Some 50,000 years ago, a meteorite slammed into the Earth scarring it forever. Today, Meteor Crater, as it is commonly known, is a popular tourist attraction.
© Nick Berezenko
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Chavez PassLush pine forests, mountain lakes and shimmering plains make this historic route one of our favorites.
By Roger Naylor
The drive to Chavez Pass is a sly one. It's easy just to roll through the pleasing landscape that melts from one vivid scene to the next — lush pine forests, mountain lakes and shimmering plains — without realizing the layers of history you're brushing past. This one is worth a little predrive research.
Start approximately 46 miles north of Payson, turning west onto Forest Road 211, off State Route 87. The dirt road curves through an impressive park-like setting of ponderosa pines, with pools of grasses swirling around mature trees. Along the route, the forest ebbs and flows, with pines and then junipers crowding the road in dense groves. Other times, scrubby meadows sweep the timber back onto distant slopes.
After about 3.2 miles, turn right onto Forest Road 82 and follow it toward Long Lake for 11 miles. Long Lake, Soldier's Lake and Soldier's Annex Lake are three shallow fishing lakes perched in high grasslands that are freckled with volcanic rock and wind-bent junipers. The trio is clustered close together, and each is known for producing a different species of fish. They're a pretty sweet deal for impatient anglers.
The lakes lie about a mile beyond the turnoff for Forest Road 69B. After visiting the lakes, backtrack to FR 69B — the road beyond that point is four-wheel-drive territory — and continue northeast toward Chavez Pass, which is a natural gap through the rugged country above the Mogollon Rim.
The pass is named for Colonel J. Francisco Chaves, who provided a military escort to Arizona's first Territorial governor. The route connecting Winslow to Prescott is known as Chavez Trail, but is actually part of something much older: the Palatkwapi Trail, which stretched from the Hopi mesas to the native villages of the Verde Valley. The Palatkwapi was a section of a prehistoric trade route that went from Colorado into northern Mexico.
After 4 miles on FR 69B, you'll reach a signed parking area for Chavez Pass Ruins. There isn't a designated trail — just scramble up the hill directly behind the sign. Atop the mesa, you can see the bare bones of an ancient Sinaguan village, which had been occupied by as many as 1,000 people from the years 1050 to 1425. Look for low-stacked stone walls, indentations of rooms and faint rock art traced on boulders.
The road pushes through the pass and breaks into open plains. The gravel track smooths out and, for the next 20 miles, beelines across vast grazing lands. The volcanic towers of the San Francisco Peaks rise to the west. Just as you're contemplating the span of history you've already sampled, the road ends at the entrance to Meteor Crater, where a fiery orb slammed into the Earth, gouging out a mile-wide hole some 50,000 years ago.
Tour Guideclick to expand
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 38.5 miles one way
Directions: From Payson, drive north on State Route 87 for 46 miles to Forest Road 211 (near Milepost 300), turn left and continue 3.2 miles to Forest Road 82. Turn right onto FR 82 and drive 11 miles to Forest Road 69B. Turn right onto FR 69B, which exits the national forest and becomes Chavez Pass Road, and continue to Meteor Crater Road, 4.5 miles south of Interstate 40.
Vehicle Requirements: The dirt roads are generally suitable for passenger vehicles in dry weather, although Forest Road 69B is bumpy. After rains, roads can become rutted and the clay turns slick and slimy.
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don't travel alone and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Information: Mogollon Rim Ranger District, 928-477-2255 or www.fs.usda.gov/coconino
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.