Our Vantage Points

Natural Bridges National Monument
& Vicinity

Early May is a wonderful time of year to be touring through southeast Utah!
It's sunny and not too hot in this high desert country, a pleasant season for the small-enough towns of Monticello and Blanding relaxing on the doorstep of the towering Abajo Mountains.

Fourteen miles southwest of Blanding we came upon the Butler Wash Ruins.

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About 1200 AD a community of Anasazi lived here.  Habitation and storage rooms are at the back wall of the cave and in several other nearby caves in this canyon.  Four kivas, underground gathering rooms, are spaced across the cave opening, Three on the left are circular and one on the far right is rectangular.  It is thought that the dominant cultural influence on this community came from the Mesa Verde Culture, not far east of here in Colorado, as evidenced by the shape of the three kivas and the pottery found here.  But the rectangular kiva indicates a significant influence from the Kayenta culture in Arizona.

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What a pleasant half-mile walk between the trailhead and the cliff dwellings!  The desert and the bright morning sun combined their energies to arouse a subtle profusion of spring flora and fauna.  When I came upon a large patch of flowers protruding about 8 inches from the dirt, it could not escape becoming the perfect background for a web page featuring the wonders of this area.

Occasionally, without announcement, something would streak across the textured ground.  Sometimes the streak would stop motionless in full view, revealing a marvelously camouflaged lizard about 6-inches long.  Only the application of an equally motionless gaze would reveal that he was equally flabbergasted by this huge 2-legged monster focusing on him.

Natural Bridges National Monument is one of the smaller natural areas managed by the National Park Service.  It consists of a small visitor center, a campground and a 9-mile one-way loop drive on the rim of two canyons in which the three natural bridges are situated.
O w a c h o m o     N a t u r a l    B r i d g e
Owachomo Natural Bridge
The Owachomo Natural Bridge has a height of 106 feet, a span of 180 feet, a width of 27 feet and a thickness of only 9 feet.  It's the smallest of the three main bridges here, but it is the most impressive visually for it's sleek, straight span.  It may be the oldest.  Pondering its form factor, Owachomo is definitely the most fragile looking.  Some are concerned that this bridge could fail at any moment.  On the other hand, it could endure for centuries.  It just depends.

Before coming here, the pictures I saw of these bridges did not impress me that they are different than the arches, nor could the pictures give me a perspective of their proportions.  Despite the fact that all these bridges are in a depression, the photos I saw showed the bridges from below. 

I've now observed that the tops of the natural bridges are flat, such that one can imagine a roadway atop these bridges.  Hopefully some of my photos will clarify that these forms indeed look more like bridges and not so much like the more common arches.  The difference is not just the moot difference in the way they were formed. 
Owachomo Natural Bridge
From a new angle, farther away, the flatness of the "roadway," if you will, is very apparent.
Sipapu Natural Bridge
Sipapu Natural Bridge
Kachina Natural Bridge
Kachina Natural Bridge
We noticed that these natural bridges actually cross streams, or most usually, stream beds except for Owachomo, whose stream dried up long ago.

It is said that these streams once meandered here atop a plateau.  Their meandering was such that the stream almost returned upon itself in several places.  After eons, the deep meandering White Canyon and Armstrong Canyon were formed by this action.  As the water rounded the turns it would tend to erode the outside of the turn enough to eventually open a hole all the way through the wall to where the stream had meandered nearby on the other side.  Once started, the flow continued to enlarge the hole, and the old meander was abandoned so that the stream could go straight through the hole.  As the hole enlarged, the present bridge was formed.

When you examine the photo of Sipapu, the flat "roadway" on top ends very close to the bridge.  It appears in this case that the meander loop was very short.  But on all three bridges the roadway is very flat.  Kachina in particular, impressed me because the top is wide and straight enough that one way of an interstate highway could be built across it. 

At Kachina I hiked the trail down the nearly vertical canyon wall opposite the bridge, carefully placing each step.  The contour map shows the stream bed only about 250 below where I started at the top.  It was another pleasant hike, especially the cool, shady pause at the bridge.  On the way back up, a couple of shady spots were most welcome places for managing hematogenous oxygenation. 
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