A walking stick adds balance and support on the Military Sinkhole Trail 179, which follows the road originally built by General George Crook.
© Nick Berezenko
>> Click on image to view
it larger in a separate window.
Additional Reading expand
Our newest book, Arizona Highways Hiking Guide, is now available and features 52 of Arizona's best day hikes for winter, spring, summer and fall.
To order, call 800-543-5432
Trailhead Two-SixtySummer is the best time to explore the Mogollon Rim, and this trail — a favorite of Zane Grey — will take you into the heart of the area.
By JoBeth Jamison
I've never claimed to be a genius. As I get older, I'm finding that's a good thing. In fact, not claiming to be a genius is the closest I've come to actually being one.
Case in point: I read about a trail on the Mogollon Rim, called "Two-Sixty," that I thought would make a great hike. There were different accounts of it, though. Some sources said it was a couple of miles; others said the trail formed a long loop from which you could hop on and off — basically choosing your own adventure.
Nongenius that I am, I decided to go without much more investigation, except how to get to the trailhead.
I followed directions to the trailhead, but instead of finding Trail Two-Sixty, I found what seemed more like 260 trail options. No wonder everyone I talked to had never heard of the trail. It didn't exist — at least not there.
The key to my confusion was the Highline Trail, which starts at Trailhead Two-Sixty and roams along the base of the Rim, 51 miles to the Pine Trailhead at State Route 87. The trail was developed in the 1800s as a route connecting ranches and homesteads under the Rim. Designated as a National Recreation Trail in 1979, the Highline now affords outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to hop off and on, depending on how far and how hard they want to hike. Its various side trails, such as Drew, See Canyon, Promontory and others, were frequented by Western novelist Zane Grey during the 1920s. Now, they rolled out like a red-dirt carpet for this not-so-brilliant writer who'd mistaken the trailhead for the trail.
Because I'd gone all that way and was fully prepared for any kind of hike, and because all of the trails on the posted map were new to me, I decided to make the most of my poorly plotted outing and pick a route. On the map, I noticed that only one trail seemed to surmount the massive escarpment to the north. It was marked "Two-Sixty Trailhead/Military Sinkhole Trail #179." Instead of heading straight along the Highline, I took a right and headed northeast, upward into the rocky Rim wilderness to catch the view from the top.
Navigating portions of slick, red rock and gray limestone, the single-track trail led me through densely timbered slopes, and up and over the toes to the steep ankles of the escarpment. A slight breeze riffled through the branches of baby oaks, sultry-red manzanitas, and towering ponderosa pines and alligator junipers that seemed to stand like characters in an enchanted-forest fairy tale, so much so that I began looking around for the Seven Dwarfs. With an elevation change of nearly 1,000 feet in less than 3 miles, I hoped they might come along and carry me. But fate kept me on my feet while the trail's steep rises, bulbous rock outcroppings and occasional latticework of felled snags kept me on my toes.
Cloaked by trees most of the way, the spotty views to the south of Tonto National Forest were breathtaking, but nothing like the top where the gamble of an un-known trail and the labor of a steep climb paid off in spades. The trail terminus is just south of Forest Service Road 300. Along the edge of the mammoth earthly uprising, I could look out over what seemed like the entire southern half of Arizona. What started out as a dumb mistake had turned into dumb luck.
Trail Guideclick to expand
Length: Approximately 2.5 miles one way
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
Payoff: Great views and petroglyphs
Getting There: Drive 27 miles east of Payson on State Route 260 past Christopher Creek. Just beyond the sign for Trailhead Two-Sixty, turn left from the highway into the trailhead parking lot.
Travel Advisory: Use extreme caution when turning off the highway into the trailhead parking lot. There is no turn lane, and traffic moves very fast in both directions. Signal your intention to turn as soon as you see the sign. Avoid this hike during winter months or in the event of heavy rain on the Rim. Take plenty of water, snacks and a good map with a GPS device if possible. Do not hike alone.
Information: Payson Ranger District, 928-474-7900 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto
Leave No Trace Ethics: