Tonto Natural Bridge Beckons

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Located within three miles of Shoofly Village are 40 other sites. Agricultural features, such as check dams and terraces at these sites suggest that the villagers may have used them during the farming season.

Little is known about the religions or social customs of Shoofly Village.

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The majestic Tonto Natural Bridge is a geological wonder, and also a wonderful place to birdwatch, spot wildlife and picnic.

Ceremonies and dances were probably conducted in the open courtyards, since no ceremonial structures have been found.

The abandonment of Shoofly Village was a gradual process that ended around A.D. 1250 when the entire Payson region was abandoned. Possible reasons include drought and social unrest.

It is not known where the people of Shoofly Village and the other Payson area settlements went. Perhaps some of them moved west to uplands along the East Verde River or south to join the Salado communities in Tonto Basin -- which were abandoned about 150 years later.

Others may have moved north and east to join the ancestors of today's Hopi and Zuni.

Archaeologists are still working to solve this puzzle.

Shoofly Village is located five miles northeast of Payson. Take State Highway 87 north from Payson to the Houston Mesa Road (immediately to your right after the roundabout) roundabout) and turn east.

The road splits, with the left part going into the Mesa del Caballo subdivision, the ruins are off the right part, a short distance past the subdivision. There is a parking lot just off the paved road, to the right. Facilities provided at the site include picnic tables, ramadas, toilets and a handicapped-accessible, self-guided interpretive trail.

Wear good walking shoes and carry water with you, the site is at an elevation of 5,240 feet.

Tonto Natural Bridge

The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is between Payson and Pine, to the west of State Highway 87.

Located 12 miles north of Payson, the Tonto Natural Bridge is believed to be the world's largest travertine bridge, it is 183 feet high and 400 feet in length.

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The lodge at Tonto Natural Bridge is a testament to perseverance in the face of adversity. The road to the lodge was built by hand.

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

It sits in a tiny valley surrounded by a pine and scrub oak forest. The fall colors are spectacular and during the cooler weather, the facility has tranquility to it, as most visitors come to the park in the summer.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department have designated the park a wildlife viewing area, where a variety of wildlife and birds can be seen.

The lodge at the bridge, built in the 1920s, made it the site of one of the earliest dude ranches and was used as a backdrop for many western novels, according to information in the county's directory for libraries and museums.

The lodge is closed to visitors, however there is a gift shop with a display of antiques from previous occupants.

There are four hiking trails in the park, all are steep and strenuous and pets are not allowed. There are also four, more accessible viewpoints at the parking lot level.

The park is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through October and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through April, closed only on Christmas Day. Admission is $3 for those 14 and older and free for those under 14. For more information, call (928) 476-4202.

In Pine

Among the special places open to the public in the Pine and Strawberry area are the Pine-Strawberry Historical Museum, Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library and and the Strawberry Schoolhouse.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until May. It is on the west side of State Highway 87, nearly in the middle of the Pine community, and part of the larger Pine Community Center.

Originally, the museum was a single room in the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library, now it has its own building -- formerly the Pine-Strawberry School administration building and before that, the Pine branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The museum, which also houses the Pine-Strawberry branch of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, has a variety of displays, but look up first. The ceiling is made of ornate tin panels. The displays include Native American artifacts, exhibits depicting the life of early settlers.

Of special note is the "Museum of the Door," according to the county's guide. It is a 150-pound door built from a redwood flume used to carry water in the early 1900s and inset with iron forged into symbols, telling the story of the community.

To learn more about the museum, call (928) 476-3547.

The Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library in Pine is to the north of the community center, at 6124 N. Randall Place.

Every inch of the 2,000 square foot building is in use. In winter, people come and sit by the fire to read. There are story times for children, computers to use, FAX and copy machines for public use.

The library has two special collections: the Southwest Collection and the Western Collection.

The library is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For more information, call (928) 476-3678.

The original Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library is on display on the east side of Hwy. 87, across from the community center.

Strawberry School

Established in 1884, the Strawberry School was built midway between settlers' cabins. The building was made of logs with a shake shingle roof and glass windows that could be raised and lowered. The interior of the schoolhouse was also better than most schools of its time, with wainscoting and wallpaper. The families living in Strawberry until it closed in 1916 used it as a social center, meeting place and church, as well as a school.

It is only open from mid-May to mid-October, but the grounds around it can be seen at any time.

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The Rim Country is where residents and visitors of our desert state can find natural streams still flowing, even after the on-going drought.

The school is on Fossil Creek Road, west of Hwy. 87. For more information, call (928) 476-2164.

Editor's note: Volunteers keep most of these special places open, so sometimes emergencies can figure into operating hours. Make a call, before making a visit.

The Middle Ground

If museums and historic sites hold only a passing interest for you, but you are not quite ready to tackle a Rim Country hike or cool weather camping trip, a picnic in the park might be the right middle ground for you.

Payson has two beautiful town parks outfitted with open-air picnic tables and dining ramadas.

At Green Valley Park, at the end of West Main, there are also three lakes, a playground and the community's Veterans Memorial.

Rumsey Park can be reached by turning west at the light on Highways 87 and 260 or by turning west at the light on Highway 87 and Forest Drive.

Taking the turn at 87 and 260 will put you on Longhorn Road. Stay on the road and just past the middle school and high school complexes, Longhorn T's into McLane Road. Turn right on McLane and you will find Rumsey Park, with the Payson Public Library on your left, about three blocks up the road.

If you take the Forest Road turn, it will take you to McLane Road as well. When you reach McLane from Forest, turn left and the park will be on your right.

Rumsey Park is where the community athletic fields are located, along with tennis courts and a skateboard park and off-leash dog park. The larger ramadas are sometimes reserved for private events, so call the Payson Parks and Recreation Department for availablility, (928) 474-5242, ext. 7.

Another easily accessible picnic area is just west of Highway 87, a little more than five miles north of Payson. The East Verde Park picnic area is along the shores of the East Verde River.

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