Start The New Year With A Hike At Tonto Natural Bridge

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Start the year off on the right foot — take a First Day Hike at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

On New Year’s Day, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park’s First Day Hike will offer Rim residents and visitors an opportunity to explore its natural and cultural treasures. Observe javelina, listen to birds, discover wildlife tracks, and breathe in the fresh air.

The quiet beauty of nature will surround visitors in winter, experience spectacular views and vistas and benefit from the company of Tonto Natural Bridge’s knowledgeable state park guide, Morgan Wilkes.

Wilkes started out as a volunteer a few years ago at Tonto Natural Bridge, and then became a park ranger. He is usually found down under the bridge where he monitors the activities of visitors and provides information and assistance when needed. He says he enjoys being there and likes to help visitors enjoy the experience. He will describe the hikes to hikers who may then select the hike that is suitable for them.

Complimentary hot chocolate and coffee will be available to hikers who will also receive $1 off admission, which is regularly $5 for adults. The event starts at 11 a.m. Participants should meet at the bridge parking area. Children must be at least 7 to participate and no pets are allowed. The hike is moderate in difficulty and six-tenths of a mile in length. Bring water and winter gear.

The hike will be on Gowan Trail to the observation deck and will continue for those who want to go through the bridge and return via Anna Mae Trail.

Weather conditions in January may be extreme; hike may be canceled due to snow, ice, high creek flow, etc. Check the park Web site for current information.

For cancellation information, call the park at (928) 476-4202 or go online to azstateparks.com/tona

Other nearby state parks are also participating in the First Day Hike program.

• Jan. 1, 11 a.m. Boyce Thompson Arboretum — Plants, animals, and history hike. Meet at visitor center. All ages. Leashed dogs allowed. Dress in layers; bring water bottle, hat, binoculars and camera.

Also Jan. 1 — Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park will have its Plants of the Bible Walk at 1:30 p.m. Queen Valley resident Leda Fide leads a relaxing Sunday walking tour teaching about botany, history and scripture on this slow-paced and relaxing New Year’s Day walk (Sunday) down smooth and flat trails that are wheelchair-accessible. Learn more about Plants of the Bible at http://ag.arizona.edu/bta/events/ bibleplants.html

• Jan. 1, 9 a.m. — Dead Horse Ranch — meet at West Lagoon parking lot. It will last approximately 1-1/2 to two hours and cover two to three miles. Hikers will meander along the Verde River riparian area as well as the three lagoons that are on the park. Dress in warm layers, wear sturdy shoes and bring water. Participants may also want to bring binoculars and a camera; the day might be good for wildlife photo ops. Ranger Margie will be leading the hike.

• Jan. 1, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. — Red Rock State Park. Meet at visitor center. No dogs allowed. Enjoy a 1 to 1.5 hour naturalist-led hike. Bring water, good shoes, hat, and dress appropriately.

These hikes are part of a national collaboration of all 50 state park systems across the U.S. that will sponsor guided “First Day Hikes” on New Year’s Day 2012.

According to Assistant State Parks Director Jay Ream, “We are committed to promoting outdoor recreation as a way to improve children’s health. These days every parent is looking for exciting ways to get the kids outside and unplugged from their video games and other electronic media.”

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