Charmed by Fossil Creek
Central Arizona’s Mogollon Rim country offers visitors a panoply of natural and cultural wonders
By J. Adam Burch and Stacey Lane
Photos by Rapid Fire Photography
The desert doesn’t merely consist of sand and rocks. Your next Western destination may take you through the rugged grasslands of the open range and, as you climb the mountains, a murder of crows might greet you in a Ponderosa corridor. The chilly mornings echo with elk bugling throughout the Mogollon Rim as the bucks pass through the forest’s jade anonymity. As you follow AZ State Highways 87 and 260-East through “Rim Country,” juniper, pinyon and ponderosa pine adorn the uplands. Seasons come to life with the vibrant colors that greet you at every pass in the environs of remote Arizona towns, such as Strawberry and Pine.
Located only 150 scenic miles from the Grand Canyon (about an hour and a half from Black Canyon City and two hours north from Phoenix), peace and calm will be delivered to your private balcony, along with a gorgeous sunrise in the Misty Morn Suite at the Up the Creek Bed & Breakfast in Rim Country. Desert-dwelling Arizonans can experience crisp mornings vibrant with the autumn reds and yellows of cooler landscapes. The stunning, two-story, contemporary farmhouse, surrounded by cheerful flower gardens, will make visitors wish to be put up-the-creek for many seasons to come.
Breakfast at nine, served with a smile, will get you energized to explore the seemingly endless trails that meander through Fossil Creek, Arizona. If your plan is to concentrate on the great indoors, then the tranquil conservatory-style sitting area or the stylish living room offer great places to relax.
This country retreat can accommodate large family gatherings or a honeymoon getaway. Each bedroom features a private bathroom, pillow-top mattress, fluffy down pillows and comforters, CD player and environmentally-friendly toiletries. What you won’t find are televisions, telephones, or good cellular reception (although wi-fi is available to keep you on grid).
Located right next door to the Fossil Creek Creamery and only a few miles from the towns of Strawberry and Pine, Up the Creek Bed & Breakfast is conveniently located for easy access to other Rim Country attractions.
A full day in Strawberry and Pine should include a trip to Fossil Creek and another to the Tonto Natural Bridge. Arizona has approximately 90,373 miles of river, yet only 57.3 miles (less than one-tenth) are designated as “wild and scenic.” Fossil Creek, fed by springs coming from the cliffs of the Mogollon Rim, is one of only two national “wild and scenic” rivers in Arizona.
Your journey should also include a visit to the Tonto Natural Bridge, renowned as the world’s largest natural travertine bridge. Located between Payson and Pine, the 150-foot-wide limestone bridge arches 183 feet above sparkling Pine Creek. Frequent guests at the Bridge include bobcats, black bears, cottontails, elk, grey foxes, five species of bats and owls (for those that give a hoot).
The community and Arizona State Parks have joined forces to protect this natural treasure. “Since I have been here [since May 2010], I have seen the Park upgrade many of the facilities to make for a better visitor experience,” Park Manager, Steven Jakubowski, stated. “A large group-use picnic ramada was constructed. This new ramada has the capacity to host much larger groups and special events. New interpretive kiosk panels were installed and upgrades to the kiosks done,” shared Jakubowski.
Upgrades, longer hours and now open seven days a week, the Tonto Natural Bridge is probably one of the most incredible sites in Arizona. “Visitors consistently tell me how fascinating and what a wonderful place this is,” Jakubowksi commented proudly, “Future plans for the park include: a much larger, special-use pavilion/ramada to host very large groups; the planting of many more fruit trees to restore the old historic orchard; the addition of an outdoor-themed and designed play area for children; the construction of several rental cabins for overnight stays; and, most importantly, the re-opening of the historic lodge for group bookings.”
To further wet your pallet, experience the Ranch at Fossil Creek. Also home of the Fossil Creek Creamery owned and operated by John and Joyce Bittner. “We are a farmstead creamery, which means we do everything from A to Z. This includes breeding, birthing, raising, milking and packaging,” Mr. Bittner shared. We are a working ranch and raise llamas and dairy goats and you can hike with the llamas by appointment,” Bittner added. Of course you won’t want to miss the creamy undeniably flavorful artisan goat’s milk cheeses and melt in your mouth fudge.
Other recreational options are fishing for rainbow trout at Rancho Tonto Catch-a-Trout, taking an airplane ride to view the Rim Country, or retracing General Crook’s Trail.
It wouldn’t be fair to let you leave Rim Country without making a stop at MamaJoe’s. Mama and Joe have been making magic for many years. Located nearby the Cabins on Strawberry Hill, it is well worth an extra day’s stay in order to taste the love put into these old-fashioned, home-cooked meals. When we stopped in the afternoon after a trip to the Tonto Natural Bridge, we were greeted by Mama and Joe prepping for the evening with fresh eggplant in their hands and warm smiles on their faces. MamaJoe’s shrimp scampi was a perfect concoction of large fresh shrimp lightly coated with bread crumbs, garlic and lemon, served alongside a large portion of spaghetti marinara. Just when we thought we were safely at the end of our meal of amazing, authentic Italian dishes, we could not resist the friendly suggestion from Mama herself that we try her pistachio ice cream pie with graham cracker crust or warm chocolate fudge cake. “It will settle your stomach,” Mama said with a smile and a glint in her eye.
~ Up the Creek Bed & Breakfast: www.upthecreekbreakfast.com (928) 476-6571
~ Fossil Creek Ranch: www.ranchatfossilcreek.com
~ Tonto Natural Bridge State Park: www.azstateparks.com (928) 476-4202
~ Randall House: www.therandallhouse.com
~ MamaJoe’s: (928) 476-3910
Photos by; Rapid Fire Photography ~ www.facebook.com/2SharpShooters
Up the Creek Bed & Breakfast