Natural Bridges National Monument Utah – Vertical Hiking!

Early June, 2012 - We left Mesa Verde and drove the dramatic Bicentennial Highway to Utah's unique Natural Bridges National Monument.

At the top of Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

A wwoden ladder on the Sipapu Bridge trail.

Some folks were put off by the

trail's wooden ladders.

Looking down a wooden ladder on the Sipapu Bridge trail of Natural Bridges National Monument.

Looking down is a bit unnerving!

climbing a wooden ladder at Natural Bridges. On the trail at Natural Bridges NM.

The trail hugs a sheer canyon wall.

Hiking behind a barefoot person at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Barefoot tracks...

Exotic rock formations along the trail. Dramatic cliffs line the walls along the Sipapu Bridge Hike in Natural Bridges National Monument.

Dramatic cliffs and rock

formations everywhere

Down by Sipapu Bridge. Natural Bridge Nat'l Monument Natural Bridges National Monment

Full sized trees at the base of the cliffs.

Stiped cayon wall at Natural Bridges NM.

Massive leaning walls are painted in vivid stripes.

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument

Sipapu Bridge

Ladders are central to the hike to Sipapu Brige.

Ladders...

The NPS has carved stairs in the sandstone on the trail at Natural Bridges National Monument.

…and carved stairs.

Cactus flower, Natural Bridges National Monument Striped cliff walls, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Striped cliff walls.

Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Kachina Bridge

Kachina Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Mark is dwarfed by Kachina Bridge.

More ladders and steep hiking at Natural Bridges National Monument. Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Owachomo Bridge - delicate and soaring.

Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Owachomo Bridge.

Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

The base of Owachomo Bridge.

"Bears Ears"

The Cheesebox, Bicentennial Highway, Utah.

The Cheesebox.

Jacob's Chair, Bicentennial Highway, Utah.

Jacob's Chair.

Scenic Bicentennial Highway.

Scenic Bicentennial Highway

Driving through Glen Canyon on the Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah. Bridge over the Colorado River, Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah.

Bridge over the Colorado.

Colorado River, Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah.

Colorado River.

Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah. Scenic overlook along the Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah.

Scenic Overlook on the

Bicentennial Highway.

Ghost town Hite City was buried by Lake Powell.

Ghost town Hite City lies underwater here.

SR-95 Bicentennial Highway. Rock formations along State Route 95, the Bicentennial Highway, Utah.

The gods were messing with finger paints.

Scenic Route 24, Utah.

Fruita in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Driving along Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Natural Bridges and Utah's Bicentennial Highway

Early June, 2012 - After leaving Mesa Verde National Park we were

totally enthralled by the scenery that surrounded us on Utah's

Bicentennial Highway.  This area is rich with exotic rock formations, and

three special ones are clustered at Natural Bridges National Monument.

While getting our hitch extension fabricated in Blanding we had learned

that our welder, Jack, had grown up playing among the bridge

formations before the modern park rules became so strict.  "It was in

our backyard and we could camp anywhere in those days.  I grew up

climbing all over those bridges."

Now it is a formal tourist attraction,

set aside and protected by the

government, with signs telling you all

the things you shouldn't do.

However, rather than having to scramble down scary drop-offs and wondering how the heck all

these formations got here, the National Park Service has built beautiful trails to the bridges and

offers all kinds of literature and books that explain everything about the geology, the wildlife, and

nature in general at their terrific visitors center.

Just like Canyon de Chelly where the canyons

are equally as stunning as the cliff dwellings, we

found the setting, the vistas and the hikes as

thrilling here as the bridges themselves.  There

are only three natural rock bridges, but there is

an infinite number of spectacular views.

All together it's just four miles of hiking, but you

can skip doing your stair stepping workout on

the day you go.  Each bridge hike is a nearly

vertical descent to the base of the bridge, and

then, after admiring it, you've gotta climb out.  We quizzed

everyone we passed whether each hike was worth the

effort.  Most said "Yes!"  But one couple was put off by the

rickety looking wooden ladders.  We found the ladders were

actually really fun!  They're rock solid and shiny smooth

from thousands of hands and feet using them.

The trail to Sipapu bridge is

sandy and hugs a sheer canyon

wall.  There are all kinds of

footprints from previous hikers,

but the ones that caught my eye

were the barefoot ones.  I felt like

I was following an Indian.  But it

was just someone wearing those

newfangled Vibram FiveFingers

shoes!

We scampered all over the place, soaking

up the towering cliffs and basking in the

silence.  It is hard to imagine that the

immense natural force of flowing water

created these formations.

Many of the rocks are beautifully striped,

carefully painted in vibrant hues by

mother nature.

The size and scale was hard to

capture with the cameras,

especially trying to draw into the

lens that sensation of being

embraced by soaring cliffs and very

hot sun.

Mark got to the

Sipapu bridge

first, and when

he called back

to me his voice

echoed

wonderfully

between the

rocks.  He let

out a few extra hoots

and whistles, enjoying

the effect.  I hooted

and whistled back and

marveled at hearing

the sound perfectly

duplicated.

Climbing back out we noticed

how the Park Service has not

only installed fantastic Navajo

looking wooden ladders, but

has carefully sculpted out lots

of stairs in the rocks as well.

And we learned these bridges

were first found by Cass Hite in

1884 when he was searching for gold.

Kachina Bridge was up next, and

again we descended on a nearly

vertical path into a vibrant green

wash filled with trees and refreshingly

cool shade.  The rocks here had

been painted in stripes too, and bird

songs echoed off the canyon walls as

they flitted from tree to tree.

We staggered around in the sandy wash at the base of the bridge, craning

our necks as we tried to take it all in.  This bridge is thick and squat, and the

underside is decorated with scraggly petroglyphs.  People have lived here

off-and-on for 9,000 years, including a few Mesa Verde cliff dwellers who

moved over here for a few generations around 1200 AD.  This must have

been a great spot to while away the hottest summer hours back in the days

when air conditioning was unavailable and people entertained themselves

by pecking out images on rock walls.

The steep climbs and descents began to blend together in a

haze of sweaty huffing and puffing as we put one foot in front of

the other and hiked up and down the canyons.

The last bridge in the trio is

Owachomo Bridge.  Where

Kachina Bridge had been thick

and massive, Owachomo was

thin and delicate.

Still mighty at its base, from a

distance the narrow stone

seemed almost wispy as it

soared across the expanse.

As we left Natural Bridges National

Monument we caught a glimpse of the

twin peaks the Indians called "Bears

Ears."   What a perfect name!

Many rock formations, cliffs and mesas

around here often beg to be named

because their shapes are just so

familiar.  The Bicentennial Highway

took us past the Cheesebox and

Jacob's Chair.

Back on the scenic Bicentennial Highway the views really got us excited as we

approached Glen Canyon and the Colorado River.  I was practically jumping up

and down in my seat with excitement as the truck swept around one gorgeous

curve after another.

Mark just puttered along, patiently driving, while I whirled around from side to

side snapping hundreds of photos out the windows.  I even climbed up to sit in

the truck window a few times to get pics over the roof.  It is just that gorgeous!

This section of the road must have

been a huge challenge to construct,

and I kept thinking of Ferd Johnson

from the visitors center back in

Blanding who described living out in

these canyons for over two years

while building the highway and the

bridges across the river.

What a place to work!

We stopped at a scenic overlook after

crossing the river and learned that

when the river was dammed back in the

1960's, the new Lake Powell flooded

not only countless ancient Indian

settlements complete with artifacts,

petroglyphs and other priceless

treasures of humankind, but it flooded

an old mining ghost town as well.  Hite

City had boomed when local miners got

"uranium on the cranium" and started

searching the area for "hot rocks."  Now

the entire town lies underwater.

Back in Blanding, both our welder, Jack, and highway builder Ferd

told us they remembered this canyon vividly from the days before it

was filled with water.  What an event it must have been when the

dam was completed to see the water rise against the cliffs and

transform the landscape.

Eventually the scenery along the Bicentennial Highway simmered

down to downright boring, and I settled down in my seat.  From

Route 95 we turned west onto Route 24, and then the views began

to build yet again.

Swirling patterns filled

the rock landscape.  It

seemed the gods had

gotten their hands

colorfully dirty, messing

around with finger

paints, and then had

smeared their prints

across the rocks.

We approached some

towering pale cliffs and

then found ourselves

deep in the heart of red

rock country.

We had arrived at Capitol Reef National Park.  What a

spot!  The bright green trees, burnt orange rocks and crisp

blue sky made a vivid feast for the eyes.  We happily

agreed to settle in here and explore the area for a while.