Tonto Natural Bridge Always 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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Tonto Natural Bridge is one of the most visited state parks in Arizona.

"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 Loop Trail (named after the documented discoverer of the bridge) takes about an hour, and Soroka suggests that hikers be in good physical condition to trek to the bottom and back out, and they should carry water.

The state park is one of Arizona's most visited. It attracts 90,000 to 100,000 visitors a year, with most coming on weekends and holidays.

Travertine bridges are created when travertine, a porous calcite, is deposited from ground or 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 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 lifeguard 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 ramadas 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 and September, with extended hours until 7 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day. The rest of the year the park is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

No guests are admitted an hour before closing time.

Entrance fees are $3 per person, ages 14 and older; 13 and under are free, as long as they are with an adult. For more information, call (928) 476-2261.

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