“Picnicking Pilots,” Greg’s March, 2014 Flying Carpet column

TontoNaturalBridgeAZ_0587eSmw1200Fun is closer than you think

How far must you fly to have fun? At AOPA Summit last fall, Jean and I dined with Barry Knuttila of King Schools, and his wife Susanne. Over dinner we learned the two fly often from their San Diego home to vacation in Sedona, Arizona.

“We’re going there later this month,” said Susanne. Knowing we live in nearby Flagstaff, she quizzed us about lesser-known regional sights. I suggested Tonto Natural Bridge State Park near Payson, which we’ve always found fascinating. Our friends hadn’t heard of it, so I detailed driving routes. It’s two hours over mountain roads from Flagstaff; I estimated 90 minutes each way from Sedona.

BarrySusanneKnuttilaPiperAztec-PaysonAirportPAN_0507eSmw1200“We’re staying right at Sedona Airport, and I see Payson’s not far as the crow flies,” said Barry, consulting his smartphone. “Would you consider joining us if we flew there? Susanne and I could fly directly to Payson coming from California, and you and Jean could hop down to meet us in the Flying Carpet.” It had never occurred to me to fly to Tonto Bridge given its rather remote location, but Barry later took the initiative to phone around. With no weekend rental cars available at Payson Airport, he arranged a limo* to deliver us to the park…

Tonto Natural Bridge is reportedly the largest natural travertine bridge in the nation, and possibly the world. Unlike more common aboveground stone arches, Tonto Bridge was sculpted from underneath by Pine Creek. Trees and vegetation carpet its ground-level top, and spring and rainwater percolate through limestone to trickle and shower 180 feet to the underlying creek. Not only does this stunning watery oasis mark an otherwise parched area, but visitors can actually observe the continuum of living vegetation accumulating calcium carbonate and turning to stone… It’s amazing how little-known this treasure is both within and outside Arizona.

READ THE WHOLE STORY in this month’s Flying Carpet column, Picknicking Pilots. (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)

Photos: Top left, Tonto Natural Bridge, Arizona.  Above right, Barry and Susanne Knuttila arrive at Payson Airport, Arizona.  SEE MORE PHOTOS.

(This column first appeared in the March, 2014 AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

*Car service provided by Dennis Jeffers of Gekko Transportation, ph: (928) 951-1159

©2014 Gregory N.Brown

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