After years of hiking in the mossy woodlands of upstate New York, Randy Cockrell made short work of finding his stride on the Grand Canyon state’s trails, joining a four-decade-old hiking group called the Payson Packers just after moving here with his wife, Connie.
“We’d hiked regularly with a group in Adirondack State Park, so it was natural for us to seek out a hike group here,” Cockrell says. “If it weren’t for hiking, I’d be the closest thing to a hermit. Joining the Packers was a great way for us to meet people and learn about our new home.”
The Cockrells – both 20-year U.S. Air Force veterans who served in the field of electronic communications – fell in love with the communities around the Mogollon Rim after visiting Randy’s brother in Pine.
Although the Packers don’t have an official online presence, it’s not too difficult to link up with the group through somebody-who-knows-somebody on social media.
“The C-group hikes are usually – for me – easy or medium in difficulty. We have a good time, stopping often to catch our breath, to look around and to snap photos,” Cockrell says of the 5- to 6-mile hikes he leads.
A fan of hikes that include water, mountains and caves, Cockrell recommends a trek that includes all three. “A great June hike is atop the Mogollon Rim/East Clear Creek beginning at Jones Crossing. [It’s] very pretty, featuring a trail which follows the course of the creek, abundant wildflowers and butterflies, high cliff walls with interesting rock formations, and… a cave, tall, narrow and very shallow, with sculpted walls and cool air blowing out to refresh hot hikers.”
IF YOU GO
LENGTH: Variable, but it’s 5.2 miles one-way to the Poverty Draw side canyon.
RATING: Easy, with several creek crossings
ELEVATION: 6,850-7,050 feet
GETTING THERE: From the intersection of State Routes 260/87 in Payson, go north on SR87 past Pine-Strawberry to milepost 289 and the sign for Jones Crossing. Turn right onto Forest Road 141 and continue 4 miles east to the Jones Crossing bridge and park along the road. FR 141 is maintained dirt with just a few minor bumpy parts. The hike begins across the bridge at the yellow “area closed” and “732” signs. (The area is closed to all motorized vehicles, but hiking is permitted.) Caution: As this issue went to press, portions of SR87 were closed due to the Tinder Fire.
A Valley hiker escapes the heat with a hike along an icy White Mountains stream.