Saturday, December 28, 2013

Natural Bridges National Monument

Distance and Elevation Gain: Various see below
Dogs: Not allowed...National Monument
Bathrooms: Several locations
Date Hiked: 23 April 2013

Water and erosion, the two key elements that formed Natural Bridges National Monument
So what is the best way to torture your kids on a long drive through the deserts of Utah? Why just regale them with your in depth knowledge of geological processes! You can lull them into a state of catatonia by using terms such as deposition, weathering, mesas and hoodoos. Then, just as they are about to reach for their video games, you can yank them out of the car and prod them down the trails of Natural Bridges National Monument to see how well they listened.

To help you maintain your omniscient status with your kids, here is the difference between a natural bridge and a rock arch...shamelessly plagiarized from the National Park Service. Arches tend to form on cliff faces where wind, rain, snow, and ice slowly wear down the rock, causing chunks to fall out from beneath the arch. Bridges on the other hand tend to form in canyons where rushing water gouges out channels and meanders taking weaker rock with it. Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is the perfect example of the first process, while Sipapu Bridge below is the poster child for the second.

Map of the drive
You can see the bridges in the park via scenic drive (9 mile loop), a long loop hike at the bottom or via a series of out and back descents. We chose the latter because we were on our way to Moab and did not have all day to spend.

The individual hikes require scrambling down rock faces and ladders, which intimidated me at first since I am not fond of exposure until my friend reminded me that this was a National Park. So while I would not recommend the older set hiking these trails, anyone with a moderate level of fitness and stability can navigate them pretty well.

Sipapu Bridge
Distance: 1.2 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 500 feet

The trail to Sipapu Bridge is the National Park standards... trail in the monument. It strolls along rock alcoves, down ladders, as well as slick rock faces with steps and chain link guides.  Unless you weep at the slightest incline or gaping maw of open air, you can do this trail. I did it with only a few white-eyed moments. The trip back up is much easier from a technical standpoint but is 500 feet in 0.6 miles, so it will get your heart rate going. Not a bad thing after sitting in the car for several hours.

Looking down
Returning via the alcove. I had my camera in my pack on the way down.
Heading back up the stairs
Climbing down one of the ladders.
View of Sipapu from a rock shelf detour. Be advised there is no guard rail!
Don't let this dinosaur stomp on you!
The journey downwards is filled with lovely views of rock domes, alcoves, and Gamble Oaks, while standing beneath this bridge I thought I was looking up at the neck of prehistoric sauropod. The desert varnish looked like scaly markings.

Katchina Bridge
Distance: 1.8 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 400 ft

Compared to the Sipapu Trail, the trail to Katchina Bridge is a piece of cake. It is mostly switch backs and stone steps with one steeper segment with handrails. At the bottom, you have to walk a tenth of a mile along a drive wash to stand beneath the arch. Nearby are the ruins of a small cliff dwelling with pictographs. I won't tell you precisely where, because people tend to disturb such ruins. We happened to be there when a National Park Archeologist and crew were working on the site, so we learned a little about the native cultures that once inhabited the canyon. I don't even want to know how they got up and down those walls!

Wide trail segment
Slickrock bench
Note the handrails
In the canyon. The bridge is straight ahead.
Katchina Bridge
Owachomo Bridge
Distance: 0.4 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 180 feet

Owachomo Bridge is the easiest to get to. Alas, we had run out of time and just saw it from the overlook.
Owachomo Bridge
Sipapu Bridge is the second largest in the U.S., just behind Rainbow Bridge. Even if you don't hike the trails, just seeing the scenery from the scenic drive is worth a visit. Just think how much you kids will love you for all that education you are cramming into their resistant brains!


WNH said...

Sylvia, I agree that Natural Bridges is a fantastic place. Southeast Utah has many fewer visitors and just outstanding places to hike and things to see. I would like to share some of my pictures at

BTW: I have enjoyed your blog very much over the years.

sylvia murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sylvia murphy said...

Thanks Bill,
We also visited Canyonlands, which I will be writing up in the next few weeks. There is so much to see in Utah, it is going to take me a while!

KT said...

We did the trail from Sipapu Bridge to Kachina Bridge…I remember just walking and walking and walking…not seeing anyone and wondering if we had missed Kachina. I remember the grasses being really high. I believe we walked back to the car up top. We then just saw the Owachomo bridge from the overlook. A great park to spend the day! Did you drive on 261? I believe that was what we went in on…one wild ride!

sylvia murphy said...

We came from Capitol Reef down 95. Still the scenery near Lake Powell was mind blowing!