Run For The Bridge

Rim Country residents continue to work for park

The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is a popular place for making photos or just viewing the largest natural travertine bridge.Rim Country residents and visitors are invited to join a poker run to raise money to help keep Tonto Natural Bridge operating.

The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is a popular place for making photos or just viewing the largest natural travertine bridge.Rim Country residents and visitors are invited to join a poker run to raise money to help keep Tonto Natural Bridge operating. |

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Rim Country residents and visitors are invited to join a poker run to raise money to help keep Tonto Natural Bridge operating.

The event is Saturday, June 19 and sponsored by Tony G’s Sidewinders Saloon in Pine. The goal is to help raise the $7,000 needed to keep Tonto Natural Bridge State Park open through September.

Both motorcycles and cars and trucks can participate. The fee is $25 per couple or $15 per person. Participants have the chance to win $300 with the best hand and $150 with the lowest hand.

There will also be a 50-50 drawing, raffles and a silent auction. Entertainment will be by The John Scott Band, starting at 12:30 p.m. at Sidewinders.

Sidewinders will have a $6 special on its barbecue pork sandwiches and sides for the participants, with $1 from each lunch donated to the park effort. Other menu items will also be available.

Register between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce in Payson, at the corner of Highway 87 and West Main Street, or at Sidewinders Saloon at the corner of Highway 87 and Hardscrabble Road in Pine. All proceeds will benefit the Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

Stops for the run are the Buffalo Bar & Grill, Payson; Long Valley Cafe, Long Valley; Sportsman Chalet, Strawberry; Happy Jack Lodge, Happy Jack; and ending at Sidewinders, Pine (see accompanying map).

For more information, call Carol Gianndrea at (480) 216-7620.

About Tonto Natural Bridge

The world’s largest natural travertine bridge represents Rim Country’s best-known tourist attraction — but it has also required a tenacious fight to make sure it stays open all summer.

The town of Payson and a band of volunteers who love the soaring, cavernous arch that forms a grotto through which Pine Creek flows, struck a deal with the Arizona State Parks Board this year to keep the park open, despite budget woes that have forced the closure of many other state parks.

As a result, the drip castle formations dissolved in the ancient cliff of travertine can continue to draw crowds all summer — many of them from other continents. The state park draws nearly 100,000 visitors annually.

The cavernous tunnel has been used as a hiding place by settlers hunted by raiding Apaches. On the plateau above sits a historic lodge that now houses a visitors center.

The inconspicuous Pine Creek created the 83-feet-high, 400-foot-long tunnel through the cliff face as it chewed through the layers of ancient rock, thanks to the intricate marvel of time and chemistry.

Fascinating geological processes lie behind the formation of the bridge, 150 feet wide at its widest point.

photo

Tom Brossart/Roundup

The story of the bridge starts millions of years ago with the deposit of layers of travertine, a porous form of calcite. The layers were buried, cemented, uplifted and then exposed to the water of Pine Creek.

Prospector David Gowan is said to have discovered the natural phenomenon in 1877 when he had to hide in the caverns and caves to escape Apaches.

He tried to make a go of farming in the area, and even brought family over from Scotland to help him.

Various private parties owned it until 1990 when Arizona State Parks bought it.

The once torturous road leading to the bridge has been paved and widened for easy access, and the century-old lodge has been converted to include a gift shop.

The state’s master plan calls for the eventual restoration of rooms in the lodge, and creekside cabins.

photo

Tom Brossart/Roundup

Water is constantly dropping from atop the natural bridge to the rocks below, creating this rainbow affect as it bounces off the rocks in a bright sun.

Visitors have been flocking back to the park since the Memorial Day reopening. Most must struggle to understand the complex geological processes that created the bridge.

The fine crystals of travertine are a form of dissolved limestone, comprised of calcium carbonate — often from the skeletons of aquatic animals. Nearby Fossil Creek is rich in this same mineral.

Natural acids in groundwater dissolve the calcium carbonate as water seeps through fractures in the limestone. Once the spring water bubbles back to the surface, dissolved carbon dioxide escapes like gas from popping open a bottle of carbonated soda. As the water evaporates, calcite comes out of the solution and creates travertine.

The ecology of the park is in many ways as remarkable as the geology. Straddling Pine Creek at the base of the Mogollon Rim, the bridge lies in the overlap between several major habitat types. As a result, it nurtures a wide mix of wildlife.

Five different species of bats live in the park, plus bobcats, cottontails, black bears, coyotes, gray foxes, elk, mountain lion and a host of other species.

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