TontoBridge is a magnificent place.
Considered to be the largest travertine bridge in the world, its geological
history is as fascinating to read about as the bridge is to explore.
The Cave’s First Visitors…
As far back as
four-hundred years, the Apaches used the area of TontoNaturalBridge for seasonal
hunting and farming.However, it was not
until 1877 that a Scottish Gold prospector, David Gowan, would document the
site for the first time.Running from
the Apaches, Gowan found himself hiding on a shelf high up in the cave for
three days awaiting a safe exit.Gowan
left the area at the time but was so impressed by the beauty of the little
valley and its rainforest-like grottos that he later, in 1882,took advantage of the Homestead Actand laid his own claim to this tiny one-hundred
and sixty acre piece of paradise.
By 1908, word of the bridge spread like wildfire.Gowan persuaded family members from Scotland to
join him on his land to help him take care of it.Gowan’s nephew, David Gowan Goodfellow, was
among those who traveled from Scotland.Working together, they carved out the
harrowing entrance road to the canyon that still exists today.To accommodate the flood of visitors, they
also built a small guest lodge, which, after being updated in 1927, landed
itself on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Bridge’s Dimensions…
In 1990, Arizona declared the
area a state park.Since then, visitors
have been able to hike down its steep trails into the cave and witness the marvel
of its enormity first hand.The bridge
itself is over 183 feet high, 400 feet long, 150 feet wide, and about 100 feet
thick at the top.That is huge!Pictures really do not do it any
justice.You have to see the bridge and
stand in the cave first hand. If that isn’t enough, wait until you hear how it
Rocks, Water, and Lava, Constantly At Odds…
TontoNaturalBridge went through many
stages of complex development to arrive at it’s present state of being.The water source that runs through the valley
and under the bridge, known as Pine Creek, plays a significant role in the
formation of the travertine wonder.
A LONG, SLOW, DETAILED FORMATION…
According to the
description on the Arizona
state parks web site (www.pr.state.az.us),
this is how it was formed.“The west
side of Pine Creek was formed by a flow of rhyolitic lava.The rock eroded then leaving in its path
purple quartz sandstone.The rock layers
were then lithified, tilted and faulted.The area was then covered by sea water, (1.7 million years ago), leaving
behind sand and mud sediments.”The very
active volcanics of the area must have then covered the area and its rock
layers with Lava, forming a cap of basalt.Through tectonic shifting and years of erosion, it is thought that PineCreekCanyon was formed.
The web site further explains “Precipitation began
seeping underground through fractures and weak points
in the rock, resulting in limestone aquifers.As a result, springs emerged, carrying and
depositing the calcium carbonate required to form a travertine dam. Over time,
Pine Creek, with the awesome power of water behind it, eroded through the
travertine and formed the Natural bridge we see today.”
A SUM UP…
TontoNaturalBridge is something of a must
see for those who haven’t.At its 4500
foot elevation, there are several beautiful trails leading all around the
bridge with wonderfully fascinating geological formations to explore.Pine Creek shows itself not only in the
bottom of the enormous cave but seeping out of fissures all over the place as
well.Bright green moss grows abundantly
near these fissures making them an obvious stopping point on the trails.
So if you love Geology like I do, spend the day
exploring this travertine wonder of Northern Arizona.