At the top of Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.
Some folks were put off by the
trail's wooden ladders.
Looking down is a bit unnerving!
The trail hugs a sheer canyon wall.
Dramatic cliffs and rock
Full sized trees at the base of the cliffs.
Massive leaning walls are painted in vivid stripes.
…and carved stairs.
Striped cliff walls.
Mark is dwarfed by Kachina Bridge.
Owachomo Bridge - delicate and soaring.
The base of Owachomo Bridge.
Scenic Bicentennial Highway
Bridge over the Colorado.
Scenic Overlook on the
Ghost town Hite City lies underwater here.
The gods were messing with finger paints.
Scenic Route 24, Utah.
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
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
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
Mark got to the
first, and when
he called back
to me his voice
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
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
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
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.
Never miss a post — it’s free!
Other fabulous scenic drives in Utah:
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- The Burr Trail – A Fabulous Side Trip on Utah’s Scenic Byway 12
- Utah Scenic Byway 12 RV Trip – Driving An All American Road!
- Utah Scenic Byway 24 RV Trip – Capitol Reef National Park
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- Sedona Reflections on the West Fork Trail
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