Plan a Desert Getaway to Natural Bridges | NPCA\’s Park Advocate | News and views of the National Parks Conservation Association

November 13, 2014 by

Plan a Desert Getaway to Natural Bridges

The Sipapu Natural Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

The Sipapu Natural Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument. Photo © Megan Cantrell/NPCA.

This story is part of NPCA’s biweekly Desert Getaway series. Read more stories in the series for tips on visiting other desert parks.

As parks go, Natural Bridges has some serious bragging rights: It’s Utah’s first national park site, the first International Dark-Sky Park in the world, and one of the very darkest places for stargazing in the country. Designated in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, this is the only place where you can find three natural bridges in such close proximity, including the second-largest natural bridge in the world.

With only 90,000 visitors a year, it is one of the lesser-known parks in Utah, despite all it has to offer.

The three primary attractions are the bridges themselves, with easily accessible overlooks to great views. Kachina is the youngest of the three bridges, followed by Sipapu, and Owachomo. Kachina’s walls are thick and massive; over time, erosion wears away the sandstone until the bridges become more delicate, like Owachomo, and eventually collapse.

Fondly called “canyon country’s oasis” by Superintendent Jim Dougan, this park is secluded, and the canyon floor offers something you don’t often see in the desert, full-grown trees with shade.

The hike to the canyon floor involves a steep descent on steps and ladders, but the rewards are spectacular up-close views of all three bridges.

Things to Do

  • When you arrive, hop into the visitor center and speak with the rangers about weather conditions (to avoid flash flooding and snowy road conditions in the canyon) and special activities, like astronomy programs.
  • Drive the park’s one paved road, Bridge View Drive, for a nine-mile, one-way route to stunning overlooks, the three natural bridges, and Horsecollar Ruins, an Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling. Bring binoculars and zoom lenses to get a better view of the cliff dwellings at the base of the canyon wall.
  • Take a hike! Although 90% of visitors stay on the road, the canyon floor offers sanctuary, quiet, and amazing views of the bridges.
  • From Bridge View Drive, use the stairs, ladders, and handrails for a magnificent hike to the base of Sipapu and Kachina Bridges. You can turn back here for a challenging shorter hike, or you can spend the day following the loop around the canyon floor to all three bridges and Horsecollar Ruins.
  • Camping? Stay at the park! Sleep under one of the darkest skies in America and wake up on the canyon’s edge. It takes a little time to get out to the campsite, but the gorgeous drive is worth it.
  • Important to know: Food, gas, and lodging (other than the campground) are not available in Natural Bridges. It is highly recommended that you pack your meals and travel with a full tank of gas since the nearest services are an hour away. There is also no cell service in this area, so advanced preparation is essential to enjoy this wonderful remote and secluded oasis.

Horsecollar Ruins, as seen from the park overlook.

Did you know? Natural Bridges vs. Arches

Natural bridges are formed by running or moving water (such as rivers) and can be found in deep canyons and along river beds. Arches are formed by rain, seeping moisture, and frost and are mostly found along skylines.

Kachina, the youngest of the three natural bridges.

What’s in a Name?

Government surveyor William Douglas gave the three bridges their current names in 1908.

  • Kachinas are spirit gods of the Ancestral Puebloans and are often represented as dancers. Douglas named the formation after he found petroglyphs and pictographs depicting dancing figures at the base of the bridge. This bridge has also been called Senator, as well as Caroline, after a local cowboy’s mother.
  • Sipapu is a Hopi term for the opening between worlds. Other names included President and Augusta, after explorer Horace Long’s wife.
  • Owachomo is a Hopi term that means “rock mound,” referring to the rock formation on top of the east end of the bridge. Other names included Edwin, Little Bridge, and Congressman.

About smokeycamping

Well let's see have lived in NY for my whole life, have always loved the outdoors (as long as it is warm out) have always hated the cold, and like a dummy have stayed in NY. But now with my second try my wife, we have been camping now for well over 25 yrs. We currently own a 2010 Cedar creek silverback 35TS and can not wait to get out on the highways and see this great country we all call home. Hope to see every National park before my medical issue becomes too bad to travel. I love my African gray parrot (she is my baby) and have two dogs at the time brother and sister mutts, but love them all the same. Have always been a big Nascar fan, love computers (have a number of certificates to build and work on them) am trying to learn photography, enjoy light hiking, being with good friends and folks. country music, pop music and just being outdoors. So I hope someday to meet some of the great people who like what I like and post out there in some great campground somewhere in the country, till then I will keep posting and I hope you keep liking.

Posted on December 9, 2014, in The world as i see it as a camper and who loves his country and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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