Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tonto Natural Bridge

At last I made it Tonto Natural Bridge, the largest travertine bridge in the world. The formation stands 183 feet high, measures 150 feet across at its widest point and creates a 400-foot tunnel underneath. It's a stunning geologic wonder in a valley between Pine and Payson, where the temperature the day of my visit was 99 degrees, much cooler than the 108 degrees in the Valley.

The visitor center teaches more about how the bridge was discovered and the area's early inhabitants. The lodge that houses the visitor center is designated a historic landmark. As the story goes, David Gowan came across the span in 1877 as he was being chased by Apaches. He claimed squatter's rights and persuaded his nephew to bring his family over from Scotland and settle there.

View from Viewpoint 4.

Viewpoints 3 and 4 were the first stop, offering side views of the bridge. Hike down to the bottom of the bridge for a more impressive view. We started on the Anna Mae Trail, which is short and leads to the tunnel.

Note that swimming is not allowed under the waterfall, which didn't have much of a water flow. A ranger under the tunnel monitored visitors and warned of falling rocks. The travertine under the bridge was slippery, and the water was not deep enough to swim. Even if it were deep enough, the water apparently contains a high mineral content that would upset your stomach if ingested, the ranger warned. He also said there's crawdads in the water that have no predators and thus are eating the area's frogs and Apache trout. I spotted some black ones about 2 inches long in the water.

From the tunnel we hiked down the creek through Pine Canyon. This required lots of boulder hopping. There was a little cave along the way to check out, too.

The view looking up from the small cave.

Arrows along the trail make it easy to find your way.

At one point Graham and I stopped at a boulder to put more sunscreen on. We pondered whether to turn back but decided to keep hiking in hopes of finding another water hole. About a hundred feet away we stumbled upon the waterfall. The water flow is light here as well but it's fun to cool off in. Beware of slippery rocks though; I found it easiest to climb up barefoot.

We continued the hike through Pine Canyon until we reached the point where the trail begins to climb up again to parking-lot level on the Pine Creek Trail. There's also a shorter, easier way to access the waterfall via the Waterfall Trail from the parking lot.

As we exited the park we came across some javelina that did not appear startled by the presence of people. They also weren't menacing. It was my first time encountering the critters, which I am led to believe can be aggressive, just not in this case.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park  is about 14 miles from Payson, with an entrance fee of $5 per person for adults. It makes an easy day trip from the Valley. The park grounds and hiking trails are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer.