At first Natural Bridges National Monument seems a lot like Arches National Park, but it’s very different. Natural Bridges is in the southeastern part of Utah that was the last unexplored territory in the USA. Ruth and I were led to Natural Bridges by the couple from San Antonio who made the mistake of driving a camper up nearby Moki Dugway. Ruth and I decided to focus on Natural Bridges instead of the adjacent but undeveloped Bears Ears. The couple from Texas had 3 large dogs to entertain and had already been to the natural bridges. They told us not to miss them and waved us into this national monument. They actually led us there.
Natural Bridges has a visitor center but it was not opened on the day we were in the area. This made no difference because the 9 mile paved road that winds through this national monument and all of its trails were fully available.
Natural Bridges is certainly remote. The closest accommodations to these natural wonders are in Blanding or Mexican Hat, and Blanding is 40 miles away. People who plan to hike to the 3 natural bridges, and we met a few of them, are reminded to fill water canteens at the visitor center because there is no water on the trails. Even those who stay in its campground must get water here.
We have Cass Hite and Teddy Roosevelt to thank for Natural Bridges. The former was the prospector who wandered into White Canyon in 1883 and found the 3 natural bridges, and the later was the President who created Utah’s very first National Park System area here way back in 1908. Native Americans, Navajos and Paiutes, had already lived in the area above the bridges in cliff dwellings now known as the visitable Horse Collar Ruins.
We had a clear view of the first bridge over a branch of the Colorado River after a long look for it. The Sipapu Bridge seen far above has a 286 feet span and must have excited both men named above. We never saw the middle Kachina Bridge that was said to be big and bulky because foliage and other obstructions now block its view unless you hike directly to it. The oldest bridge, Owachomo, was clearly visible and the most fragile of the 3. It may already have a fatal crack, but it could stand for centuries. No one knows. Seen just below, it was certainly a dramatic vision.
There is a big difference between the arches in Arches National Park and these 3 natural bridges. Both are formed by erosion but arches are mainly caused by and affected by frost and seeping moisture while bridges always stand over moving river water.
Even though we did not get to see Kachina, sighting the other two natural bridges in this old National Monument made the trip to see them worthwhile.