A little while ago I snuck up north for a solo adventure in Payson, Arizona. Tonto Natural Bridge has been on my must see list for years now and I could never get groups together (for various reasons: time, money, interest) to go see it. So, feeling my wanderlust, I woke up early on a Sunday morning and went.
The drive up highway 87 is gorgeous and I have no doubt it's been on the cover of a Highways magazine at one point. It took me roughly two hours to get up to the state park. I had originally intended to go up the weekend before but weather had called for snow, so I pegged off. Still the area had recently had ice, so I drove like the grandma driver I was trained to be. Thankfully, most of the snow had melted, leaving only clumps in shaded areas.
Once you enter Tonto state park, the area seems very flat and desolate. Looking out over the foliage to the right or left of me, I wondered if they'd had a forest fire there a within the last few years. However, that scene instantly changes once the road turns to the left and you begin your decent down into the canyon. The road leading down the rangers station and gift shop is a twisty, turning drive and if your driver isn't careful they'll get distracted by the amazing view to your right.
You pay your $7 entrance fee in the gift shop. Sadly, since there had been weather recently and the snow had already melted (for the most part) most of the trails in the park were closed; aside from the main trail I took.
Since I'd never been to this park before, I really had no idea what I was in for…
The map I was handed was a bit hard to read and orient yourself around from the gift shop starting point. Taking the advice of the girl who took my entry fee, I drove as far down the lane as I could and parked where I saw some other cars. Since only one trail was open, this had to be the one right? (Nope.)
Upon descending the first set of stairs, I found a tiny trickle of a stream jutting off to my right. Following the trail that ran along its left, I came to the first view point and — really there are things of such beauty in this word that no words can convey the sight that befalls you. It's an experience that no string of syllables can encapsulate.
The tiny stream I'd followed disappeared into a grove of trees and lush green foliage. When I walked past it I jokingly thought of it as a small fairy grove. The stream breaks into three branches, rushing steadily forward through the lush greenery — and suddenly plummets two hundred feet into the open air.
I happened to be there on a particularly windy day, so the curtain of droplets waved in the breeze. The sight was completely memorizing, tranquil and somewhat humbling.
Unknown to me at the time, I was standing at the very top of Tonto Natural Bridge.
I followed the railing before me and found the second view point that showed me the canyon below and the viewing platform I'd seen online. How was I supposed to get down there though? Following the trail down further, I came to a dead end with a chain link fence and signs of no entry. Confused, I wandered back the way I'd come and headed to the other side of the bridge. From there it wasn't hard to find the main trail that lead down into the canyon.
The trip down wasn't bad. There were a few very large steps but as long as I took it slow, it wasn't that vexing.
Once you get down to the bottom of the canyon, the sheer scale of this sight hits you. Two hundred feet doesn't sound like much, but once our have two hundred feet of travertine cliff face bearing down on you - you can feel it.
I'll let the pictures I took of this area speak for themselves, but I will say I was in awe of this place.
Here is some video I took. The lighting wasn't the greatest, so please forgive me.