Thursday, September 27, 2012

Escaping to Payson

A few weeks ago, Ed's brother Tom came into town, and we decided to take that as as great opportunity to, well, get out of town, with him in tow!

A sad fact we've realized is that getting out of town takes a bit of time. Read: an hour of driving and you are still firmly in the Sonoran Desert. I'd be lying if I didn't say that Ed and I feel a bit disappointed about this, but I suppose it makes sense. We are basically in the middle of the desert, and there are really only a few places in state (or even near the state) that are something else. But, the desert has it's redeeming qualities (like 70 degree winters!), so like everyone says, we're giving it a year to grow on us :)

As we drove, we did start getting some elevation and some views along with it. I do love sweeping views, and this one had enough green to classify as pretty for me. When you got closer, though, it was impressive to see just how many saguaros there were crammed into that space.

Finally, though, after almost 2 hours of driving, we made it! We reached Payson and with it, real trees.

Tom and Irma were also happy to be there, and we were all excited to start our hike. Forwarning, this is not the kind of hike that we use to go on in the bay area, with 8 miles and over many hours. It was closing in on the heat of the day (we got a bit of a late start), and we wanted to take it easy. 

The trail was a short 1/2 mile, perfect for our mid 90s day (much cooler than Phoenix,  but still warm). It was a very well maintained and popular trail. It we impressive to see the number of people out, everyone looking forward to enjoying the bridge. On a side note, on our way out of the park, cars were queued up, as the park had apparently reached capacity! It was definitely a popular day.

Soon, we rounded the corner, and could see our destination! Tonto's Natural bridge - the largest travertine (i.e. the stuff that is used to make big, fancy tiles) natural bridge anywhere. 

We continued down the trail, enjoying the trees around us. While you certainly didn't feel out of the desert (there were enough cacti and dryness to keep you from forgetting), real greenery was certainly a lovely change of pace. 

Finally, we reached a bridge over the creek, that was actually full of water! We had seen  "waterfall" signs, but I was sure we'd be out of luck this time in the season. Glad to see mother nature was still working down here and keeping things nice and wet :)

Some hardy souls were swimming in this apparently surprisingly cold water. Sometimes with all this heat, it's hard to believe anything stays cold, but somehow, it does.

Once we got to the viewing platform, we could see through this tunnel, and enjoy the huge temperature drop the rock afforded us. 

We also enjoyed looking up at the small waterfall coming down over us. 
Then, we joined the rest of the tourists under the "bridge" itself.

When I was a kid, I vaguely remember visiting some caverns as a child. While very cool, this was even better, as you got the experience of being inside the earth (cavelike) with the natural light of being outside. It was a great place to escape the harsh rays of nature while concurrently being embraced by a different facet of nature.

We chatted a bit with a park ranger, who told us that most people climb through the tunnel to the other side to a smaller cave and, theoretically a trail that would make a round trip back up to the cars. Now, considering I was having trouble staying vertical on the slippery rock just to this point, I decided to bow out, along with Irma. We gave our blessings to the boys and they headed through the slippery rock while we hung behind and chatted. 

Ed took the camera to show us their adventure. Apparently it wasn't as slippery as it looks (supposedly. I'm still glad I stayed behind). 

They were treated with checking out another cave,

Complete with a huge moth!

He snapped a picture of Irma and I chilling back towards the mouth of the tunnel, and in no time, were with us again. I have to admit, it was very nerve-wracking watching them climb all over those rocks, but of course they were fine.

After enjoying the coolness, we were finally ready to head back out into the summer sun. 

We even got a very nice fellow hiker to take our picture!

And then it was back up the steep climb. It definitely reminded me that I haven't been doing nearly enough running lately!

Before we left, it was time to check out one last part of the park. Standing on the actual bridge itself! A slightly scary but very cool treat was looking through a hole down those hundreds of feet to where we were. 

And then looking down to the bridge that we were walking on about 20 minutes earlier.

We were even treated with a pretty rainbow.

We took one last look of this pretty valley, and then headed back to the cars. 

At this point, we were definitely starving, so we headed to the Buffalo Bar and Grill for some food.

And, of course, we had to get buffalo burgers while we were here. Verdict? A little more gamey, but still quite tasty. 

As we drove back home, we were all pretty darn tired, despite the short outing. That's another big difference here. The sun seems to pull away your energy faster than normal, whenever your outside. But, it a way, that makes you feel more appreciative of your time our in nature. You really feel like you accomplished something, even if it was only a mile hike.

We saw one last unusual site on our way back, this one 100% man made. Fountain Hills' fountain. Supposedly, this is the largest man-made fountain in the world, or something like that. It was pretty crazy to see! (Jean, apparently this is where you used to live?)

In another 30 minutes, we were home, to rest, recuperate,

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