Tonto Natural Bridge Astounding

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The natural travertine bridge that arcs over Pine Creek is one of the wonders of Arizona and the Rim Country.

The bridge, surrounding area and historic lodge create Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

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From this vantage point, the man-made bridge at Tonto Natural Bridge is a long way down, but improvements to trails over the years have made access into the bottom less hazardous than it used to be.

"It is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world," said Steve Soroka, assistant park manager.

There are several hiking trails in the park. One leads down to the bridge and the others lead to the creek.

The round-trip hike for Gowan (named after the documented discoverer) Loop Trail takes about an hour, and Soroka suggested that hikers be in good physical condition to trek to the bottom and back out, and they should carry water.

Travertine bridges are created when travertine, a porous calcite, is deposited from ground or surface waters. In the case of the Tonto Natural Bridge, spring from limestone aquifers formed the travertine and over thousands of years the waters of Pine Creek eroded the travertine and created the bridge.

As water from the waterfall created by Pine Creek hits the rocks below they become slick. Hikers who leave the deck at the bottom to climb back in the tunnel under the bridge will need to use their hands in places.

Tourists can get wet on the decks from the waterfall spray as it feeds the green moss and lichen-covered boulders and fallen trees.

"There are swimming holes downstream from the bridge," Soroka said.

About another three minutes down the trail is another smaller swimming hole.

"There is no life guard and no rock throwing," he said.

Pine Creek Trail leads to the Pine Creek natural area. Waterfall Trail ends at a cave.

No glass containers and no pets are allowed on the trails.

Picnickers who choose to take their repast under the bridge or by the pools must observe the "pack in, pack out" rule.

Picnic ramadas are available near the historic, but now closed, lodge.

They are for use on a first-come, first-served basis.

Reservations and fees in addition to entrance fees must be paid in order to reserve the two largest near the lodge for up to 100 people.

Tying a knot of marital bliss in the park requires a special use permit.

The park is located on Highway 87, 10 miles north of Payson. It is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., April through October, with extended hours until 7 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day.

No guests are admitted an hour before closing time.

The gift shop opens at 11 a.m.

Entrance fees are $3 per person, 14 and older; 13 and under are free as long as they are with an adult.

For more information, call (928) 476-2264.

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