The world’s largest natural travertine bridge represents Rim Country’s best-known tourist attraction — but it has also offered a heartening example of how a community and the State Parks can join forces to protect a natural treasure.
The town of Payson and a band of volunteers who love the soaring, cavernous arch that forms a grotto through which Pine Creek flows have provided both money and volunteers to keep the park open year-round, despite budget woes that have forced the closure of many other state parks.
The 83-feet-high, 400-foot-long tunnel through the cliff face was created by the inconspicuous Pine Creek as it chewed through the layers of ancient rock, thanks to the intricate marvel of time and chemistry. Prospector David Gowan discovered the natural phenomenon in 1877. He tried to make a go of farming in the area, although he had to sometimes hide in the caverns and caves to escape raids by Apaches.
The once torturous road leading to the bridge has been paved and widened for easy access, and the century-old lodge has been converted to include a gift shop. The fine crystals of travertine are a form of dissolved limestone, comprised of calcium carbonate. Natural acids in groundwater dissolve the calcium carbonate as water seeps through fractures in the limestone. Once the spring water bubbles back to the surface, dissolved carbon dioxide
escapes like gas from popping open a bottle of carbonated soda. As the water evaporates, calcite comes out of the solution and creates travertine.
The ecology of the park is in many ways as remarkable as the geology. Straddling Pine Creek at the base of the Mogollon Rim, the bridge lies in the overlap between several major habitat types. As a result, it nurtures a wide mix of wildlife. That includes five species of bats, bobcats, cottontails, black bears, coyotes, grey foxes, elk, mountain lion and a host of other species.
Bridge Hours: Five Day Schedule: This park is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The park is open from 9 am to 5 pm (with last entry at 4 pm) on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, & Mondays. Click here for the latest information.
Add: open 7 days a week Memorial Day to Labor Day, 8am -6pm last entry at 5pm.