After my wonderful escapades in the Canadian Rockies, I was back home in Montana for about 2 weeks – long enough to catch up on real life and attend the wedding of two friends – before I was off again. It was time for Family Roadtrip 2011!
This year was a little different, though. My sister was heading off to college in Dallas, so our trip was a combined camping and driving her to Texas type of adventure. As it happens, it’s a very long drive from Montana to Texas. I think the entire trip ended up being about 3500 miles. So we broke it up into smaller segments, stopping to visit some national parks – and whatever other scenery we might happen upon – along the way.
First stop: Natural Bridges National Monument. The monument is located in the southeastern corner of Utah near the town of Blanding. It’s a small park, but it contains natural bridges – obviously – and Native American ruins, all amongst the colorful rocks and topography that is so typical of southern Utah. Point of clarification – the difference between an arch and a natural bridge is that a natural bridge is formed by actual flowing water, while an arch is formed by wind, rain, or other sorts of natural phenomena.
Upon our arrival at Natural Bridges, we were disappointed (and a little bit annoyed) to learn that the campground was closed. This meant that Plan A – spending the night in the park – was no longer an option. We’d have to come up with plan B. This also meant that our time in the park would be limited, as there weren’t any other camping options nearby. We were basically in the middle of nowhere. But we made the best of what little time we had before leaving in search of a place to stay.
There are three natural bridges within the monument, all of which are visible from Bridge View Drive. There are also trails down to the base of each one. We were able to view all three, and chose one – Owachomo Bridge – to hike to. Of the three bridges in the monument, this one is the oldest and smallest. And yet, it was huge! Standing underneath it made me feel very tiny. Now I know how an ant must feel on a daily basis.
The name of the bridge hails from the Hopi language; Owachomo means “rock mound.” The names of the other two bridges – Kachina and Sipapu – are also from the Hopi language. A kachina is a spiritual being while a sipapu is a portal from which their ancestors first entered the world. Many native peoples, including the Hopi, have inhabited this area over the course of the last ten thousand years.
One depiction of this inhabitation is visible from Bridge View Drive: Horsecollar Ruin. The site is small but very well preserved, and is estimated to be at least 700 years old. We only saw it from a distance, but I’m always amazed at the intelligence and ingenuity that must have been required to live in such a location.
Well, there you have it – a brief tour of Natural Bridges.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: located on UT Highway 275, 38 miles west of the town of Blanding
- Fees & passes: $10/car for a 7-day pass; Interagency Annual Pass accepted
- Camping: 13 sites, first-come-first-served, $10 per night; no running water, but water is available at the visitor center (5 gallons per person)
- Hiking: Owachomo Bridge – 0.4 miles round trip with 180 feet elevation gain; Sipapu Bridge – 1.2 miles round-trip with 500 feet elevation gain; Kachina Bridge – 1.5 miles round-trip with 400 feet elevation gain
- Other: the Monument is basically in the middle of nowhere, so be sure stock up on food/water/gas before arriving