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Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Payson, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Today’s outing was out to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, 10 miles north of Payson.  Payson is actually further away than we are to home…about 75 miles from our camp ground.  Payson is actually about 100 miles north of Phoenix.  That being said, it is one of the most beautiful drives in northern Arizona so definitely worth the trip.  Not everyone came on this outing so we carpooled, and that  made for a fun drive.  We again brought a sack lunch and were going to eat at the bridge.

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Tonto Natural Bridge is a natural arch.  It is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world.  The area surrounding the bridge has been made into the state park.  Tonto Natural Bridge itself stands over a 400-feet long and the tunnel  measures 150 feet  at its widest point and reaches a height of 183 feet .

This natural bridge was first documented by David Gowan,  a Scotsman, in 1877 while hiding from some hostile Apache tribe members.  Gowan was impressed by the location and persuaded his family to emigrate and live there. Gowan also tried to claim the land for himself under squatter’s rights.  The Gowan family members lived near the bridge until 1948.  Their lodge building where the Gowan family lived survives to this day and is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Once you get to the parking lot there is a paved path to a viewpoint where you can see the face of the bridge and can see the cascading waterfall from the top.  To get to the bridge there are two options, the Gowan Trail and the Pine Creek Trail.   The Pine Creek Trail is a longer path alongside the west side of the creek.  This leads you to a viewpoint beneath the bridge, which is a good place to appreciate the stalactite like formations that hang from beneath the bridge and adorn the west-facing canyon wall.  The Gowan Trail is a route down the cliffs just below the bridge.  This is quite steep and rather slippery in places but well worth the trip as it leads directly beneath the bridge, and in times of low water it is possible to walk through and link and end up at the end of the Pine Creek Trail.

I had been here many years before and the trail down was very steep and narrow.  There were metal poles with a small chain to keep you from going over the edge.  Today, that trail has been closed and you can’t go past the waterfall viewpoint.  The Gowan Trail has now taken it’s place, and this is the trail we chose to take.   Although it is still very steep, it is wider and there are man made steps periodically to make the decent easier.  However coming up was very strenuous and at times going straight up.  Some of the man made steps are about 8 inches high, so not a comfortable step up, but a strenuous one.  There are benches along the trail to stop and rest, which I did many many times.  I’m so glad we brought water as it was a hot day and a not so easy hike.  But we did it and it was worth every step.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the bottom of the trail is a wooden deck with benches where you can truly enjoy the bridge and the waterfall.  On a hot day like today, the mist from the waterfall was very much appreciated.  In the photo on the right, if you look above to the right you can see the waterfall viewpoint where we viewed at the beginning.

Once we arrived back to the top, there is a nice grassy area with picnic tables so we were able to have our lunch.  If you’re unable to make the hike down and back, this grassy area is a nice place to wait and still enjoy the view of the mountains and trees.

On a down side, most state parks in Arizona charge you an entrance fee of $7.00 a carload but for some reason, this park charges you $7.00 a person which is pretty high for the 30 minute hike.  However, because of it’s beauty and that it is the largest  travertine bridge in the world, to me it’s worth $7.00 to see…but don’t bring your dog…this park is NOT dog friendly.

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Fort Verde State Historic Park, Camp Verde, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Our first outing was to the Fort Verde State Historic Park.  It was just down the road from our camp ground so we packed a sack lunch and away we went.  I had arranged to have a tour for our group telling us the history of this military base.  The idea of the tour was to experience life through the eyes of a frontier soldier.   The fort was a base for General Crook’s U.S. Army scouts and soldiers in the 1870s and 1880s.  From 1865 – 1891, Camp Lincoln, Camp Verde and Fort Verde were home to officers, doctors, families, enlisted men, and scouts.  This park is the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona.  Several of the original buildings still stand and living history tours like what we have scheduled  gives visitors a glimpse into Arizona’s history.  Today we experienced three historic house museums, all furnished in the 1880s period, that are listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places.  The former Administration building houses the Visitor Center with interpretive exhibits, period artifacts from military life, and history on the Indian Scouts and Indian Wars era.  There is even a room with authentic clothing that we could even play dress up.  Several members of our RV group did just that.

This is a park that attempts to preserve parts of the Apache Wars era and it’s fort  as it appeared in the 1880s.  The park was established in 1970 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places  a year later.  Settlers in the mid-19th century near the Verde River grew corn and other crops with the prospect of getting good prices from nearby Prescott, which was at that time, the territorial capital.  Nearby miners were also interested in buying the crops that were available.  The rapid increase in population for the mining economy disrupted the hunting and gathering environments of the local Indian tribes.  In turn, they raided the farmers’ crops for food.

The farmers requested military protection from the United States Army and, in 1865, although Arizona was still only a territory, the infantry arrived.  They set up several posts over the next few years.  After approximately 1,500 local natives were placed on a reservation by 1872, the army’s role changed from protecting the settlers to ensuring that the Indians stayed on the reservation.  The last major military engagement with uprising natives took place in 1882 at the  Battle of Big Dry Wash.

The fort was never enclosed by walls or stockades, and it never saw fighting on site.  At its height, it consisted of twenty-two buildings, only four of which survived until 1956, when local citizens created a small museum in the administration building.  They later donated the buildings and ten acres  as a State Park.

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Some of the buildings were built with pice, which is large adobe slabs cast within wooden frames, rather than assembled from the more familiar individual adobe bricks.  The buildings remain and you are able to go inside and see just how the military lived.  Some quarters for the officers are very formal and elegant looking, while the quarters to the enlisted men were very simple.  At one time there were buildings for the married men and their families but those burnt and were never rebuilt.

The tour was very authentic as the guides dressed up in the attire of the times.  The first building, which was the administration building, houses several rooms of a museum showing uniforms and fire arms.  Volunteers share their knowledge of the weapons and describe in detail all the uniforms that are on display.  There are chronological charts to show the history of the fort and it shows how the Indians helped the military and were part of the US Army.

The fort is right in town, and the residents show how proud they are to be a part of this piece of history.  There are huge Ramada’s where we stopped to have our sack lunch.  This really was a great stop and the group seemed to enjoy finding out yet another piece of Arizona history.  I highly recommend stopping by this state park if you are ever going north or south on the I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff.


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Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Continuing with our theme of visiting all the State Parks in Arizona, we are once again hosting a camp out to DeadHorse Ranch State Park.  Now this is only about 60 miles from home, but it is a state park and one that offers camping,  We will actually be visiting three state parks on this trip alone.  Of course like I had mentioned before, if the state park offers camping, you must camp at the park for it to count…so here we are.  This is only a 4 night trip, but with all the activities planned it is going to be a fun filled week.

 

For only being 60 miles from home, this is a great park.  The Verde River runs right alongside the campground. This park even has cabins for those that don’t have an RV.  Of course I use the term “cabin” loosely as they are very primitive…but they are heated and have Air Conditioning.  The Quail Loop circle where we camped does have plenty  of trees that offers a great amount of shade.  We had 11 rigs join us on this trip and what a fun time we had.

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We did do our BBQ wagon master dinner, and had heavy appetizers each of the other nights.  Happy Hour was fun as we sat around and talked and got to know one another.  At night, while we were fighting off mosquitoes, we had a campfire where we once again had the chance to get to know some of the new people who attended.

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We did have activities planned for each day…of course it is visiting other state parks, so we were able to cross things off our list.  I’m going to blog about each stop separately….so be watching for those.  All and all this is a great state park.  There is plenty of  space in between sites, and we were able to fit chairs and tables for all 19 campers in attendance.  We were the talk of the camp ground with our nightly game of LCR and with all the food and laughter.  Even though this park is only 60 miles from home, I would certainly come back here if I ever just wanted to get away.