Updated: Sep 23, 2020
The little quaint town of Payson, Arizona in Gila County is a nature enthusiasts dream. Filled with tall ponderosa pines, vast lakes, rivers, streams, wildlife, and so much more. This little ranching community, early in the 1900s, was secluded from the world and the growing City of Phoenix.
To get to and from Phoenix, there was essentially two very dangerous roads. A road that would wind from Mesa to Jakes Corner and then another road that would connect you from Jakes Corner to Payson. These roads were known to be extremely rigorous and dangerous. This kept the quiet town, well, quiet.
The gorgeous landscape of the Mazatzal Mountains was no secret to the residents of Arizona. Phoenix Valley dwellers longed to explore the wilderness in and around Payson. A Maricopa County Supervisor in the 1950s by the name of Jim Hart, who owned a cabin retreat in the Payson area, was excited and intrigued to open a safer route of travel for the people of Phoenix to come enjoy the cooler weather, and amazing land of the Rim Country. The residents of Payson were excited for this idea of bringing local tourists into town, which would bolster the local economy. It was obvious that this would benefit both the Town of Payson and the Phoenix valley residents greatly, so a plan was designed and the work commenced.
The road would be constructed to bypass the harsh terrain of the Bush Highway and provide a straight shot from Mesa through the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation and meet the Bush highway turnoff to Saguaro lake. This would create a straight shot to Payson. For this reason the highway would gain the famous nickname "Beeline" highway. The new road would allow both residents of Payson and Phoenix a direct "Beeline" to their desired location, opening a gateway to new adventure and exploration.
Constructing the road was extremely difficult. Workers from Payson and the Phoenix valley aided in the project. It took immense labor to break and mold the new road through the means of dynamite, jack-hammers, shier man's force by hammer and large equipment to carve the new path.
Finally, by July of 1958, the two-lane highway was completed and the road was opened. The Arizona Republic reported, "At last Payson is connected with the outside world by a paved road."
What this event meant to Gila County, and especially the Town of Payson, is something that many would say would be the biggest event that ever happened for this community. It opened up a way for tourists to flock to the area. Driving Payson and the surrounding areas to be some of the most desired vacation and tourist spots in all of Arizona.
The completion of that two-lane highway in 1958 would just be the start. By the late 1970s many accidents had occurred on the road putting ADOT into a position to re-engineer the highway to Payson. The road from Route 188 to Payson would be upgraded to a divided four-lane highway and the entire drive would be completed by the year 2001. The highway would become on of those most scenic drives in the country as a pathway to enter Arizona's "Cool Mountain Town", and this time it was safe.
It was easy for Maricopa Supervisor, Jim Hart, and the local Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce to see that Payson had an amazing amount of tourism attractions that would raise the eyebrow of just about anyone. To this day the road continues to serve the people of Arizona as they look to #ExploreTheWild.
What's stopping you from using this incredible gateway to adventure?
For more information visit www.discovergilacounty.com