Located in south-east Utah Natural Bridges National Monument is only a minor detour away from other significant national parks such as Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Mesa Verde across the border in Colorado.
In Utah there are two prominent parks where you can see numerous ‘arches’, these are Natural Bridges National Monument which I am featuring now and Arches National Park where we visit later on our road trip. The difference between an ‘arch’ and a ‘bridge’ has been defined by The Natural Arch and Bridge Society but the difference is still somewhat arbitrary. A ‘bridge’ is a sub-type of an ‘arch’ which has primarily been formed by water erosion.
All three of the bridges in Natural Bridges National Monument were formed as the river (which had eroded canyons over the course of many years) changed course and charged through a canyon wall it had previously formed leaving a bridge. This change of course is particularly likely during times of flash floods when there is a lot of water trying to get around the meandering bends of the river and there is a tendency for the river to undercut and erode away at the canyon walls. Once a bridge is formed the course of the river passes underneath it and erosion works away at the edges of the bridge until it eventually collapses. Along with the three standing bridges there is evidence of an additional two bridges in the park which have since collapsed.
There are three bridges which you can visit on the scenic Bridge View Drive, an 18 mile (29km) round trip. A one to five minute walk will take you to a lookout point, but if you want to take photos looking up at the bridge the hike down into the canyon usually takes between twenty and thirty minutes. The three bridges are recognised by their Hopi names of Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu.
|Bridge||Height m (ft)||Span m (ft)||Width m (ft)||Thickness m (ft)|
|Owachomo||32 (106)||55 (180)||8 (27)||3 (9)|
|Sipapu||67 (220)||82 (268)||9.5 (31)||16 (53)|
|Kachina||64 (210)||62 (204)||13 (44)||28 (93)|
Sipapu is the longest and the highest, Kachina is the widest and Owachomo is by far the most beautiful!
Yes, I was too lazy to walk down into the canyon to take photos of this one. Sorry.
Interesting Fact: Natural Bridges National Monument has been named the world’s first ‘dark sky’ park by the International Dark-Sky Association. Essentially their saying that the park provides fantastic night viewing – something most visitors don’t go to a national park for. The dark canyon walls and natural stone bridges contrast beautifully with a clear starry sky. The National Park Service conducted a study looking at light pollution in US national parks and Natural Bridges National Monument topped the list and has been declared the darkest, least light polluted national park. If you’re visiting in the summer you should take advantage of the ranger led astronomy programs to get out at night to see the beauty of the park under the glory of the milky way.
While we didn’t spend the night in Natural Bridges National Monument so didn’t get to see it in the dark we did enjoy the bridges and the experience heightened our anticipation of our future visit to Arches National Park.
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