as the lives of six firefighters) in June 1990.

Ponderosa pine regenerates very slowly from the edges of burn scars, and with hotter conditions in the 5000-6000 foot zone below the Rim, the Ponderosas may not regenerate at all. The recovery has been to brush, not pines, and scrub-oak-and-locust brush may be the indefinite future of our now not very contiguous Ponderosa pine forest.

In the late 1950s there had been a 5000-acre fire on Roberts Mesa, near Kohl's ranch. The Forest Service thought this burn to be so exceptional that they put up an interpretive sign where one of the back roads intersected the burn scar.

Today a 5000-acre fire barely merits a sentence in the Republic, if any mention at all. In 1990 nature upped fire by an order of magnitude, and I mourned the loss of those 28,000 acres of mature Ponderosa pines between Payson and the Rim. It seemed a catastrophe. In the 2000s nature again upped fire by another order of magnitude, and now the Dude was dwarfed by the half-million-acre-plus Rodeo-Chedeski and Wallow Fires.

What is new are the entire-stand-clearing fires. I could never have imagined that fire would clear the Ponderosa pines off entire mountain ranges, as has been the fate of Sky Islands such as the Catalinas, northern Mazatzals, and Chiricahuas.

We took fire out of the forests where it once occurred on much smaller scales, allowing a deadly buildup of fuels, put fire into the Sonoran Desert where it had never been, and stirred in anthropogenic heat.

As a kid and scout I experienced Arizona's back country in boots-on-the-ground fashion just as Jon did. It was a land filled with wonder and beauty, and, I might add, not overrun with recreationists and their machines, waste, and garbage.

It's gone forever, and it isn't coming back.

Strangers abducting children is STILL exceedingly rare. You mentioned that AZ has 909 open missing persons cases, but how many of those were kids taken from their front yards (or the woods) by strangers? Playing outdoors is actually safer for kids now than it was when you were a child, but parents have been scared by media into believing the world is very dangerous.

Ok Alana

Alana,that number jumped out at me too.So I did some research.According to KGUN News there were 138 missing children cases in Az. ,although even one is too many.I have to agree,our 24 hour news cycle makes parents afraid of their shadows.

The "Dude Ranch Fire" was horrible. The firefighters were issued these new insulated foil bags that they kept folded on their turnouts. If they found themselves in a situation where they couldnt retreat fast enough to out run the approaching blaze, they were to climb into the bags, lay on the ground and allow the fire to pass over them. Unfortunately, the large amount of fuel on the ground created a much hotter, slower moving fire. Conditions inside the bags became horrific, resulting in a number of them climbing out of the bags and running for their lives. Those who ran, perished. Most of those who remained in the foil bags were horribly burned. One of those who perished was the female prison guard in charge of the fire crew. Those that survived asked Rose Mofford for commutation of their sentences. She refused.

I have lived coast to coast originally from New Jersey and upstate New York and Payson is my home.I have been to 32 different schools in my childhood, nothing compares to the neighborhoods and the loving support a Payson. I love Payson I truly truly love Payson. Thank you for loving us myself and my four children included. Merry Christmas and Happy New year.!!!!!!!

For 17 years WE have called PAYSON home!!!!! Now we are in desperate NEED OF A HOME!!! MY CHILD AND I!!! (Plus an older dog (12yrs old). . Please help us!!!!!


Made me think about Cal and Jon et al.

Thanks Mark. Yep Powell had keen insight. I have read a number of thoughts about Powell's vision.
At nearly 80 i continue to repeat myself alot but as i have said before, it was all T R.'s fault. He had to get involved in dam building when he should have made all of NM and AZ a National Roadless Wilderness.
And Nevada also.

Oh well? Guess I'll slip my DVD of
"A Voice in the Wilderness" into the player for tonite and see if i can call up the spirit of Edward Abbey to save our ignorant asses.


Joe Schallan, as late as 1967 the council was utilizing the "old" Camp Geronimo east of Payson for summer camp - I remember going there with my troop that year. As I recall, it was billed as more of a roots camping experience, without the tent platforms, iron cots, and big camp stoves of the "new" Camp Geronimo. I think we had to dig our own latrine. There was only one building on the site, which functioned as the PX/Post Office/first aid station. It was more laid-back and less crowded than the "new" Geronimo, where we were always outnumbered by Troop 5 from Mesa. They always brought the most people, and had all the swish gear.

You remember a "Biker Zoo" or a road side zoo run by bikers, somewhere on the beeline on the way up?

Great column. Enjoyed your memories of Payson from back in the Day. And cool to read about Billy Warren, who I remember well from Kenilworth and from Cub Scouts!

While living in Wisc, In the 70s, backpacked the north Mazatzals, talked with old prospector on the banks of American Gulch, swam in it (didn't know it was effluent). Moved to AZ in 73 & Was working for ADEQ up there when Dude happened. Feel super blessed I got to spend time up there while getting paid. Took son's scout troop backpacking (but camping alongside Horton Spring ain't really roughing it, is it?)

Thanks for the memories. Loved going to "old Payson" with the saw mill and the ox bow and the unpaved roads.

W 0 W! You totally nailed it! I spent many summers up in “The White Mountains”, or up on “The Rim”. As I read your memories, I felt like I could smell the pines, the Christopher Creek grapevines, and C”campfires! We had a place outside of Payson. So many fun filled days exploring the whole area! Later, my family bought land in the Pinetop C. Club area, so we got to explore all over there too! Thanks so much for sharing your sweet memories with me! Shelley

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