I took a side trip while visiting the Pine/Payson, AZ area to see the Tonto Natural Bridge.
Didn’t look like much from the parking lot, and that is because it is all below this level… deep in the canyon. The following is taken from http://azstateparks.com/Parks/TONA/history.html
History-From State Park Reports
The white man discovered the Natural Bridge of Arizona late in the 19th century (approximately 1870’s). However, the American Indians had long used it and its adjacent caves for homes and its top (5 acres) as a fertile field; but nature, through millions of years, had worked with patient labor and magnificent skill to construct this monument, 200,000,000 cubic feet of rock—15,000,000 tons of stone. Her tools were a mountain spring and an adjacent stream, both flowing through limestone out of the mountains toward the barren wastelands (now the Great Salt River Valley) to the south. Nature painted this masterpiece with dull red and ocher, soft shades of yellow and cream intermingled with delicate tracings of bluish gray.
One spring day in 1877, while prospecting for gold in the Tonto Rim area, David Douglas Gowan’s eyes first beheld this enormous Natural Bridge. He descended from the mountains to the east to the beautiful little valley below that had a clear spring, in order to quench his thirst. After refreshing himself, he started exploring the adjacent area and made his unique discovery. After a few more trips to this “Garden Spot” with its unique beauty, Gowan decided this was the place for him to live.
However, others had decided to live there before him, and it wasn’t long until Indians returned to their “Garden Spot” to plant their crops. Then began a long tiresome game between the Apaches and Gowan. The fact that Gowan was able to maintain and perfect his claim to this area is to pay high tribute to his ability and ingenuity in dealing with the Indians. He admitted, however, that in the interest of preserving his life, it became necessary at one point to hide for three days and nights in one of the deep caves under the Bridge until the Apache’s war fever subsided.
Near the parking lot was an interesting little nature interpretive trail.
I made my way to one of the Viewpoint locations, feeling sure all I would do it look over the edge, see the bridge and then leave. It took my breath away. So far down. No, don’t think I’m going down there.
I stood there amazed at how far down people were.
This little guy lives on the edge and seem little bothered by it all.
I walked around the Viewpoints, and kept saying, NO, I’m not going down there. But then my feet began going down.
Down was easy.
The views and rock formations were other-worldly.
Moss is hanging off the top of the Bridge, and water dripping off the plants.
Some of the stairs going down… the easy part.
Looking back at the other stairs.
Crossing the bridge leading to an Observation Deck. That’s 1/2 Mile from the top.
Lakes at the bottom.
So I approach the tunnel wondering it I could make it through and out the other side.
Looking straight overhead once I entered the tunnel.
Looking through the tunnel and out the other end.
I sat and rested and watched a man and boy coming my way from the other side. He had a baby in a backpack on his back. I thought, well, it can’t be too hard then? I waited to ask them how it was and if they thought I could get through.
I sat and watch more people. Next man I asked said I should go back. (He does not know Swankie.) I watched more people. Eventually, I decided if I am going to hike 820 miles solo, I should be able to get through this little bitty ol’ tunnel.
NO PHOTOS GOING THROUGH… MY HANDS WERE TOO BUSY.
This couple was going ahead of me and the woman in white seemed to be having a lot of trouble in one spot. It had me worried. She looked very afraid. Both were barefooted? But I finally got past that hard spot… and let me tell you, I never hugged a rock so hard before in my life. The footholds were narrow (about half a foot’s width) but adequate, but the rock wall was straight up and down, and taller than my head, and there were no handholds, just fingertip holds. This goes on for about 12’ I think. It is not a huge fall if you loose your grip, but I kept envisioning knocking more teeth out, so I wanted to make sure I held tight (with my fingertips?). Finally made it past that spot, but then it was slick rock slanting downward at such an angle I felt pretty sure I would loose my footing there if I kept upright, so I sat down on my butt and slid down it slowly. Once again on Terra Firma… I was now faced with walking out the other end of the tunnel and then about another mile or so back to the parking lot. There was a whole lot of rock-scrambling ahead and in places I didn’t see how I could get up and over them, or through them, etc. It was a real challenge, but not dangerous, just hard. My legs got a real workout and bent in ways I did not know they could bend.
At one point as I exited the tunnel, I looked straight overhead and took this shot. Rock ledge over my head.
I loved this old Sycamore tree trunk… it was after most of the larger rocks had been passed.
Some people just have to leave their mark.
Found a shady spot and sat to rest, let my heart rate come down from about 160 beats per minute, and rehydrate a bit. Had one small can of V-8 and only one bottle of water. I thought I had two bottles, but one was empty and I didn’t notice.
There were still obstacles ahead… and this spot almost looked impassible, but I got through it someway.
These are the trail markers, but even so in places it was difficult to find the trail. In some places yellow arrows had been painted right on the rock.
And, yes, there are rocks down there…. some imbedded in bigger rocks. And NO, I did not collect any, but one, just ONE.
SO, when you see signs like this with stern warnings, take heed. I am very strong and in good health, but I had second thoughts that I could do this trail. As it turned out, difficult as it was, I did not even get sore the next day.
It was worth the challenge of doing it and helped me build a little confidence too for the Arizona Trail hike.
Would I do it again? NOPE!!!