The Natural Bridge National Monument
Carved from the remains of the Permian white canyon coastal sand dunes, the Natural Bridge National Monument is composed of the ancient sandstone of the Cedar Mesa Formation. Located in southeast Utah, this monument park preserves some of nature’s most majestic, naturally occurring stone bridges.
Remote and relatively unknown, these staggering natural monuments stretch their glorious spans across ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings, sacred pictographs, and the pristine white sandstone of Utah’s deserted southeastern landscape. Unlike the exposed rock arches that cling their last remnants on the edges of cliffs and ridges, these sacred bridges hide deep within the canyon’s forgotten valley. Their unusual formation takes years to fully emerge, making them much rarer than the famous arches that populate nearby Arches National Park.
Like all of nature’s vast wonders, there is a scientific explanation for these naturally occurring canyon gateways: Water erosion, caused by periods of flash floods in canyon beds, incites the stream to undercut the walls of rock that separate the “goosenecks” of the streams. Eventually, the erosion causes the rock wall within the meander to be undercut, and the meander is cut off. Free to drift in uncharted territory, the water creates a new stream bed that is able to flow underneath the bridge. In time, as erosion and gravity expand the opening, the bridge will collapse under its own weight. Evidence suggests at least two collapsed natural bridges within the Monument boarders.
Although the Natural Bridges area wasn’t used for living until the Archaic period dating from 7000 B.C to A.D. 500, the area was repeatedly occupied and abandoned during prehistoric times. The only evidence of human existence in the forgotten canyons is stone tools and rock art, suggesting an early hunter-gather group briefly populating the wilderness. Ancestors of modern Puebloan people moved onto the mesa tops in AD 700. Around A.D. 1100, evidence suggests migrants from across the San Juan River occupied small family houses near the watered soils. Mesa Verde farmers migrated into the area in the 1200s, and by the 1300s, the ancestral Puebloans had migrated south. Navajos and Paiutes later scattered about the canyons, and oral tradition account Navajo ancestors also lived among the early Puebloans.
Three famous dates mark the Natural Bridges modern history: 1883, 1904, and 1908.
Cass Hite, a prospector in 1883, accidently stumbled upon the awe-inspiring stone bridges while searching for gold near White Canyon from his base camp along the Colorado River. In 1904, the bridges made headlines in National Geographic Magazine, introducing the world to this historic landmark for the first time in modern American history, and in 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt established Natural Bridges National Monument as Utah’s first National Park Service area.
The three main sandstone spans at Natural Bridge national Monument bear the Hopi names Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo. These impressive connections stretch across White Canyon and a tributary of Armstrong Canyon. The park hosts a scenic, 9 mile paved loop road for vehicle tours, which supports views of each bridge, but most travelers prefer to hike to these natural treasures for a more up close and personal experience.
An 8.7-mile loop trail paves the way for hikers to journey to each main bridge. The area boasts many short, well-traveled trails that follow the path of the nearby canyon streams. Most desert enthusiasts recommend beginning the trail at the Owachomo Bridge parking area, giving hikers the opportunity to wander across the pinyon pine and juniper covered mesa, before descending into White Canyon to Sipapu Bridge.
For detailed information on the monument’s hiking trails, visit the following link: