Location

Tonto Natural Bridge Locator Map

Elevation 4,530 feet   Fees

Contact the Park:
(928) 476-4202
Tonto Natural Bridge
P.O. Box 1245
Payson, AZ 85547
10 mi. N of Payson on Hwy 87

Facilities

Visitor Center Restrooms Gift Shop Museum Exhibits Group: Day Use Areas Picnic Areas/Shelters Hiking Trails Swimming Wildlife Viewing

Nearest Services: 8 miles

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511 Speed Code

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Park's Speed Code: 4244#

Fees

Park Entrance Fees:
Adult (14+): $5.00
Youth (7–13): $2.00
Child (0–6): FREE

Fee Schedule

Friends Group

Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge

Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge, dedicated to preservation & enhancement

History of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Opened & Dedicated June 29, 1991

By Charles R. Eatherly

Tonto Natural Bridge in 1973
Tonto Natural Bridge in 1973.

Since its creation in 1957, the State Parks Board made acquisition of the Tonto Natural Bridge a priority project. In July 1967, the Parks Board adopted a revised development program, and the Tonto Natural Bridge was identified as the top priority. A letter was sent to Director Dennis McCarthy on July 31, 1967, advising the agency that Mrs. Randall, Executrix for the Glen Randall estate, had set the selling price for the Tonto Natural Bridge at $500,000. At the November 15, 1967, meeting of the Parks Board, the following motion was adopted unanimously: A motion was made by Member Fireman, seconded by Member Rarick that the Director be authorized to meet with the proper legislative committees (Natural Resources in the Senate and House) with the request that legislation be drafted and introduced for the acquisition of the Tonto Natural Bridge as a State Park, if the Legislature feels that this is an acceptable project. The motion carries unanimously.

On February 13, 1968, Representatives Lyman, Getzwiller, Rosenbaum, Farley, Jones, Shaghnessy and Shelly introduced House Bill 272 (HB 272). The Act authorized the Park and appropriated $250,000 from the State General Fund to the Arizona State Parks Board for the acquisition of the Tonto Natural Bridge. HB 272 passed the Natural Resources and the Game and Fish Committee and was referred to Appropriations and Rules. The Appropriations Committee amended the bill reducing the appropriation to $20,000 for appraisals and planning studies. The Second Regular Session of the Twenty-eighth Legislature adjourned without any further action on HB 272.

At the request of State Parks, the owners agreed to hold the property until after the next Legislative session. The Agency began to look for various other funding options such as the Four Corners Regional Commission and The Nature Conservancy. The acquisition, limited development, and operation of the Tonto Natural Bridge was included in the Agency’s budget request for 1969-1970 Fiscal Year that was filed with the Commissioner of Finance on September 1, 1968. Jack Williams was the Governor at this time.

Tonto Lodge in 1990
Tonto Lodge in 1990.

On November 7, 1968, the New Starts Committee, a Subcommittee of the State Parks Board, comprised of Chairman A.C. Williams, Duane Miller, and Ralph Burgbacher met at the Tonto Natural Bridge. Director McCarthy and Assistant Director Paul Crandall were also present for the meeting. The group toured the grounds and buildings, viewed the Bridge, and had lunch at the lodge.

In a letter dated November 29, 1968, Director McCarthy advised Representative Stan Turley that the Tonto Natural Bridge is the Parks Board priority project and its acquisition and development had been included as components in the 1969-1970-budget request. The Parks Board would again seek the introduction of legislation to acquire and develop this site as a State Park. As Representative Turley had been named Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, the Director requested that Chairman Turley create within the Committee a sub-committee on State Parks.

In December 1968, Director McCarthy met with representatives of The Nature Conservancy and officials of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) in San Francisco concerning the negotiations to acquire the Tonto Natural Bridge. The Nature Conservancy was willing to assist, and the Regional Director of the BOR, Frank Sylvester, indicated if the Arizona Outdoor Recreation Coordinating Commission approved this acquisition project, funds from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund would be approved by BOR in fiscal year 1970.

This information was reported to Mrs. Randall and she advised the Director she would wait to see what the Legislature would do. She was enthusiastic about the prospect of its acquisition as a State Park, either through legislative action, or through The Nature Conservancy.

Speaker of the House Stan Turley, in a letter dated December 6, 1968, indicated to the Director that the acquisition of the Tonto Natural Bridge was probably one of the most logical projects the Board could place as priority #1 and he would do whatever he could to accomplish this objective. Speaker Turley authorized the Director to have Legislative Council prepare the necessary legislation to acquire Tonto Natural Bridge for introduction at the start of the legislative session.

In January 1969, the acquisition and development of the Tonto Natural Bridge as a State Park was unanimously endorsed by the Arizona Conservation Council, the Governor’s Commission on Arizona Beauty, the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association, and the Arizona Wildlife Federation.

Governor Fife Symington at the park in 1991
Governor Fife Symington at the park in 1991.

On January 21, 1969, the House Natural Resources Committee agreed to introduce the Tonto Natural Bridge legislation, known as House Bill 65, which would appropriate $175,000 of State funds to be matched by a grant from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Bill was heard and passed by the Natural Resources Committee on January 28, 1969. It passed in the House on March 21, 1969, with a reduced appropriation of only $55,000. The legislature felt that the agency would be able to get the necessary $120,000 through matches from The Nature Conservancy and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

House Bill 65 (Chapter 63) passed the Legislature and was signed by Governor Jack Williams on April 9, 1969. This bill gave the authority to purchase the Tonto Natural Bridge and appropriated only $55,000 to be matched with Land and Water Conservation Funds for a partial payment toward the acquisition of the Tonto Natural Bridge property. The appropriation stood until June 30, 1971.

In May 1969, the Director authorized the initiation of the appraisal by Mr. Burke, an MIA appraiser located in Phoenix. In June 1969, the Agency prepared the Project Proposal to submit to the Arizona Outdoor Recreation Coordinating Commission on July 1, 1969. The appraisal was completed by August 12, 1969, on the Tonto Natural Bridge with a value of $125,000. Mrs. Randall rejected the appraisal and would not pay for another appraisal. By mid September, the Parks Board had secured another appraisal from Mr. Veldon Naylor, MIA, which set a value of $325,000. The Parks Board approved sending a letter to Mrs. Randall with an offer of $225,000. This offer was also rejected, and the Board was advised that the owners would not accept less than $390,000. The Parks Board considered this request and rejected it. By letter dated November 14, 1969, the Parks Board offered $250,000 to purchase the 160 acres that included the Tonto Natural Bridge.

In March of 1970, the Parks Board learned that the North Star Development Company of Flagstaff had secured an option to purchase the Tonto Natural Bridge. The Parks Board requested Board Member Duane Miller to contact the owners of the North Star Development Company and advise them of the Board’s continued interest in acquiring the Tonto Natural Bridge as a State Park.

In February of 1971, the Director was instructed to send a letter to the principals of North Star Development Company expressing the Board’s continued interest in the Tonto Natural Bridge. The Parks Board held a meeting at the lodge on August 19 and 20, 1971. After considerable discussion on all aspects of the project and proposals, the Board agreed to end its negotiations with the owners of the Tonto Natural Bridge.

Although the Parks Board had publicly ended its negotiation with the owners, through the early 1970’s the Board continued to have staff investigate alternative ways to acquire the Tonto Natural Bridge. These alternatives included authorization to exchange the property for State Trust land outside Gila County, creation of a Revolving Fund in the Governor’s Office and possible condemnation. During the late 1970’s and during the 1980’s, the owners approached the Board on a number of occasions the see if the Board could secure funding. However, a very clouded title further complicated any attempt to pursue acquisition.

In the late 1980’s, the courts determined that the Wolfswinkle family was the legal owner of the Tonto Natural Bridge. The Wolfswinkles renovated the lodge in 1987 to return it to its original condition. In 1989, a member of the Wolfswinkle family called Director Travous to see if there was still interest on the part of the Parks Board in the acquisition of the Tonto Natural Bridge. The opening to pursue the possible acquisition came in January 1990 during a presentation made on the status of State Parks to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Following the presentation, Senator Leo Corbet stated the Tonto Natural Bridge should be a State Park and wanted to know if there was any possible way to get it into the system. The Committee was very supportive of making this area a State Park, so the agency quickly followed up with meetings with various legislators and budget analysts to develop an acceptable course of action.

Initially, the Senate Natural Resources Committee and the Governor sent letters to each member of the Arizona Congressional Delegation to see if there was any possibility of federal participation in helping acquire the Arizona landmark. Upon learning there would be no federal participation, the Parks staff began to work closely with the legislative leadership to secure a bill to be used as a vehicle to pursue the purchase. Senator Pat Wright, Chairman of Senate Appropriations, asked that one of her bills be used. By March 8, 1990, a “Strike Everything” amendment had been prepared and approved for Senate Bill 1030 (SB 1030). The amendment was introduced and passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 9, 1990. The bill authorized the State Parks Board to acquire, develop and operate the Tonto Natural Bridge as a State Park. It provided an appropriation for the first year of operation and authorized the use of a Certificate of Participation (COP) to acquire the property. It also required the State Park Acquisition and Development Fund (later renamed the Enhancement Fund) to be used to make the annual lease-purchase payments. The bill had additional support from those legislators who would be most directly affected by the addition of a State Park in their area. Those included Senator Bill Hardt, Senator Tony Gabaldon and Representatives Jack Brown, Polly Rosenbaum, Karan English, and John Wettaw (Chairman of House Appropriations). Within two weeks, SB 1030 passed the Senate, the House Appropriations and Rules Committees and was ready for final action by the House.

During this same time, the Joint Committee on Capital Review (JCCR) met and approved the use of lease-purchase to acquire the Tonto Natural Bridge. The House passed the measure and Governor Rose Mofford signed SB 1030 on April 12, 1990, which became Chapter 48 of the laws of that session.

The Purchase Agreement between the State Parks Board and the Tonto Natural Bridge, Inc., was signed on July 19, 1990. The Lease Purchase Agreement was signed on October 1, 1990, and the Tonto Natural Bridge appears as Project Unit No. 3, Docket 813, and page 378 of the recorded documents in Gila County. The Warranty Deed was signed on October 10, 1990, which conveyed the property to the Trustee. An Amended and Restated Lease-Purchase Agreement was completed by Bank One, Arizona, NA, Trustee as Lessor and the State of Arizona, by the Director of the Department of Administration as Lessee on December 1, 1993. This document was filed in Gila County on December 29, 1993, as Fee # 93-641916 with 52 pages. The Tonto Natural Bridge (160 acres) appears as paragraph VIII. Project Unit No. 8 on page A-7 of these recorded documents.

The entrance and interior roads and parking areas were realigned and paved; additional picnic facilities were constructed; an entrance station was installed; and landscape improvements were completed before the Park was opened to the public. The official Grand Opening Celebration was held on June 29, 1991, with a full day of activities. Ken Travous, State Parks Executive Director, served as master of ceremony for the day. He introduced U.S. Senator John McCain, Governor Symington, special guests, Parks Board members, legislators, John Boeck, Park Manager, and park staff. At the Dedication Ceremony held at 6:30 PM, Ken Travous introduced Parks Board Chairman, Ron Pies who again introduced Governor Fife Symington, and together they cut the ribbon to mark the official opening of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

An additional 1.04 acres of land was purchased from the U.S. Forest Service on September 9, 1999. This parcel was needed as a portion of the roadway to the residence area crossed this property.

Early History of the Tonto Natural Bridge Area

Compiled from various documents

The following excerpts are from a report entitled “Tonto Natural Bridge-Proposed National Monument” prepared in 1949 by Earl A. Trager with Hugh M. Miller, Charles A. Richey, Charles N. Gould, Clinton F. Rose, J.H. Tovrea and Vincent W. Vandiver collaborating. Trager, Gould and Vandiver, government engineers, prepared the geological report.

“Tonto Natural Bridge is located in…the central part of Arizona…. It is in Pine Canyon, a tributary of East Verde River…. The country is mountainous, with deep canyons, towering peaks and precipitous cliffs. The elevation of the bridge in the bottom of Pine Canyon is approximately 4600 feet above sea level.

The outstanding feature that has made this place (The Mogollon Plateau Area) famous is the Tonto Natural Bridge. It is unique among natural bridges in that it is formed of travertine. Most bridges are either in sandstone, as witness Rainbow Bridge and other natural bridges in Utah, or in hard limestone, such as the famous Natural Bridge in Virginia.”

(Quoting Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, entitled “North American Natural Bridges” with a discussion of their origin.)

Not only is the bridge unique in respect to its origin, but also is, moreover, one of the most beautiful bridges in the United States. When the brilliant green of the irrigated, travertine-filled valley above the natural bridge comes into view, its beauty seems unusual…. Beneath the arch of the bridge are several caves of considerable extent, from the roof of which hang stalactites and from the floor of which stalagmites arise.

Darton…found 1150 feet of quartzite…exposed at Natural Bridge with basal conglomerate 300 feet thick….

Two large springs discharge into the valley…. These springs also provide water for the large swimming pool, which has been constructed for the accommodation of the visitors.

These springs have been discharging for a very long time, provably for hundreds of thousands of years. The travertine thus formed has spread out and choked the gorge…. Our attention was called to one deposit along the face of the cliff that has been built out five feet in forty years, or at the rate of 1.5 inches per year.

Height of bridge 183 feet Width of tunnel 150 feet Length of tunnel 393 feet Thickness of travertine above tunnel 60 feet Width of platform across valley on top bridge 1050 feet Length of platform, upstream 1320 feet Average thickness of travertine deposit 150 feet Number of cubic feet of travertine 200,000,000

There are within the tunnel 5 pools of clear water, one of which is said to be 40 feet deep. The present trail through the tunnel is practically unimproved, except that ladders have been built on the steeper cliffs. At one place in the tunnel there are 4 ladders, with 60 rungs. At many places there is a constant dripping of water from the roof. Stalactites are forming from above and stalagmites on the floor.

From the standpoint of geology we consider that Tonto Bridge is of national monument caliber and recommend its favorable consideration. The chief item which have influenced our decision are:

1. The Natural Bridge is unique, and so far as is known, there is no other occurrence comparable to it in North America. 2. In addition to the uniqueness of its composition being of travertine, its size compares favorable with the Natural Bridges in southern Utah. 3. The natural setting of the bridge in the valley of Pine Creek just south of the Mogollon Rim is fascinating. 4. It is believed that a most interesting and comprehensive geological story of the formation of the Natural Bridge and the surrounding area could easily be developed for the visitor. 5. The Bridge is located in an area of scenic beauty. Its addition to the Service will provide a splendid one-day trip for trans-continental travelers who may detour from Winslow to Tonto Bridge, thence to Montezuma Well and return to the highway at Flagstaff, Arizona, via Oak Creek Canyon. 6. The entire valley is teeming with birds. The bandtail pigeon is common. Both coniferous and deciduous trees abound.

(Numerous mammals abound in the area. It is the only natural location where both pine trees and cacti grow next to each other.)

Comparison of Virginia’s Famous Natural Bridge with Arizona’s Natural Bridge of Arizona Natural Bridge of Virginia Length of Tunnel 393 feet Length of Tunnel 90 feet Width of Tunnel 150 feet Width of Tunnel 60 feet Height of Bridge 183 feet Height of Bridge 215 feet Cu. ft. of Rock 200,000,000 Cu. Ft. of Rock 450,000

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.

Gowan homesteaded the 160 acres at the Bridge and planted walnut, apricot, peach, apple, cherry and pear trees. He builds a dwelling at the site, grew a small garden and hunted game to sustain him while he wandered about exploring for gold.

On one of his trips for provisions, David Gowan reported his discovery and an Englishman, traveling through the Phoenix area, considering it a news item of international importance, dispatched a story from Phoenix telling about the “secondstory farm” atop a large Natural Bridge in Arizona.

Reading the dispatch in a Scottish paper, David Goodfellow, a nephew of David Gowan (who had left Scotland many years previous to seek his fortune in America) wondered if this could be his “long lost” uncle. A letter addressed “David Cowan, near Flagstaff, Arizona Territory, United States of America” was sent. Giving full credit to the U.S. Postal Service, the letter arrived, putting Gowan back in contact with his relatives in Scotland.

Gowan soon grew tired of his “Lonesome Paradise”. Feeling his discovery offered unlimited possibilities for someone willing to exert the effort to develop it, he offered it to his nephew in Scotland if he would come to America and settle there.

David Goodfellow arrived in America with his wife and three children in 1893. David had sold his tailoring business in Durham, boarded a ship for New York City and then, traveled by train to Flagstaff, Arizona Territory. Davis Gowan hired a freight hauler form Payson and met the Goodfellows the train station in Flagstaff. They loaded their belongings into the wagon pulled by a team of horses and arrived at the Bridge six days later.

David Goodfellow with the help of his good wife and sons, built a road, converted the rocky travertine-covered acres into fertile farm land, and built a comfortable home to accommodate the family and the few curious who were daring enough to venture into this rugged semi-wilderness to see this amazing natural wonder lying at their doorstep. The Goodfellows continued to enterprisingly improve the site, by constructing six small guest cabins, then building a 10-room lodge with running water and improving access to the caves beneath the Bridge.

The Goodfellows owned the Bridge until 1948 when Glen L. Randall purchased it from them. Mr. Randall’s grandfather first entered the area in 1879 and was one of the first residents to greet the Goodfellows when they moved over from Scotland. The Randalls were the owners and involved in the operation the Bridge until the 1980’s. However, during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the property title was clouded in a series of complex partnerships and various legal entanglements. In the late 1980’s, the Courts determined that Clifford Wolfswinkle was the legal owner of the Tonto Natural Bridge.

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