As we visited National Park sites in Arizona and Utah, Tom and I often saw bridges, arches, and windows carved into the sandstone layers. We visited Arches National Park in 2006, which is one of the big parks everyone hits sometime in their life. This trip we visited Natural Bridges National Monument which is similar, but very different.
Bridges and arches are both carved into sandstone and they look much the same. How they are formed, however, determines what they are called. Bridges are carved by moving water and hover over a creek or river. Arches are carved by any other method: wind or water freezing and thawing.
Natural Bridges National Monument houses three bridges over a creek in White and Armstrong Canyons in southeastern Utah. The creek that formed the bridges was dry when we were there, but there were some residual pools. Bridges form when a sandstone barrier stands in the way of the flow of the creek, making a gooseneck or horseshoe. Eventually the water eats away at the impediment and the bridge forms. Here is an NPS illustration that shows the process.
Each of the bridges at Natural Bridges is a different age. The oldest one, Owachomo, is a slender and delicate bridge above the stream bed. Kachina is the youngest bridge and is more massive than the other two. Sipapu is the middle-aged bridge. We walked down the trail to Owachomo and spent some time admiring the bridge from all directions. We did not take the trails down to the other two because of my vertigo. The trails are very steep and just taking pictures at the canyon rim was making me dizzy.
We also took the Horsecollar Ruin Overlook Trail which leads to the edge of White Canyon. From the overlook we could see the remains of an ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling. Longer trails in the park include a loop trail that passes underneath all the bridges.
We watched the movie in the Visitors Center, looked at the museum and Tom lusted after the telescope the park uses for its dark skies program. As an added bonus at Natural Bridges, we ran into Ranger Steve! We used to work with him at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley. Tom liked Natural Bridges so much he is ready to volunteer there. I have some hesitation: no cell service, an hour to the grocery store, and our RV won’t fit in the campground. But other than that . . .
Natural Bridges is a wonderful, remote, and beautiful park. Add it to your list if you are visiting Arches, Capital Reef and Canyonlands.