Natural Bridges National Monument
Photo Credit: https://500px.com/photo/7846648/natural-bridges-utah-by-kismetphotos
Only in Natural Bridges National Monument, are natural stream-carved bridges situated in such close proximity. Three of the 10 natural stone bridges in the world are in Natural Bridges National Monument and they are three of the largest! A nine mile loop drive takes visitors past immense Sipapu, massive Kachina, and delicate Owachomo bridges. Trails lead down to each bridge or they may be viewed from overlooks a short distance from parking areas. The loop drive connects pullouts, overlooks and trailheads. Moderate to difficult trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three bridges.
Natural Bridges National Monument, the first National Park Service unit established in Utah, encompasses 7,636.49 acres. Natural Bridges National Monument is a pinyon and juniper covered mesa that is bisected by deep canyons, exposing the Permian Age Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Where meandering streams cut through sandstone walls, three large natural bridges formed.
At an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level, Natural Bridges National Monument is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Plants at Natural Bridges range from the fragile cryptobiotic soil crusts to remnant stands of douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Natural Bridges National Monument includes hanging gardens in moist canyon seep springs, large cottonwoods on the canyon floors, and a wide array of flowering plants in the spring. Animals in Natural Bridges Monument range from a variety of lizards, toads, and an occasional rattlesnake, to peregrine falcons, mountain lions, bobcat and black bear.
These relatively abundant resources in Natural Bridges National Monument made this an ideal home for ancient people as well. Over 200 archaeological sites are known in Natural Bridge National Monument, including cliff dwellings of early Puebloan people, mesa top habitations, and remnants of corrals left by more recent cowboys.
Natural Bridges National Monument is 42 miles west of Blanding. The visitor center and primitive campground are open year-round. Natural Bridges facilities are solar powered and the large solar array is accessible to visitors.
Natural Bridges National Monument is located adjacent to Utah Highway 95 about forty miles west of Blanding. Its chief attractions are three immense water-carved natural bridges through necks and ridges of rock. They are Sipapu Natural Bridge, 220 feet in height and spanning 268 feet; Kachina Bridge, 210 feet high, with a span of 206 feet; and Owachomo Natural Bridge, 106 feet high, with a span of 180 feet.
A paved loop road circles the three bridges; from the road short trails extend to each of the bridges. Visitors may also walk a nine-mile circular trail, which for many years was the only access route. A National Park Service visitors center now offers information, maps, and souvenirs. The elevation at the visitors center is 6,505 feet.
Also found within the deep canyons are a number of small prehistoric cliff dwellings and storage rooms built by the Anasazi and then abandoned around A.D. 1100. When first visited by white men during the early 1880s, the land was sparsely occupied by Ute Indians. Cass Hite, a prospector who wandered into the area in 1883, was the first non-Indian to report the existence of what he termed “three whoppin’ natural bridges.”
Beginning about 1900, the bridges were often visited and popularized by authors, photographers, and painters who were guided into the canyons by local ranchers. In 1904 the National Geographic magazine sponsored an expedition to the area. By 1908 the bridges were sufficiently well-known for President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside the area as a national monument. The first dirt road was extended to the monument in 1928. Zeke Johnson, a well-liked canyon country guide and famous story teller, was monument superintendent in the 1940s.
The visitors center features a solar-power generating system that was designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was the world’s largest at the time of its inauguration in 1980.
LOCATION: San Juan County, Utah
Natural Bridges National Monument
P.O. Box 1
Lake Powell, UT 84533
OPERATING HOURS, SEASONS: The Monument is open every day of the year. The nine mile scenic drive is open every day from early morning until about 30 minutes past sunset.
CLIMATE, RECOMMENDED CLOTHING:
Summer: highs 85 to 95 degrees, lows 50 to 60 degrees, thunderstorms possible.
Fall: highs, 60 to 75 degrees, lows 40 to 50 degrees, usually mild, snow late fall.
Winter: highs 40 to 50 degrees, lows 0 to 30 degrees, snow likely.
Spring: highs 50 to 70 degrees, lows 20 to 40 degrees, usually mild, snow possible until May.
Clothing needs can be varied throughout the year. Mild winter days may make hiking in light clothing possible, but below zero temperatures are not unusual in the winter. Rain is a possibility at any time, but especially in spring and late summer, so rain gear is recommended.
From the north/east: take Highway 191 to Blanding, Utah. Travel west 35 miles on Utah Highway 95, then north 4 miles on Utah Highway 275, which ends at the Monument.
From the north/west: take Highway 95 east from Hanksville, Utah, 93 miles to Highway 275, then 4 miles north to the Monument.
From the south: take Highway 163 to Mexican Hat, Utah. Travel north on Highway 261, 38 miles to Highway 95. Turn west on Highway 95, proceed 1.5 miles to Highway 275, then north 4 miles to the Monument.
TRANSPORTATION: There is no public transportation to or from Natural Bridges. Commercial air service is available to Moab, Utah; Cortez, Durango, and Grand Junction, Colorado; Farmington, New Mexico; and Flagstaff, Arizona. Bus service is available in Durango, Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Grand Junction, Colorado. Amtrak serves Green River, Utah, located about 175 miles from Natural Bridges, but there is no connecting public transportation from the train station.
FEES, COSTS, RATES: $6.00 per vehicle and $3.00 per individual. Golden Eagle, Age, and Access passes accepted and available. Annual passes for Natural Bridges, Canyonlands, Arches and Hovenweep are accepted and available for $25.00.
FACILITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES:
Visitor Center/Exhibits: Visitor center has exhibits, an audiovisual program, books, maps and videos for sale. Rangers are on duty to answer questions and collect entry fees. Informal interpretive programs may be given on the patio during peak season. Rest rooms and water are available 24 hours a day.
Trails, Roads: The nine mile long Bridge View Drive is a one-way scenic loop starting and ending near the visitor center. Overlooks for each of the three bridges and one cliff dwelling are reached by short walks from parking areas along the drive. A trailhead for each bridge is also located along the drive, as is a small picnic area. The road is plowed in the winter.
An 8.2 mile loop trail connects all three bridges. It follows the canyon bottom stream for most of its length, then exits the canyon and returns via the relatively flat mesa top. Hiking time varies from four to six hours. The 8.2 mile loop can be split into two shorter loops, each taking in two of the three bridges. Each requires three to four hours, and ranges from five to six miles in length, depending on the loop taken.
Hikers with less time may simply hike one of the short trails down to a bridge and back to the trail head.
Round trip mileage’s are:
Sipapu: 1.2 miles, 500 foot elevation change, 1 hour
Kachina: 1.5 miles, 400 foot elevation change, 1.25 hours
Owachomo: .4 miles 180 foot elevation change, .5 hours
Horsecollar Ruin: A .6 mile round trip trail leads from a trailhead on the Bridge View Drive to an overlook of Horsecollar Ruin, an early Puebloan site. The hike is relatively flat and takes about 30 minutes.
Lodging and camping facilities: There is no lodging in the park. Lodging is available in Fry Canyon, Blanding, Bluff, Mexican Hat, and Monticello, Utah. Contact the San Juan County Travel Council at 1-800-574-4386 for further information on lodging, dining, and area attractions.
The Monuments 13 site campground is open year-round, but it is not cleared of snow in the winter. The fee is $10 per night. No reservations are accepted and there is no group site available. Wood fires are permitted, but no wood gathering is allowed inside the Monument. Vehicles over 26 feet long are not allowed in the campground. All sites fill by early afternoon from early March through late October. Rangers at the visitor center can give directions to nearby alternative camping areas.
Food/supplies: None are available at the Monument.
Accessibility: The visitor center and rest rooms are accessible to all persons. The campground has no designated site for disabled persons but has several sites and one rest room accessible. The three bridge overlook trails are accessible via a concrete sidewalk, however the sidewalk to the Kachina Bridge viewpoint may not be accessible with a standard wheelchair, due to its slope.
RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES/PARK USE: Spring, summer and fall: evening ranger programs may be presented in the campground amphitheater, one or more nights each week with varying schedules and topics. Guided walks and visitor center patio talks may be offered. Winter: due to limited staffing and visitation, no special programs are presented during the winter months. A ten minute video program is shown at the visitor center throughout the year.
A Junior Ranger Program is available, with an eight page Kids Newspaper full of stories, puzzles, games, and activities. Badges are awarded to children who finish the required number of activities for their age group.
BASIC VISIT RECOMMENDATIONS: Plan to spend at least two to three hours to see the bridges and hike to at least one. Bring all required food, gasoline, and other supplies with you, as none is available at the Monument. Pets and bikes are not permitted on any trail or off-road area. Plan accordingly. Arrive by noon to claim a campsite for the night.