It was a fairly drab day, photographically, in one of the least drab locations on Earth: Natural Bridges National Monument. Mostly overcast skies in the dead of winter. But open vistas, clean, crisp air–what more could one want?
Though spring was still a long way off, it was coming. It always does (how’s that for a bold prediction?). At this time of year the days are getting longer by two minutes per day. An hour a month!
Another winter “rove” hike down to Kachina Natural Bridge, in January. Why? Because I’m a park volunteer, and so I get to do such things in the line of duty. To check trail conditions, talk to visitors, answer questions, etc. If anybody’s about, that is. Which, at this time of year, there aren’t many. Sometimes not even any. Like that day.
It was in between the big snows. The gorgeous plastering of the canyon walls and trees just after a snow storm was almost gone, and I was hopeful for the next one soon. Although I love spring as much as anybody, until it gets here I’d rather have snow than drab brown and gray. Even in Canyon Country, where the sandstone buttes and cliffs provide an endless source of wonder. They look even more awesome after a snow storm.
The west buttress of Kachina Bridge forms a massive overhanging cliff, a sandy alcove free of snow on a high bank well above the creek bottom. And that alcove must have been a very sacred place to the ancient ones. They were the ancestral puebloans (sometimes called Anasazi) that migrated on to form today’s pueblo communities (Hopi, Zuni, the Rio Grande pueblos) between 700 and 800 years ago.
Once again I pondered the small adobe structures. A couple of the conical ones were probably small granaries–grain storage bins for maize (corn), that precious commodity. But the circular, open flat topped one at the bottom of the cliff face mud flows? I think it had a different purpose, quite possibly ceremonial. Especially with the ghost like figures painted on the inside back wall.
What’s also unique about this site is the presence of butterfly pictographs (paintings). There are several here. It must be some kind of clan or society symbol. They didn’t doodle on these rock faces–each drawing painted, or pecked into the stone (a petroglyph) took time and intent. It’s clear that they revered these places as special, even powerful.
I checked the old wooden box nearby holding the visitor register. About a week earlier was an amazing entry by a couple from Germany. “What a stunning place we have found. Magical and spiritual at the same time. In Boulder [Colorado, or Utah?] we bought a couple rings from the Navajo tribe to give each other the promise to spend our lives together. We could have not found a better place to do this, being by ourselves, witnessed by the spirits of the ancestors.”
I closed the register box and walked back down from the ruins alcove underneath the bridge again. There in the sand by the little stream trickling by between the frozen pools someone had written: “Faith–Trust–Patience”. The same couple?
Finally, it was time to head back up to the trailhead. Only 400 vertical feet to go, once again. The lungs and legs were willing, though I can’t say they were excited. Or was that just my mind? Once again I did it, looking forward to doing it many times more before I leave this place.
Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah.
© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg