Travel Hooray – Arizona Hiking: Shannon Gulch


FR 74 leads into Shannon Gulch

More than
2,000 feet above where the East Verde River crosses State Route 87 north of
Payson, snowmelt and rainwater that will eventually drain into Arizona’s rivers
and streams begins with a journey through porous escarpments before spilling
through springs at the base of the Mogollon Rim. 

The shrubby folds of Shannon Gulch

Below the Rim’s vertical cliffs that rise to
over 7,000 feet and make a 200-mile, east-west stretch through central Arizona,
an edgy, almost claustrophobic territory of high mesas, dizzying gorges and backwoods
is home to a maze of tributary creeks and drainages that feed into the East
Verde River which in turn flows into the Verde and Salt Rivers, two of
Arizona’s most important water sources. 

Mogollon Rim vistas from the road’s highpoint

A hike through this tangled, geologically and botanically diverse region
is as much an origin story as it is a walk in the woods.

Milk Ranch Point, promontory on the Mogollon Rim

While the nearby
50+ mile Highline Trail, which is part of the Arizona National Scenic Trail,
clings to the craggy Rim walls, the terrain farther downhill is a more bucolic,
less precipitous place.

rough dirt roads venture into this scenic slice of hilly watershed.

Oak, cypress and junipers line FR 74

One to try
is Forest Road 74 which makes a dive into the green folds of Shannon Gulch to explore
a cloistered pocket of backcountry east of the popular Water Wheel recreation
sites on Houston Mesa in Tonto National Forest.

The downhill section of FR 74 feature great views

The trek
begins at a dirt turnout on Control Road (Forest Road 64), a historical route
that traces the base of the rim for 23 miles between State Route 87 and just
south of the town of Pine and State Route near Christopher Creek.  From the small parking area, the hike heads
south following FR 74. The road is open to motorized vehicles capable of handling
its rocky, twisted course, but hikers have the advantage of savoring the many
natural features that unwind along the way.  

The backroads below the Mogollon Rim are scenic treasures

Cedar Mesa dominates the horizon on FR 74

Wide and easy to follow, the road hike begins
with an easy walk through junipers and scrub oaks with the impressive bluff of
Milk Ranch Point jutting skyward to the north and views of the Rim extending to
the eastern horizon.  Over the first
half-mile of hiking, the road inches up it to its highpoint where a short spur
leads to a lookout mound with far-reaching views.  The panoramic vistas are swallowed up as the
road begins a 500-foot descent along the edge of Shannon Gulch.

A grove of cypress trees grow near the bottom of Shannon Gulch

Making an
abrupt cut in the landscape 12 miles north of Payson, the gulch is lodged
between the hulking flattop of Cedar Mesa (5,542 feet) to the west and the
Diamond Rim and the ragged valley cut by Webber Creek and to the east.  The rough-cut road spirals downhill passing
root-tangled eroded cliffs and patches of tight-packed manzanita shrubs. 

See-forever vistas from the road to Shannon Gulch

After rounding a couple of bends, dramatic views
of the Mazatzal Mountains open up to the south while the imposing nose of Cedar
Mesa looms overhead.  At the 2-mile point,
the road meets a junction with Forest Road 1582. This makes for a good
turnaround point, but to ad length, veer right to stay on FR 74 which continues
another 3.2 miles briefly following the course of Webber Creek over Deer Flat and
hopping the jumbled cut of Cherry Creek before ending at a barely there turnout
on State Route 87 just north of the East Verde River.

LENGTH:  5.2 miles one way or 4 miles round trip to FR 1582.

RATING:  moderate

ELEVATION:  5,400- 4,800 or 5,400 – 4,916 to FR 1582


From the
State Route 87/260 junction in Payson, go 12 miles north on SR 87 to milepost
265 (2 miles north of the turnoff for Tonto Natural Bridge State Park to
Control Road (Forest Road 64).

Turn right
and continue 3.3 miles to Forest Road 74 on the right. Park in the dirt
turnout.  Control Road is maintained dirt
suitable for all vehicles.  

Tonto Recreation Alliance

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