When you think of Arizona wild berries is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, the climate and water features in the forests near Payson, Arizona are a fertile environment for wild berries. The town of Strawberry, Arizona was named by early settlers for the colorful wild strawberries that filled the forest. Most of the strawberries around Strawberry have been harvested, but they still grow well there and can still be found. For better berry opportunities it is best to head just north and east from Payson to the Mogollon Rim and its streams and start foraging. The Mogollon Rim country is filled with berry plants–primarily blackberries– but also plenty of raspberries. You will find strawberries as well if you go further north and east.
Early July it is the time the red raspberries have started to ripen on the vine and the blackberries are just a couple of weeks behind depending on the elevation and summer rains. Raspberry bushes tend to quickly grow in areas that have had forest fires, given enough year-round moisture. Raspberry bushes also frequent the same canyons as blackberries, but often are higher on the hill. The blackberries, however, are by far the most numerous. And for anyone who has experience here in Arizona foraging for these wild and pure treasures—well, it is a matter of timing more than anything else. Being as dry as it is throughout the state, blackberries here grow and make their bloom in a span of only five weeks at the maximum—typically from the second half of July to the very beginning of September. The berries in the region are mostly a secret, but not so much of a secret that getting out later in the season will not make it more difficult to find areas that have not been harvested.
To avoid running into groves of blackberry bushes that have already been stripped as the berry season progresses, it may very well require several attempts at different locations to allow you to pick enough for a few pies or crumbles. Essentially, along any stream or river north and east of Payson, Arizona will lend you results—just make sure you’ve mounted the Mogollon Rim because like any other plant they have a particular elevation where they flourish. Also, be prepared for a few miles of hiking. If you’re willing to do that along some of the more remote stream areas, you will be well rewarded. Like anything else in the wilderness, it is best to accompany yourself with another human or two, or three, or more. Be aware that blackberry bushes themselves are especially thorny. Long sleeves, pants, gloves, and a pair of glasses can never hurt either. I don’t have to tell you to bring water, but at the same time a lot of those creeks in the area are perfectly safe to drink from, no filter required—truly refreshing. A bucket, a camera, some headgear, a good pair of shoes, willingness to get a bit wet, and an all-around adventurous spirit are requisite as well. Rarely does anything worth having come with total ease. Get out there with some gratitude and be blessed with a wild, pesticide/insecticide/GMO-free, fresh blackberry creation—and use the seeds to cultivate some of your own at home!