Tonto Natural Bridge Has Drawn Travelers For More Than A Century


Over 110,000 people visit the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park each year.

If the enormous 100-year-old mulberry tree, east of the 80-year-old lodge, could talk, it could tell tales of children swinging from its branches, weddings held beneath its boughs and guests of the lodge strolling toward the wonder of the 183-foot-high travertine bridge.

Of course, the mulberry cannot speak, but Anna Mae Deming can. She is the great-grandniece of David Gowan, the Scotsman credited with discovery of the bridge in 1877, when he was looking for a place to hide from Apaches.

"Anna Mae's talk is the real highlight of the day," said Park Ranger Steve Sokora.

At 11 a.m. May 12, Deming will speak about the early days of living on and developing the property for tourism.

"I grew up at the bridge when I was a young girl and I am really looking forward to telling the stories of the bridge," Deming said.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, people camped at the bridge.

David Gowan Goodfellow, Gowan's nephew, built the lodge in 1927. It was one of the first guest ranches in Arizona.

The dining hall at the lodge is filled with vintage black and white photographs that depict builders of the lodge, early visitors and what they did for fun. The pictures are on loan from Deming's personal collection.

When the Forest Service replaced the floor of the house built in 1910, where the Goodfellows lived, they found a bunch of bottle caps beneath the floor. Soroka speculated that soda and beer were at one time sold from the small house.

"We also found a trapdoor in the floor and bunch of prohibition-era bottles, so somebody was bootlegging," Soroka said.

A few of the bottles are on display in the lodge's dining hall.


Tonto Natural Bridge: "A Bridge Through Time"
When: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 12; 10 a.m. Anniversary presentation and cake cutting
Speakers: 11 a.m. Ken Travous, Executive Director and Jay Ream, Assistant Director of Arizona State Parks; Noon, Anna Mae Deming; 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Mark Randall
Where: Tonto Natural Bridge is located off Highway 87, ten miles north of Payson.
Cost: Park entrance fees are $3 per person for those 14 and older.

Lillias Goodfellow gazes at the camera from the front porch of what looks like a small home or perhaps, store.

Several cabins were on the property in the early days, so Soroka can't be sure, but he thinks the building is the same one he now uses for an office.

In another picture, Goodfellow is getting ready to ride Budweiser, the horse.

In the hall itself, an antique upright piano sits at one end and a stone fireplace fills the space at the other end of the hall.

The stern-faced woman in the photo next to the fireplace is David Gowan's mother. Several visitors to the lodge have reported the spooky feeling of Mrs. Gowan's stare following them.

From 1948 to 1985, the Randall family lived on the property and operated the lodge. At noon, Mark Randall and his family will present the history of that time.

The three-story lodge boasts ten guest rooms on the second floor.

There are three communal bathrooms (two with showers and one with a tub), two rooms, the Judge Faucett and the Goodfellow room share a bathroom and one, the Davis Douglas Gowan room, has its own.

The Judge Faucett room intrigues Bridge volunteer Bill Armbruster the most. Faucett was a New York Supreme Court Judge who relaxed in the lodge one month a year, in the 1930s. The judge's brother was the defense attorney for Bruno Hauptmann, the man convicted in 1935 of kidnapping the two-year-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Each room of the lodge is named for a colorful figure of the area, such as the Andrew Ogilvie room and the General George Cook room, which has its own parlor with a southwest view from the windows.

Some of the beds and chests of drawers in the rooms are original.

The Beryl Goodfellow room is the largest with its wrap-around sitting area.

The Arizona State Parks Board took over bridge management in 1990.

Bridge trivia1. What is the name of the creek at the Tonto Natural Bridge?2. What trail begins near viewpoint two?3. The bridges wild residents are:4. What bird arrives at the Bridge in spring?5. How long is the Bridge's tunnel?Trivia answers1. Pine Creek2. The Anna Mae (Deming) Trail, on the north side of the canyon opened in 2002. It descends 180 feet over the course of a half-mile to the canyon floor, where it links up with the Pine Creek Trail.3. Javelinas, skunks, swifts and swallows, roadrunners, elk, mule deer, white and ringtail deer.4. The white-throated swift joins a wide assortment of migratory birds.5. 400 feet

The lodge is in the early stages of renovation with an eye to being re-opened as a lodge with a restaurant that retains the ambiance of the 1920s.

Construction on water and wastewater improvement has begun toward the re-opening effort.

"The design is under way and the structural analysis has been completed," Soroka said.

As of this spring, there is no date set for the lodge re-opening.

The first phase would probably include a new roof, the connection of a sprinkler system and improved ADA access.

Up two short flights of stairs from the guest rooms is what Soroka, who has been stationed at the park for the last 16 of his 20-year career, calls "one of the better features of the park."

The third floor indoor guest lounge and sun deck offered guests a 360-degree view of the park area above the bridge with its peach, apricot and apple trees.

Originally, it was a small indoor room with windows all around. During the 1985 renovations, an observation deck was added and the lounge doubled in size.

From the window, travelers can see the geology of the entire park -- a big travertine shelf or quietly watch the sun set.

View a three-minute video tour of the Tonto Natural Bridge.

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