Natural Bridges

I have had these pictures sitting around in my computer since 2009. On my way home from a trip to visit some clients that live down in Las Cruces, New Mexico I had decided to make a side trip over to Natural Bridges National Monument. Natural Bridges is a very remote park/monument in southeastern Utah. Arriving at the monument in November 2009, it was pretty much deserted. The cool thing is I got to pick a really great camp site, and I got to spend some pretty nice time with the ranger that was on duty at that time of year.

Looking down into the canyon wash where Sipapu Bridge is just visible with a hint of sunshine peaking through on the valley floor.

Natural Bridges National Monument is one of the lesser visited national monuments/parks in the southwestern United States. You can get there by driving south on US 191 from Moab, Utah and continuing south past Monticello and then past Blanding as well. Before you get to Bluff, you would turn west on Utah State Road 95 and continue on for almost 40 miles. To say the park is remote is an understatement.

However, if you’re looking for a quiet place with some wonderful camping and incredible sites, this might just be your spot. Natural Bridges only receives about 100,000 visitors per year, which sounds like a lot, but is only less than 10% of the traffic through Arches National Park. The monument was established in 1908, so it is one of our older national monuments/parks. Don’t expect to find cell phone service here as it is indeed fairly remote. In fact, the Monument is so remote, it was designated as the world’s first Dark Sky Park in 2007.

Kachina Bridge.  Notice the streambed.

Now I know you are going to ask me what is the difference between arches and natural bridges. Well, not much. No seriously, they are both formed from erosion primarily due to water. Bridges are formed from the direct erosion due to streams or rivers cutting away at rock walls over many thousands of years. So, you will see natural bridges spanning streams.

Arches are also formed from erosion, but more by windblown water, seeping water, freezing water, and windblown sand cutting into rock faces. However, both arches and bridges are usually found in areas dominated by sandstone, fairly soft sedimentary rock.

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My campsite and my 2007 Jeep Wrangler.  I miss her.  When I took this shot, I was the only one camping in the park.

Arriving at the park in November had some great advantages, primarily that I had the place mostly all to myself. The days were just perfect for hiking, not too hot or too cold, mid 50s (Fahrenheit) to mid 60s. The nights were cold, below freezing as the monument is fairly high in elevation – about 6500 feet (1981 meters). The place was eerily quiet, especially at night.

As the monument headquarters and campground sit on a very high plateau, most of the hikes involve going down quite a ways to get to the actual bridges. The good news is the hikes to the bridges are fairly easy as one is going downhill almost all the way. The bad news is the hikes back up are a little more taxing.

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Looking down into the canyon at Sipapu Bridge.

The high deserts of the southwestern United States have fairly harsh climates — really hot during the summer days, and it can be well below freezing during the winter nights. So depending upon the time of the year that you’re going to visit, be prepared and bring a lot of clothing layers. Even in the summer at this altitude, the evenings can be quite chilly.

 

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Another view from a closer vantage point of Sipapu Bridge.

As I had limited time in the park I decided not to make the hike down to Sipapu Bridge. So these photos were taken from a couple of nice vantage points. Here’s an idea of the scale of this natural bridge.  It spans 268 feet (82 meters) and is 220 feet (67 meters) in height. I decided to take the hike down to Kachina Bridge as the ranger had told me there were quite a few of interesting sites along the way, and the scenery down by the bridge was a little more diverse.

As I was hiking down into the canyon, I came upon this little tree. He was just clinging to life on this rock face, making a little bit of soil and shade for himself. I don’t know why, but it just caught my eye, and I thought it was so amazing to see this perfectly shaped little tree coming up out of this rock.

Little Tree wp
The little guy wasn’t much more than a foot or so tall, but still looking rather majestic.

As I made my way down into the canyon, I was greeted by so many beautiful sites. The colors and the geography are just breathtaking in Natural Bridges. I hope you enjoy the rest of this little photo tour of the section of the monument that I was able to visit back in 2009.

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This is Kachina Bridge as you first see it from the trail.  I really loved the dappled sunlight.
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Now I know this bridge looks pretty small, but Kachina bridge is 204 feet (62 meters) long and stands 210 feet (64 meters) high.

After I was done exploring the “front side” of Kachina Bridge, I made my way through the span and arrived at the backside. The scenery on the “back side”of the bridge is completely different as you encounter a different quality of light.

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This is another view of Kachina Bridge, looking back through the bridge out into the sunlight.
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As I explored a little more, I found this pool of water in the shade behind the bridge.  I thought it was quite interesting and really beautiful.
Bridge Abstract 2wp
This is another view of Kachina Bridge from an adjacent wall up out of the streambed.  The light was quite captivating here.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my little photo tour of Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah. I realize this is a little park that’s on the way to nowhere, but if you ever get a chance to see these incredible sites, I know you will enjoy your time in the monument.

The park ranger had told me that there are also several ancient ruins in the monument and the surrounding areas left over from the Anasazi people who inhabited this part of the southwestern US over 1000 years ago. The ranger told me that they keep most of these ruins pretty much private, but he said in certain times of the day and with certain light you can see some of the ruins from the Kachina arch area. I did not see any myself, but he did tell me where to look. Perhaps the light was just not right when I was there. Anyway, there’s so much to see in this part of the southwestern United States, so it’s well worth the trip and the time it takes to venture into these beautiful in remote areas.

 

 

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