The Caravan originated at the “Rock and Roll McDonalds” at the Pavilions on Indian Bend in Scottsdale around 8:30 AM on Sunday October 19th. The weather was perfect with a slight overcast and cool breeze. The caravan route took us through the breathtaking scenery of the Beeline Highway as it traced its way through Tonto National forest ascending into the high country at the base of the Mogollon Rim. A little more than an hour later, we were pulling into Payson where we met up with Eric. It was another 20-minute drive east to our brunch destination, Kohl’s Ranch Lodge, where Eric had secured reservations.
What a pleasant surprise we all had as we entered the Kohl’s Ranch property. Located at the base of the Mogollon Rim and on the banks of Tonto Creek, it was in a beautiful setting among the oak, walnut, maple, ponderosa pine, fir and spruce trees that were just taking on their fall color pallets. The main lodge, restaurant and bar had a warm and welcoming “Northern Woods” décor that exemplifies a casual, uniquely western and rustic atmosphere. Once you’re inside, all you can think is “Ahhh!”
The staff rolled out a warm and friendly welcome and everyone enjoyed a delicious meal and hearty meal. After brunch, many of us took a stroll alongside nearby Christopher Creek, experienced the fragrances of the forest and snapped a few pics of the changing leaves backed by the spectacular granite and red rock mountains. Attendees were so impressed with the scenery and amenities, that we picked up brochures and asked about pricing for all the cabins and hotel rooms at the lodge so we might plan a future overnight trip to this serene mountain retreat!
After our post-brunch perambulation, it was back into the cars, and led again by Eric, we were off to the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, which has to be one of the most breathtaking sites in Arizona. The descent into the valley is spectacular, and the views are unmatched. It’s a truly spectacular natural wonder! This naturally-occurring travertine bridge is tucked away in the Arizona Mountains at about 5,000 ft and is about 8-10 miles north of Payson. You can walk across the bridge and look down through metal gratings at the water flowing more than 180 feet below. There were some excellent moments for photo opportunities – just before it began to rain. Only after the first few drops, the temperatures dropped as well and then the hail began to fall!
Mother Nature continued her onslaught, with temperatures falling into the “way-too-cold-for-somebody-from-Phoenix” range. We took shelter under the information kiosks and picnic shelters, yet the shifting winds made it almost impossible to find a dry spot. A few brave souls made a run for their vehicles and then shuttled about the parking lot picking up water-logged Lambdans! Our clothes may have been dampened, but our spirits weren’t and we even had a surprise birthday celebration, of sorts, for Tom at the Payson Dairy Queen! We even got the other patrons to join us in a rousing rendition of HAPPY BIRTHDAY. We then added back the calories we burnt throughout our hike and our running escape from the weather.
This was a terrific event and one that we will repeat, hopefully including an overnighter stay at Kohl’s Ranch lodge sometime in the near future. Many thanks to Eric for stepping up and acting as our host and guide for this fun event!