April 21, 2017
In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the Natural Bridges National Monument.
The bridges are now within the Bears Ears National Monument, which President Trump says he is going to get rid of. We can only hope the Natural Bridges proclamation made more than 100 years ago by a Republican president is safe from the actions of a fat New Yorker who couldn’t bait a hook, pitch a tent or cook over a fire.
I set out for the Natural Bridges on my second day in the Bears Ears. Such geological features have always fascinated me, and the allure was too much to resist.
Arriving at the National Parks building around noon, I got my hiking choices from the ranger. An 8.6-mile loop trail takes you under all three of the bridges, or I could drive the loop road and hike down and back at each. Starting the loop at noon seemed a bit of a time cramp so I took the drive-and-walk option.
Sipapu, the first bridge on the loop, is 220 feet high and spans 268 feet. The bridge itself is 31 feet wide and 53 feet thick. The route down has three staircases and three ladders made of logs and branches.
Sipapu means “place of emergence,” according to the monument brochure, from the Hopi belief that this is where their people emerged into the world. It’s the highest and greatest in span, the brochure says, and I found it the most impressive. This is the middle child of the three bridges.
The youngest is the Kachina Bridge, with an opening much smaller but still “under construction” with White Canyon floods chipping away at its base. The 93-foot thickness and 44-foot width give it a more muscular look. But that, combined with the smaller opening, diminishes its loftiness, which is only 10 feet less than Sipapu.
Last on the loop is Owachomo, the oldest of the three. Water no longer flows under the bridge, but frost and moisture may be weakening it. As the brochure says, “It may have a fatal crack, or it may stand for centuries.”
Between Sipapu and Kachina, there is a viewpoint that looks across the canyon at the Horse Collar Ruins. Bring your binoculars, the trail sign warns. I brought mine and could see the features that distinguish this set of ruins: both a round and a square kiva, which could indicate settlement by two different groups of Ancient Puebloan peoples.
I could see the trail leading up to and through the ruins and wished then that I had walked the loop trail through the canyon.
Maybe next time.