Sometimes a trail’s name and its reputation dovetail like a fine hewn joint.
The Boulders Loop Trail in Payson is such an excellent example of this that it has earned a local moniker: Boulderpalooza. And that’s not the only home-grown terminology inspired by this twisted little trail that whirls through creek-scoured backcountry a few miles southeast of town. Resident trail maven, photographer and hike-stick-maker Randy Cockrell, who leads treks for the Payson Packers hike group, shared some insights into the informal names locals have bestowed upon landmarks along the route. But first, let us discuss why this entertaining Payson Area Trails System route might also be dubbed Boulder Confusion. Finding the trailhead is the first of several challenges. To get to the loop from the Monument Peak trailhead, hike 0.5 mile down Forest Road 435 to where the gorge of Stewart Creek appears on the right. An unmarked trail on the right had been the access point, but was washed out during the heavy rains of 2016-17. Instead, continue another 0.25 mile and locate the wide, sandy ATV access point. Hike down into the gorge, veer right and look for the tiny PATS trail sign up on the opposite bank. Scramble up the embankment to reach the loop. Go right to hike the north loop first. This way, you’ll get all the tough climbing out of the way. This easy-to-follow section makes its ascent through a shady cypress-oak woodland. Use your huffing and puffing as good excuses to stop and view the shark-fin rock formation and stunning landscape emerging behind you. The trail then dives back down to meet Stewart Creek again for the first of several effortless crossings. At the 1-mile point on the loop, the trail intersects the “sign vortex.” This apt alias describes a clearing cluttered with Forest Service and PATS signs of wood, composite and plastic tree emblems. Ignore the magical forces attempting to get you lost. Go left. Now that you're on the south leg of the loop, the terrain changes from forest to an exposed pocket of granite heaps that have been weather-sculpted into fanciful forms that resemble a certain cartoon mouse, dragons and bowling balls.
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