Natural Bridges National Monument

Part three of our intrepid journey across Utah and its incredible geology has brought us to the not-to-be-missed Bridges National Monument. The Park was declared in 1906 (see my earlier post on our trip to Muir Woods to read about how the idea of National Monuments came about) and was the first to be declared in Utah.

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We made our way to the park from Canyonlands, and were greeted by possibly the most helpful ranger we encountered during our trip. He not only directed us to an appropriate walk and campsite but also provided us with some advice on our future travels to the Grand Canyon and the 4-1-1 on the parks geological history.

The Park’s three bridges are named Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu (names afforded by the Hopi Native American Tribe – see here for the meanings of these words). In basic terms, a natural bridge forms through water erosion. During flash floods, the water cuts through rock at the goosenecks of a stream, eventually cutting it off to form a bridge (the stream then redirecting below). Eventually, as the bridge’s opening grows, it will collapse and the process may continue. This website provides a more in-depth explanation.

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(Sipapu Arch)

 

My first question arose when I contemplated our visit to Arches NP three days prior – what is the difference between a bridge and an arch? Some sleuthing around the signs and posters provided gave me an answer. While arches stand on the skyline (some photos from my previous post may help visualise this), bridges are found in the bottom of canyons. The arches are formed largely by the seeping of moisture from rainwater and frost, bridges are formed by the forces of running water carving away the stone. So the parks when considered together (along with Canyonlands) preserve a great diversity of geological formations/processes, which helps make for a pretty neat trip.

One thing you have probably noticed me raving about in relation to all these parks is the radiant spectrum of colours seen in their landscapes. Most of these colours arise out of the oxidisation of Iron that has occurred over many years through groundwater weathering and the lack of oxygen in other areas, turning iron green. Sandstone’s white contrasts against these tones, while the work of microorganisms produce shiny dark surfaces on cliff walls. All in all a pretty spectacular work of art undertaken throughout natural history.

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The Ranger’s advice was to take on part of the loop trail, which totals 8.6 miles, but can be broken into shorter segments. We opted for the 6 mile (approx 9km) option given our energy levels and time constraints. This walk was to take in the Sipapu and Kachina bridges (we were to visit Owachomo by car).

We kicked off from the Sipapu trailhead, where I was way too startled by a cheeky raven.

My nerves settled after this harrowing encounter, we set off down into the Canyon. The descent is pretty action packed, as we traversed ice, snow, and a series of ladders and steep staircases, providing a nice level of vertigo to go along with the emerging views or Sipapu.

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From here the trail meanders along the bottom of the canyon to connect to the next bridge (Kachina). We managed to miss the turnoff/viewing point for the horsecollar ruin much to our disappointment, however the flora, fauna and running stream kept the walk interesting.

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Another steep climb follows up to the mesa top, after which you follow a series of cairns ‘inland’ for a mile or two to connect back to the trailhead.

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Overall a satisfying and sufficiently challenging walk taking in views from both the top and the bottom of the canyon. This definitely helps you contemplate the geological forces at work.

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This post is the last covering the parks of Southwestern Utah, next we make the crossing into Arizona for the Grand Canyon!

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  • Entry fees to the park and camping fees are $10 a piece, making this one of the more affordable parks we saw (although our America the Beautiful Pass covered our entry fee).
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