As promised in my post last month on the Astronomy Program at Natural Bridges National Monument, I’m re-visiting Natural Bridges to post a little more on the bridges themselves.
By now I’ve probably been to Natural Bridges about 8-10 times in the 3+ years I’ve lived here, with the first time being only a few days after moving to Monticello. It was in March of 2009 and I think it had snowed a little bit overnight and my husband and I were trying to think of something to do on his last day off before he was to start his new job. We decided to drive out to Natural Bridges thinking it would be more of a scenic drive rather than a hiking destination. I think we were looking at a National Parks book and it showed the 9 mile loop road that takes you past viewpoints for all three bridges. It may have also showed the loop hikes you can do along the bottom of the canyon, but I really don’t remember seeing it. I think the fact that the weather was so bad in Monticello that day, if we did see it, we probably didn’t take notice since we weren’t planning to hike.
It took us about an hour and 15 minutes to drive out to Natural Bridges and during the course of the drive the weather totally cleared up and it turned into a beautiful day! (*This was our first experience with the weather/temperature differences around here. We learned very quickly that it may be cold in Monticello, but when you get to your hiking destination, whether it’s Canyonlands, Cedar Mesa, or pretty much anywhere else around here, the weather can be very different. (It didn’t take long for us to start packing for any/all weather conditions when we headed out!)
Our first stop was at the visitor center to show our pass (since it’s a National Monument you can use the Annual Pass there) and of course, watch the park video. My husband LOVES these videos and we always have to watch them before doing anything else in the park. While I’m always itching to get out there and see stuff, he likes to learn about it first.
Even though I’m always antsy while sitting through the park videos, I have to admit, you do learn a lot from them and I would definitely recommend taking the time to watch. If you’re planning to skip the video, I’ll share the most important piece of information I learned… how to tell the difference between natural bridges and arches. Natural bridges are formed by moving water that wears away at the rock and arches are formed mostly by frost and seeping moisture.
After finishing the video we talked with the ranger working behind the counter and realized that we could hike down to each of the bridges and that’s also when we learned about the 8.5 mile loop trail that takes you along the bottom of the canyon and through all 3 bridges. We weren’t really prepared for much hiking, but we decided to hike down to two of the bridges- Sipapu and Owachomo. I’m not sure why we chose those two, but they were both AMAZING!
The hike down to Sipapu is about 1.2 miles round-trip and if you’re afraid of heights, you might want to skip this one. There are quite a few places with steep stairs and drop-offs right along side the trail, and there are also a couple ladders on this trail as well. Sipapu is the largest bridge at Natural Bridges and it’s actually the second largest natural bridge in the world, second only to Rainbow Bridge which is located in Glen Canyon. (Also in San Juan County!)
But if none of those things bother you, this is a great, short hike with great views of the bridge along the trail before you reach the bottom of the canyon and are able to get under the bridge.
Next up was Owachomo, which is only a .4 mile hike round-trip. As I mentioned above, we only hiked to 2 out of the 3 bridges, but we stopped at the overlook for Kachina, which is the ‘youngest’ of the 3 bridges. (based on the thickness of the span)
The third and last bridge you come to on the 9 mile loop road (Bridge View Drive) is Owachomo, which is the shortest hike- only .4 miles round trip. We hiked down to this one too and I think it’s my favorite- it’s definitely the easiest to photograph.
This was my first visit to Natural Bridges, and as I mentioned above, I’ve been back maybe 8 times or so since then. We’ve taken friends who were visiting, we’ve gone to the night sky program twice, and we’ve also gone back and done the 8.5 mile loop hike, which is a blog entry in itself, so I’ll save that one for another time. I do want to mention the campground though. I LOVE this campground! It’s very small- only 13 sites, and does not take reservations- it’s first-come, first-served which, in my opinion, makes it all the more exciting when you get a do get a site!
If you’re traveling through in the summer, I’d recommend trying to time your visit to fall on a day that has a scheduled ranger-led dark sky program. It’s always subject to change, but for the 2012 season the programs are scheduled to run every Wednesday and Thursday from May 9th through the end of September. If you’re planning to be in the area, I would recommend calling ahead to double check the current schedule. Here’s a LINK to the contact info for Natural Bridges.
Directions: Natural Bridges is located about 39 miles west of Blanding on Hwy 95. There is no entrance station, but you are required to stop at the Visitor Center to pay or show your pass.
Distance from Natural Bridges to lodging in San Juan County, Utah:
- Blanding: 39 miles/63 km
- Mexican Hat: 43 miles/ 69 km (via hwy 261)
- Monticello: 60 miles/97 km
- Bluff: 64 miles/103 km
- Monument Valley: 66 miles/106 km (via hwy 261)
- La Sal: 100 miles/161 km
For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386
Or e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org