Guests Report Strange Noises At Tonto Natural Bridge Lodge

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A small portion of the historic old lodge at the Tonto Natural Bridge is open to the public. Visitors to the largest travertine bridge in the world usually pick up a postcard or T-shirt at the gift shop there and go on their way.

But those who have lingered in the old four-story structure especially those who have spent a night often report encounters and experiences they can't explain.

Professional trailbuilder Chris Nez, a Native American with deep spiritual roots, won't come right out and say the lodge is haunted. But he saw and heard enough when he stayed there recently not to rule it out.

Nez lived in the lodge for several weeks this summer along with his six-member crew while they worked on a new trail down to the bridge. Completed in 1925, the lodge has 10 bedrooms, a spacious dining hall, and a fourth-story observation room.

"It's a grand old building," Nez said, "and it was really an honor to stay there."

While Nez and his crew never actually saw any ghosts, they heard a lot of strange noises they couldn't account for.

"We weren't sure if what we were hearing at odd hours of the night were ghosts or just the feeling of an old building," he said. "But we decided to approach the whole experience with a sense of humor.

"We joked around with each other about it," Nez said. "But when something wakes you up in the middle of the night, you just keep saying to yourself, 'Go back to sleep. Go back to sleep.'"

Jan Stutzman, a former Payson resident who now lives in Prescott, lived at the lodge for five years in the 1970s. She cleaned rooms and "did just about everything else" when it was owned by Carl Randall, before it became a state park.

"Let me put it this way," Stutzman said. "I heard and saw a lot of strange things.

"There were times when I was there by myself when I heard footsteps going across upstairs and doors slamming.

"Once I was cleaning Room 5 and found dead flowers in the room. I threw them away and they were back the next day. I threw them out four or five straight days, and each time they'd be back the next day."

Stutzman also recalls a visit to the lodge by some authentic "ghostbusters."

"These people came who studied and photographed ghosts, which come out green in pictures," she said. "They stayed in Room 2, and during the night the door leading to the patio (opened) and it got really cold.

"They were really scared by what happened."

Stutzman has no idea who the troubled soul or souls might be who wander through the lodge at night.

"We always called it 'David' for David Gowan," she said. It was Gowan, an adventurer and prospector from Scotland, who discovered the bridge and later gave it to his nephew, David Goodfellow.

A photo of Gowan's mother that still hangs in the lodge has become part of the legend and lore of the place.

"There's this picture of this old lady in the dining room, and when you walk back and forth her eyes follow you," Nez said. "It freaks you out. It's so creepy, I don't even look at it any more."

Park Manager John Boeck, who has also stayed in the lodge, has had the same experience with the photo of Gowan's mother.

"I didn't tell Chris about it," Boeck said. "He discovered it all by himself."

At least one person who has spent a number of nights in the old lodge doesn't believe it's haunted.

Larry Johnson, who has been associated with the Tonto Natural Bridge as both a volunteer and an employee for several years, says he has heard all the stories about the lodge being haunted.

"I stayed there quite a bit, and I've never heard or seen anything all that unusual," Johnson said. "It's the outsiders who stay there who usually report that kind of stuff."

Johnson said there is a perfectly logical explanation for Gowan's mother's eyes following you when you walk by her photo.

"When you're being photographed and you look straight into the camera, your eyes will appear to follow whoever looks at the picture," he said. "That's why they always tell you not to look directly into the camera."

Besides, Johnson said, Dave Gowan's mother never set foot inside the United States. "He brought the picture over from Scotland with him," he said.

Nez is not so sure that disqualifies her as a ghost. But whether it's haunted or not, Nez enjoyed his stay at the old lodge.

"It's a fun building," he said. "You can feel the history in that building."

And at least one of the noises he heard during his stay he was able to account for.

"One night I kept waking up and saying, 'What's that noise,'" he said. "Finally I realized it was just a low battery in one of the smoke alarms."

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