largest natural travertine bridge
Brief History... Tucked away in a tiny valley surrounded by a forest of pine trees, Tonto Natural Bridge has been in the making for thousands of years. It is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point.
The discovery of the small and beautiful valley between Pine and Payson was documented in 1877 by David Gowan, a prospector who stumbled across the bridge as he was chased by Apaches. Gowan hid for two nights and three days in one of several caves that dot the inside of the bridge. On the third day, he left the cave to explore the tunnel and green valley surrounding it. Gowan then claimed squatter's rights.
In 1898 he persuaded his nephew, David Gowan Goodfellow, to bring his family over from Scotland and settle the land permanently. After a week of difficult travel from Flagstaff, the Goodfellows arrived at the edge of the mountain and lowered their possessions down the 500 foot slopes into the valley by ropes and burros.
Today, visitors can stand on top of the bridge or hike down below to capture the true size and beauty of this geologic wonder. Geology of the Bridge According to state geologists, the formation of Tonto Natural Bridge went through several stages of development.
The west side of Pine Creek was formed by a flow of lava in the form of rhyolite. The rock eroded, leaving behind purple quartz sandstone. The rock layers were then lithified, tilted and faulted.
The area was then covered by sea water, leaving behind a sediment of sand and mud. Volcanic eruptions covered the rock layers with lava, forming a basalt cap. Through erosion, the basalt cap broke down and was shifted by faults, creating Pine Creek Canyon.
Precipitation began seeping underground through fractures and weak points in the rock, resulting in limestone aquifers. Springs emerged as a result of these aquifers, carrying the dissolved limestone and depositing calcium carbonate to form a travertine dam. The waters of Pine Creek then eroded through the travertine and formed the Natural Bridge. Trails Please carry drinking water while hiking trails. All park trails descend into Pine Canyon and are steep and strenuous.
Pine Creek Trail - about 1/2 mile long (400 feet developed - undeveloped in the creek bottom), leads to the Pine Creek natural area. Hiking shoes are recommended. (No pets or glass containers.) Follow the arrows, allow one hour.
Waterfall Trail - about 300 feet long, ends at waterfall cave. (No pets or glass containers.) Uneven steps.
Gowan Loop Trail - about 1/2 mile long, leads to an observation deck in the creek bottom. The trail is steep and rough. No trash cans. Hiking shoes are recommended. (No pets or glass containers.) Group-Use Facilities
Facilities: Goodfellow Group Use Area, Cypress Group Use Ramada, Lodge Dining Room, Lodge.
Amenities: Grass areas, large barbecue, electricity; shaded ramada with 8 picnic tables, large barbecue; dining room in the historic lodge, restrooms and kitchen available. Overnight use of Historic Lodge, 10 bedrooms, kitchen and dining facilities.
Maximum Group Size: 12-20 people for lodge overnight use; 25-100 for Day-use Reservation Facilities.
Picnic Areas: Yes
Reservation Policy: Please call the park for details.
Restrictions: For some areas reservations for holiday weekends are not accepted. Minimum of one month in advance reservation. Limited parking space. No pets allowed on trails or in swim areas. Please call park for details.
Hours: call park for current information
Group Use Fees: Fees vary. Please call the park for details.
After Hour Fees: No after hours use allowed with exception of lodge overnight use.
Contact Name and Phone Number: Park Manager (928) 476-4202
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.