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Payson, Arizona

Payson, Arizona

Payson is a town in northern Gila County, Arizona, United States. Due to Payson's location being very near to the geographic center of Arizona, it has been called "The Heart of Arizona". The town is surrounded by the Tonto National Forest, the largest of the six national forests in Arizona and the ninth largest national forest in the United States.[1][2]

Payson boasts a lively festival calendar, including The World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo, established in 1884, as well as the Arizona State Old Time Fiddlin' Championship which celebrates the area's musical heritage. The town also hosts the Mogollon Monster Mudda—an annual obstacle course race.

As of the 2020 census, the population of Payson was 16,361.


Prior to the arrival of European-American settlers, the area was known as Te-go-suk—or Place of the Yellow Water—by the Dilzhe'e Apache. The area was also historically inhabited by the Yavapai and Puebloan peoples, including the Hohokam, Mogollon, and Sinagua cultures.

The founding year of Payson is considered to be 1882, at which time the town was known as "Green Valley". On March 3, 1884, a post office was established with the help of Illinois Representative Levi Joseph Payson. In honor of the representative's help, the town's name was changed to "Payson".

Payson had its first rodeo in 1884. The town declares the competition to be the world's oldest and continuous rodeo as it has been held every year since.

In 1918, author Zane Grey made his first trip to the area surrounding Payson. He would visit with regularity through 1929, and he purchased two plots of land near Tonto Creek, including 120 acres (49 ha) from Sampson Elam Boles under Myrtle Point. Grey wrote numerous books about the area, and he also filmed some movies in the area, such as To the Last Man.

During Prohibition, the manufacture, sale, and distribution of liquor was plentiful in Payson. These transactions took place on historic Bootleg Alley.

During the 1930s, an effort was initiated to better connect Payson to the outside world through the construction of roads and highways. At that time, the town was very isolated—with a trip from Phoenix to Payson taking eight to twelve hours. Throughout the 1950s, work on a paved road from Phoenix to Payson progressed, and the road was completed in 1958. The highway, State Route 87 (also known as the "Beeline Highway"), was later expanded to four lanes.

Ellison Creek & East Verde River flooding

On July 15, 2017, heavy rains from upstream of the creek and river caused the waterways to swell, subsequently leading to downstream flooding. This flash flood crucially affected the popular Water Wheel swimming hole where 10 people were killed and 4 others were injured.


Located in northern Gila County at an elevation of 5,000 feet (1,500 m), the town has a total area of 19.5 square miles (51 km2). The Mogollon Rim, the southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau, lies to the north of Payson, with elevations exceeding 7,500 feet (2,300 m); there are many cold water lakes on top of the rim. They are stocked with fish by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Payson is adjacent to the Tonto Apache Reservation, and it is bordered to the east by the town of Star Valley. Other nearby communities are Pine, Strawberry, Gisela and Rye, all within Gila County. Globe, the Gila County seat, is 80 miles (130 km) to the south via State Routes 87 and 188. State Route 87, the Beeline Highway, leads southwest 90 miles (140 km) to Phoenix and northeast 90 miles (140 km) to Winslow. State Route 260 leads east from Payson 90 miles (140 km) to Show Low.

Zane Grey Country

"Zane Grey Country" is a term for the area around Payson. This term was most often used in the 1970s and 1980s, and appeared in the header of the local newspaper, the Payson Roundup. In recent times, it has fallen somewhat out of favor, as the term "Rim Country" has become more popular among locals.


Owing to its elevation of 5,000 feet (1,500 m), Payson is in a transitional area between three climate classification zones: Hot Semi-Arid (Köppen BSh), Hot-Summer Mediterranean (Köppen Csa), and Cold Semi-Arid (Köppen BSk). The town straddles USDA Hardiness Zone 7b and 8a, and it is surrounded by high desert pinyon-juniper woodlands; stands of ponderosa pine, Arizona cypress, and live oak; and the mixed conifer forests of the Mogollon Rim escarpment.

While average summer daytime temperatures climb into the 90's, the town's elevation keeps it protected from the extreme heat found in Arizona's lowland deserts—though temperatures do occasionally reach 100 °F (38 °C). Early summer is characterized by hot and dry weather, with elevated wildfire risk, whereas mid-to-late summer is tempered by the North American Monsoon. The monsoon brings frequent thunderstorms with heavy rain, small hail, and flash floods. On average, Payson receives 6.95” of monsoonal moisture across the months of July, August, and September.

Diurnal temperature variation is large throughout the year. Even in summer, the difference between daytime highs and nighttime lows exceeds 30 degrees.

Winter is often sunny with mild days and cold nights. In December and January, nighttime lows typically fall to the mid-20's—with some nights falling into the teens, but by mid-afternoon, average daytime temperatures surpass 50 °F (10 °C). On average, Payson receives 18.5” of snow each year, spread across six days of measurable snowfall. Snow melts quickly, and any lingering snow cover is minimal.

Desert wildflowers are common in the spring. Blooms include a fiery array of Indian paintbrush, primrose, and the golds and fuchsias of cactus blossoms (and other brightly colored wildflowers).

On Monday, November 5, 2001, between 8 pm and 10:30 pm, Payson was treated to a rare display of the Northern Lights. Given Payson's southern latitude, such an event is extremely rare and only happens during severe solar flares. The aurora appeared red in color.

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: Payson, Arizona by Wikipedia (Historical)