Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah is one of only two places on Earth with three natural bridges so close together. The other place is in China. Natural bridges are much more rare than arches, because bridges were formed by a flowing stream wearing a hole through a wall of rock.
Sipapu Natural Bridge is the sixth largest one in the world, and the second largest one in the Americas, after Glen Canyon’s Rainbow Bridge.
Kachina Natural Bridge is the youngest of the three, and thus the most massive in terms of rock bulk. It has the most left to erode away before, someday far into the future, collapsing. Kachina Bridge is notable for having ancient ancestral puebloan symbols pecked into it (called petroglyphs), as well as painted on symbols (called pictographs). The ancient ones migrated out of here about 800 years ago, so the symbols are at least that old.
Owachomo Natural Bridge is the oldest of the three, thus it is the thinnest and is the one most likely to collapse first, however far in the future that might be. It also has the smallest span of the three natural bridges, also its wide open setting leads many visitors to think it’s the largest (widest span) natural bridge in the park.
Natural Bridges National Monument also provides protection to hundreds of priceless ancestral puebloan cliff dwelling ruins, as well as sacred symbols pecked into and painted on canyon walls and boulders.
Foremost of the park’s cliff dwelling sites that the Visitor Center staff are allowed to talk about publicly is the Horsecollar Ruin in White Canyon. Located on the loop trail between Sipapu Bridge and Kachina Bridge on a ledge above the stream bottom, Horsecollar Ruin is accessible by scrambling up a steep slope of sandstone slickrock. There is a north unit, with several room blocks, and a south unit, with two kivas, some room blocks, and the namesake double granary ruin with doors shaped like horse collars.
There is also a publicly accessible ruin site just downstream of Kachina Bridge. Though not marked with a sign, the Visitor Center staff is happy to give you detailed instructions as to how to find it. There are a few small granary ruins, metate scoops and stone axe sharpening grooves in the sandstone boulders, and numerous inscriptions and hand paints throughout.
In fact, the buttresses of Kachina Bridge itself have a number of inscriptions pecked into its Cedar Mesa Sandstone.
There are many more ancestral puebloan sites within the monument that are considered too sensitive for the park staff to talk about, although you are free to hike the canyons looking for them. The ancestral puebloan (“Anasazi”) peoples left this area — the greater Cedar Mesa area — about 800 years ago. There were far more people living here then than there are now.
All content Copyright © 2014-2016 Stephen J. Krieg.