Bridging The Seasons

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Since it is at a lower elevation than the surrounding Rim communities, the Tonto Natural Bridge generally enjoys a longer stretch of good hiking weather, so make plans this fall to visit this fabulous natural wonder.

This year’s winter in Rim Country is expected to be colder than last year’s, perhaps increasing the chances for cold weather visitors to gape at icicles dangling from what is touted as the largest travertine bridge in the world.

Tonto Natural Bridge Park Manager John Boeck said the National Weather Service and the Farmer’s Almanac predict this winter’s chill more infiltrating than the last, which could increase the amount of snow.

Though Boeck attested to the icicles’ beauty, he said that they often force park officials to close the area under the bridge.

“We just encourage people to call,” Boeck said.

Tonto Natural Bridge, measuring 183 feet high and spanning a 400-foot long tunnel that stretches 150 feet at its widest point, is believed to be the largest travertine bridge in the world.

Travertine bridges are created when travertine, a porous calcite, is deposited from ground or surface waters. At 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.

Prospector David Gowan is credited with discovering the natural phenomenon in 1877. He claimed squatter’s rights and various private parties owned it until Oct. 12, 1990 when Arizona State Parks bought it.

Boeck said hardly any snow fell last year. “We had good moisture, but very little snow.” Park officials only plowed once.

Eighteen years ago, when Boeck first arrived at Tonto Natural Bridge as manager, he said plowing was necessary four or five times a year.

“You have your dry years, your wet years,” Boeck said, describing the inevitable cycles as “climate change.”

“We’re not supposed to say the other word.”

When temperatures dip enough to start the leaves’ color change, Boeck says it’s pretty.

“We get a lot of the yellows. We do get some reds — not too many reds, but it’s very pretty down here.”

Boeck is working to restore the park’s lodge to its original use as a 10-bed guesthouse and build cabins to accommodate more visitors.

Barring economic disaster, the lodge project was expected to go out to bid in early autumn, with work beginning in the spring.

The wastewater system needed to complete the transition has been completed. A road necessary to reach the proposed cabins is half designed.

“It’s a slow process sometimes,” Boeck said, but “it’s been moving along pretty well.”

From October through December, the park opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. The park closes at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, and is closed on Christmas Day.

Entrance fees cost $3 for those 14 and older. Those 13 and younger enter free. Call (928) 476-4202 for more information.

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