Bartosek/Krochta 2012 travel blog

On the way to Natural Bridges, beautiful fall color highlights any presence...

Ancient Puebloan ruins from Native American hunters & gatherers living here 1050-1300...

Grain storage bins resembling horse collars which give the ruins their name

Cryptobiotic soil seen in arid climates composed of bacteria, algae, fungi &...

Sipapu Bridge, visible in the upper center of this picture taken from...

Kachina Bridge up close. In 1992, 400 tons of rock fell, enlarging...

After walking under Kachina, the view back shows the lush color on...

Owachomo Bridge--the old one--thin, high and wide enough the river can't erode...

Two Bears Ears, the site of the original path into this area....

Nearly every curve in the road brought a new visual surprise, especially...


Our next destination was Natural Bridges National Monument, a few hours south and west of Arches. It, too, is a small place with three natural bridges visible from a loop drive. Unlike an arch, a bridge requires the erosion of moving water, usually when a river meanders with large loops, almost folding back on itself. Over time, the riverbed erodes downward, leaving a thin rock wall in the middle of the loop. Flood water scours the rock wall on both sides, and eventually the river breaks through, seeking the shorter path. With more time and erosion, the opening enlarges. Of course the process doesn’t end, and all bridges will fall—someday.

One of the interesting things here is that the three featured bridges are all different ages: young, mature and old. And each is accessible by foot, though ladders and steep terrain may be involved in getting there! As in Canyonlands, we were looking down into a large canyon, though in this case, we were able to actually see the meandering river with its lush green and yellow vegetation.

There is a variety of plant life, depending on microclimate and elevation, and a variety of rock colors as well. The high desert includes more green than at Arches. As at other parks, we also saw mature cryptobionic soil, a brown or black lumpy crust formed by interlaced bacteria with the addition of algae, fungi, lichens, and/or mosses. The basis of desert life, it retains moisture and adds nutrients, allowing other plant communities to develop. It’s extremely fragile; one footstep off the trail could take over 100 years to repair!

We had time to hike to Kachina (youngest) and Owachomo (oldest), viewing Sipapu (mature) from the mesa viewpoint. Young bridges are quite thick and bulky and still have water eroding their base. Old bridges have lost much of their overhanging mass and have a large opening so water doesn’t eat into the base. Mature bridges are in between. Though the bridges have had different names over time, these Hopi names were assigned in 1909 when the park expanded to include nearby Puebloan structures. In fact, ruins of native dwellings in a large alcove under overhanging rock are visible from the mesa. It is called the Horse Collar Ruin based on the appearance of two grain-storage units.

The trail to Kachina is quite steep, with lots of steps and walkways along drop-offs. It’s difficult to capture this 204 foot, 44’ deep, massive pink-orange opening in a photo. Though narrow and easy to cross now, the power of the White River is evident.

Owachomo, still a steep walk away, is more accessible. It’s a very big opening, 180’ span under a bridge 27’ deep but only 9’ thick. In recent years, a big chunk of rock fell, enlarging the opening. Because of its width, the river no longer erodes it, but water still gets into cracks, freezes, expands and potentially breaks off rock slabs.

The drive to Natural Bridges was a delightful surprise: high desert country, with red and pink hills and cliffs dotted with small green shrubs. Huge cottonwood forests in varying shades of yellow and green captured our attention in the Cottonwood Wash area along the way. Near the park is a pygmy forest of juniper and pinyon pine, at times a carpet of green treetops as far as we could see. It’s easy to understand how early Mormon settlers could become lost in this terrain. After Bridges we drove north through the central part of southern Utah. The countryside changed to include more free-standing rock formations along with the multi-hued red cliffs. We enjoyed lots of fall color along the Colorado and Dirty Devil Rivers, both of which we crossed north of Lake Powell. It was one of our most colorful days.



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