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Title: A Guide to Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Guide to Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah" ***

                               A Guide to
                            Natural Bridges
                           National Monument,


    [Illustration: Published by the Canyonlands Natural History
    Association, an independent, non-profit corporation organized to
    complement the educational and environmental programs of the
    National Park Service.]

    [Illustration: _Visitor Center_]


Welcome to Natural Bridges National Monument. We hope you can take the
time to enjoy a relaxed, leisurely visit to the area and that this Guide
will help you to do so. If you are like most visitors, you came here
specifically to see the three great bridges. If that is all that you
want to do, you can get through the area in less than two hours.

We suggest, however, that you plan on spending more time here (if that’s
possible in your situation). There are more things here to see and do,
and more ways to look at the bridges, than you may have realized. You
have invested time and money to get here and you will gain a better
return on those investments if you can take a bit more time to visit the

As you drive along the road, you will occasionally find small parking
areas with numbered posts that look like this:

    [Illustration: Parking-area numbered post]

The numbers on the posts refer to numbered sections of this Guide, and
each section starts off something like this:

[Number: 4] 1.7 (4.8) Meander Viewpoint

In the above example 4. is the stop number; this is the fourth stop on
the trip, 1.7 is the distance (miles) from the previous stop, (4.8) is
the mileage from the start of trip at the Visitor Center, and boldface
words are the name of the stop.

Some sites are not described in the Guide; there are parking places
without numbered posts. There are scenic views or other points of
interest at these places, but we thought we’d leave some sites for you
to “do your own thing,” if you wish.

At any stop, numbered or not, you must exercise care for your own and
your children’s safety and you must be reasonable in your use of the
park. There are many unfenced cliffs you can fall off, rocks you can
trip over, and other natural hazards that could injure or kill you. We
will remind you now and then about them, but we can’t protect you from
every hazard. You have to do your part, too. Being reasonable in using
the park involves things like not throwing rocks off cliffs (there may
be someone below you), not entering or climbing on prehistoric ruins,
not defacing things, and stuff like that.

Actually, if you and the Monument are both undamaged by your visit, we
should all be very pleased that you chose to come here today.

Your visit to the bridges really begins in the Visitor Center. If you
look over the exhibits, attend the slide program, and ask the
Information Desk Ranger any questions you may have, you will have begun
to collect data that should make the entire trip more pleasant. Then,
with the preliminaries taken care of, step out the back door and walk to
your right. From that point you and this guide are on your own.

                            HAVE A NICE DAY!

    [Illustration: Bears Ears]

The Bears Ears.

The two buttes rising above Elk Ridge on the skyline are called the
Bears Ears. If you have ever looked at a bear at all closely, you may
wonder why the buttes are called Bears Ears. Well, we wonder about that
sometimes, too, for they don’t look at all like the ears of a bear.
“Bears Ears” is the officially approved name, but that name was bestowed
by someone looking at the buttes from another angle. Seen from one point
of view, physical features may appear completely different than from
another point of view. Ideas are like that, too, in many cases. If we
can look at things (including ideas) from a different point of view, we
may better understand them.

So, we have tried to arrange this Guide in a way that allows you to
experiment with a few things that you did not intend to do. The great
majority of visitors here drive in, look at the three bridges and then
drive out. You can still do that, of course, but this booklet suggests
some additional things which we hope will add to your enjoyment of the

The first stop along the road is 1.4 miles from here.

[Number: 2] 1.4 (1.4) Sphinx Rock

This is another of those different point of view things. The guy who
named this was looking at it from upper White Canyon. From that point of
view (the opposite of yours) the resemblance to ancient Egyptian figures
make the name quite reasonable, whereas from this side it makes no sense
at all.

The light-colored, nearly white rock all over the place is Cedar Mesa
Sandstone, a relatively hard, fine-grained rock. Scattered through it
are thin layers of dark red shale rock which is much softer because it
contains a lot of muddy silt. The softer red beds erode, or wear away,
much more quickly than the hard white rock.

The long black or dark streaks on the rocks are desert varnish, a common
occurrence here which we’ll explain at a later stop.

    [Illustration: Sphinx Rock]

[Number: 3] 0.2 (1.6)

This is a nice place to try a different point of view. You came here to
see the bridges, but at this stop why not get out and look at some other
things of interest. You have to be careful scrambling over the rocks
(the little arrow signs mark a fairly good route) and when you get out
near the clifftop be very cautious, but there’s a beautiful view of the
canyon. You can also see cryptogamic crust: a dark brown or black crusty
layer on the soil, it is actually a very delicate plant community. DON’T
WALK ON IT! Hop from rock to rock or follow the little drainages of bare
sand. The cryptogamic soil is a combination of algae, fungi, lichens,
and other odd plants, all dependent upon each other for some factor
necessary to their lives.

    [Illustration: Cryptogamic Crust; Detail]

    [Illustration: Douglas Fir]

You will see a lot of it in the Monument; be careful not to damage it. A
single footstep can destroy 25, 50 or 100 years of growth.

Ravens are a frequent sight in the canyon, flying or soaring along the
cliffs. Big and black, they are readily recognized. More often, their
throaty croaking call is heard and that’s easy to recognize, too.

As you look along the canyon sides (not down in the bottom), note the
trees on the slope and ledges—they’re different. Different from the
stocky pinyon and juniper on top and different from the leafy green
cottonwoods in the bottom. The tall, Christmas-tree-shaped evergreens
are douglasfir. See any on the other side of the canyon? How about that?
Why do they grow on only one side of the canyon?

[Number: 4] 0.3 (1.9)

This is another different point of view. You’ve come only a little way,
you look at the same things (plus a few new ones), but it’s different.

    [Illustration: Lichens]

Lichens: Patches of color, bright or somber, like a thin crust on the
rock. Blue, black, orange, red, brown, green, yellow and other colors.
These represent another odd plant community. Lichens are a lot tougher
than the cryptogamic crust, but it seems a shame to walk on them. They
are algae and fungi that live intertwined lives. Neither can live alone;
each is utterly dependent upon the other. Such things are called
“symbiotic” or “symbiotes.” Incidentally, you’re a symbiote, too, in a

    [Illustration: Crossbedding]

“Crossbedding” is all over the place, and you can see it all through the
Monument in cliffs, exposed rock faces of many kinds, boulders, etc. It
is the numerous groups of thin layers of rock intersecting at odd
angles. They are the result of wind-blown sands drifting across the
landscape—a very different landscape than that you see. The Cedar Mesa
Sandstone is largely made up of sands that drifted here in great dunes.
The loose grains were later covered by more sediments, cemented together
by other minerals, and are now being uncovered and worn away by erosion.
With each step, you free grains of sand that have been locked in place
for about 180 million years. Those grains will now move on, eventually
to come to rest and again become frozen in time. Rub the sandstone with
your hand and feel the sand grains break loose.

There is an Indian ruin across the canyon. Can you see it?

The douglasfir community grows on the more shaded side of the canyon,
for it cannot tolerate the hotter and drier environments on the sunny
side or on the mesa top. In fact, the tops of most douglasfir growing
near the cliff rise only to the level of the cliff top. Many have dead
tops even with the cliffs edge. Hot dry winds from the mesa apparently
kill the tops of these mountain forest trees, but we’re not really sure
that’s the reason for the dead tops. Can you think of a better one?

    [Illustration: Douglas Fir]

[Number: 5] 0.1 (2.0) Sipapu Bridge viewpoint

Natural bridges are often described in terms like young, mature, and
old, but the words have nothing to do with age in years. A “young”
bridge has a great, massive span above a relatively small hole. An “old”
bridge has a very thin span over a relatively large opening. A “mature”
bridge is intermediate between young and old. The same terms can be used
to describe natural arches—which form in a very different manner than do
bridges. Remember, the terms reflect stages of development, not age in
years (a mature bridge could be older in years than an old bridge!).
Sipapu is mature.

    [Illustration: Sipapu Bridge]

[Number: 6] 0.8 (2.8) Sipapu Trailhead

You came here to see bridges and you got a good view of one at the last
stop. Here is an outstanding opportunity for another, but different,
view of that bridge. Two different views, in fact.

A trail starts here, proceeds about halfway down into the canyon and out
along a ledge to an outstanding view of this beautiful, graceful bridge.
It’s a fairly easy walk with guard rails, metal stairs, and other aids.
You have to climb one short ladder. You can see an ancient Indian ruin,
may learn quite a bit about the douglasfir community, and will get an
excellent chance to photograph the bridge. You can walk out and back in
about half an hour, but you may find that you want to take longer.

About halfway to the viewpoint, another trail takes off and goes right
down into the canyon. DO NOT take that route unless you’re prepared for
a much more ambitious hike. You need good footwear (like boots with a
good sole for rock), drinking water in warm or hot weather, and plenty
of time (allow 2-3 hours at least). It’s a nice trip and you’ll never
really appreciate how huge this bridge is unless you stand under it, but
we do not recommend the hike unless you are physically fit and properly

SPECIAL WARNING: When you make a trip into any canyon in this part of
the country, beware of flash floods. Even if the weather is fine where
you are, be on the lookout for thunderstorms or heavy rain upstream from
your location. If it’s raining upstream, or if great towering clouds are
building up, STAY OUT OF THE STREAMBED in the bottom of the canyon.
NEVER CAMP in or next to a streambed in this region, even if it is dry.
If you get caught by a healthy flash flood, you’re dead.

The following lettered paragraphs are coordinated with numbered stakes
along the trail to the viewpoint. They help explain features as you see
them. If you are not taking advantage of the different points of view
here, turn to page 16. (It’s OK to read the trail guide even if you
don’t take the walk.)

[Number: 6A] How’s this for a different point of view? It used to be,
when people wanted to do what you are doing, that they scrambled out on
the rocks, crawled across these logs and climbed down the tree. That was
the only way down the cliff. Now you gain access via the stairs, which
cost a few thousand of your tax dollars. Your dollars, remember, not
just “Government funds.”

Now, some folks say we ruined the trip, that it’s no fun anymore. Others
say we should have built wooden stairs, not metal. Some think this is
fine and a few want nothing less than an elevator or tram. What do you

How does the difficulty of getting to a place affect your feeling for
that place? How does it affect your opinion of the people who will not
(we don’t mean those who can not) do what you are doing right now?

    [Illustration: White Throated Swifts]

[Number: 6B] A thousand years ago this summer, a man stood where you now
stand and he watched the white throated swifts sweep in and out of
cracks in the cliff above you. He didn’t know they were white throated
swifts nor did he care. His main interest was to see if any baby birds
had fallen from their nests into the pile of manure. Many do, each year,
and the occupants of this land used any food they could find.

In that 1,000 years, nearly a thousand generations of swifts have come
and gone. Each year they return, nest in the cracks, wing their way
through the canyons catching insects, and produce a new generation from
the stuff of their environment. A thousand generations have passed; the
swifts are still here. There are neither more nor less than the previous
owner of the land watched a thousand years ago, and a thousand
generations have left the environment ready for a thousand more. What of
us—of Man?

Less than 50 generations of man have passed since the day your
predecessor watched the birds from this point. Our numbers have
increased to many times the number there were then and each of us uses
many times as much from our environment.

Today we endure shortages of food, services and materials. Twenty-five
years from now there will be twice as many of us. What will become of
us? In fact, come to think of it, what became of the guy who watched the
birds 1,000 years ago?

[Number: 6C] A few minutes ago we wrote of a previous owner of this land
who gathered dead birds. Well, this is his house. It may not look like
much now (and probably didn’t look an awful lot better then), but it has
become a little rundown after 1,000 (800, or whatever) years. He may
have been quite proud of it (it’s bigger than most) and he built it all
himself. No planes, trains, barges, boats, trucks, or even wheelbarrows.
In fact, no wheels! A family of Anasazis could have anything they
wanted, just so long as they could get it by themselves.

    [Illustration: Anasazi Home]

Please do not enter the ruin. In doing so, you can easily and innocently
damage it. What we call “innocent vandalism” probably results in more
irreparable damage than is caused by deliberate vandals.

The Anasazis probably did a little farming down in the canyon, growing
and storing some corn, beans and squash. They gathered wild fruits and
seeds and made fiber from native plants. They apparently led a difficult
life, and probably ate anything they could get: lizards, snakes, birds,
mice, squirrels, rabbits, and rarely a deer or bighorn sheep. Some
scientists say they also ate each other, but we don’t know if this is

But the Anasazi lived within certain environmental limitations, just as
we do. They needed food, water, fuel, and other resources, just as we

There came a time, about 700 years ago, when the environment here
changed just a little. Annual rainfall patterns changed, there was a
serious drought, and other factors may have contributed. Whatever the
reasons, the Anasazi world changed and Man could no longer survive here.
Man, ancient or modern, can adapt to a certain range of environmental
change. There are limits to adaptability, though, and if the changes
exceed those limits, Man must move to a more suitable place or die. The
Anasazi moved.

Your environment is changing very rapidly and the changes are world
wide. Where will you move to?

[Number: 6D] Here it is, Sipapu. In Hopi Indian legend, the Sipapu is a
passage between two very different worlds. Some visitors see a
similarity here. Beneath your feet and all around you is a world of
slickrock: nearly barren expanses of sandstone. But through the Sipapu
you can see a world of vegetation: a softer, less harsh, more pleasant
world. One can almost imagine that the Sipapu is a gateway to another

As you go back up the trail to your car, consider again the different
points of view along the trail.

    [Illustration: Sipapu Bridge]

[Number: 7] 0.3 (3.1) Horse Collar Ruin trailhead

Now here’s an opportunity to adopt a truly different point of view: as
different as it could be. We’d like you to be an Indian. Even if you
already are an Indian, this walk will offer a different point of view
because we want you to be an Anasazi Indian of about 800 years ago.

The trail is easy and has few hazards. Of course, you always have to
exercise reasonable caution on trails or in any unfamiliar environment,
but the main thing to beware of on this walk is the cliffs further out
on the trail. There are abrupt, unfenced drop-offs and you and the kids
have to be careful around them.

If you take the trail, try to put yourself in the place of a man of 800
years ago. We know you can’t simply forget your own rich heritage, but
try for a brief period to set it aside, try to look at the things about
you from a different point of view.

[Number: 7A] Na’va produces tangy, tart fruits in good seasons. I like
it; it’s one of the few really tasty things in my diet. You can eat the
rest of the cactus, too, after you scorch it, but I don’t like it very

    [Illustration: Prickly pear cactus]

[Number: 7B] Mo’hu is a good plant. We eat the seed pods, which usually
have tasty grubs in them. My woman braids or twists the leaf fibers and
makes the nets, cords, and other things a man needs. Mo’vi, the bottom
of the plant, helps make me clean when I wash with it and cleans me
inside when I eat it.

[Number: 7C] Ersvi in hot water makes a drink I take when my belly hurts
or to cure sickness. Many of us, mostly the children, die from
bellyaches and fevers, but our medicine always makes me well—or it has
so far, anyway.

    [Illustration: Juniper bark]

[Number: 7D] Na’shu is a really good tree, for you can use it for many
things. The timber is good building material, and the big seeds are good
to eat when the cones ripen and open. Some years there are many of them,
and then the women need not work so long for a supply.

[Number: 7E] Ho’taki is another very good tree, like Na’shu. We pull the
long, shaggy, coarse ho’lpe from the trunk and branches to line our
roofs. Shredded very fine, it’s useful for lining our baby’s clothes and
my woman needs it sometimes. I use the wood for roof beams, too.

[Number: 7F] Owa’si, the rock flowers, are the food of my war gods. We
do not eat them.

    [Illustration: Lichens]

    [Illustration: Potholes]

[Number: 7G] I drink water from little pools like these, sometimes when
I have no other water. The water often tastes funny and has bugs in it.
The deer, bighorn sheep, and other animals drink from these pools, too,
when there is any water.

[Number: 7H] Almost always, I can find lizards in places like this. Even
in winter, on warm days, they come out and lie on sunny rocks. Some
years, when our food is gone in late winter and early spring, I eat
them—but there isn’t much meat on them.

[Number: 7I] There is our home! When I’m hunting up here, I like to look
down at our village. It is a good place to live. The sun shines under
the cliff in winter, warming the whole village, but the cliff shades our
houses in summer.

The fields along the canyon floor have good crops most years, and our
storage bins are usually full at the end of summer.

Well, I must leave you now, for I have much to do before dark. Good

You have come out here trying to see the world from the Anasazi point of
view, we hope, but as you return you may wish to consider a 20th century
point of view.

The 800-year-old buildings across the canyon and 500 feet below are
called Horse Collar Ruin. It is a village of several homes, two kivas
(ceremonial and religious building used by men only), and numerous
storage bins. It may have been home for about 30 people. The brush
covered flats along the stream were probably farmed, producing corn,
beans, and other storable crops. Many other food sources were used;
native plants and animals were eaten and provided numerous necessary
“side products.” Hides, bone, horn, feather, bark, wood, etc., were the
raw materials for many tools, implements and supplies.

Anasazi villages were often located so as to be bathed in winter
sunshine and shaded in summer. A somewhat more technological use of the
sun’s energy provides most of the electricity used in the Monument

    [Illustration: Horse Collar Ruin]

    [Illustration: Map of Natural Bridges National Monument]

    [Illustration: Lizard]

[Number: 7H] You may see lizards just about anywhere in the park. The
more common varieties in slickrock areas like this are _whiptails_ (very
sleek, streamlined; tail much longer than body), _eastern fence lizard_
(rough; spiny; blue patches on throat and belly), _side-blotched lizard_
(long tail; spiny; blue patch behind front legs).

[Number: 7G] Potholes, or rock pools, are a common feature of flat
sandstone beds. Some reach great size and depth and not all the steps in
their development are understood. Once a slight depression is formed by
erosion, it holds water for a while after each rain. The moisture
dissolves some cement and encourages more rapid erosion, thus deepening
the depression. The depression thus holds water longer, and so grows
faster. Wind may sweep away the loosened sand grains when the pothole is

[Number: 7F] Lichens are a “symbiotic” plant association, as you may
remember. An alga and fungus grow together, each providing to the other
an element necessary to life. Neither can live alone; each is dependent
upon the other.

Lichens are rather effective agents of erosion, which seems a bit
surprising for a thin crust on the rocks, but it’s true. Like most
plants, lichens tend to make the immediate area more acid. The “cement”
that holds sand grains together to make sandstone here is very
susceptible to acid. The lichens create acid conditions, the acid
dissolves the cement, and the sand grains are freed to blow or wash
away. And that is what “erosion” is all about.

[Number: 7E] Juniper [Juniperus osteosperma]. Various species of juniper
are common in the arid southwest. As you climb from desert grasslands to
higher elevations, the junipers are usually the first trees you see.
With pinyon pine, they often form a dense “pigmy forest” of short, burly
trees. At slightly higher elevations, where it is a little cooler and
moister, ponderosa pine and other trees replace the pinyon-juniper. The
tiny scale-like needles on the twigs, and abundant bluish berries make
junipers easy to identify.

    [Illustration: Juniper]

SIDE TRIP: This side trail will take you up to a knoll where you will
have a 360 degree view of the Monument. It is the only place on your
tour where you can gain such a view.

    [Illustration: Pinyon]

[Number: 7D] Pinyon [Pinus edulis]. Usually found growing with junipers
in the pinyon-juniper woodland or pygmy forest. Under ideal conditions,
pinyon may grow into quite respectable trees! The seeds are still used
as a staple diet item by Southwestern Indians. As pinyon “nuts,” they
also find their way into gourmet and specialty food shops. The
inconspicuous flowers appear in spring and the cones mature a year and a
half later, in the fall.

    [Illustration: Mormon Tea]

[Number: 7C] Mormon tea [Ephedra viridis]. Used by Indians and pioneers
as a stimulant and medicine, the beverage is still used as a spring
tonic by many.

Ephedra is really kind of a neat plant. Like most desert plants, it has
evolved methods of conserving water. For one thing, it has no leaves.
Look at it closely—it’s all stem. Plants can lose a lot of water from
their leaves and many desert plants have leaves modified to reduce water
loss, but Mormon tea has dispensed with leaves entirely (Well, almost
entirely: they get very tiny ones in the spring, which soon fall off).
Plants usually need green leaves to produce food, but Ephedra has many
green stems that carry out that function.

    [Illustration: Yucca]

[Number: 7B] Yucca [Yucca brevifolia]. The yuccas are very common
throughout the Southwest, from low desert to mountains. There are many
species, but they share one great peculiarity. They are symbiotic with a
little white moth, the Pronuba.

Female Pronubas live in the blossoms. After mating, the moth collects a
ball of yucca pollen and jams it onto the stigma (female part) of the
flower. Yucca pollen is heavy and sticky; it doesn’t float around in the
wind. Other insects do not transport it. The Pronuba insures that the
plant will produce seeds by fertilizing the blossom and then she lays
eggs in the base of the flower where the seeds will grow. The larvae
that hatch from her eggs eat many seeds, but a lot of the seeds mature,
too. The moth will not lay her eggs anywhere else.

The Pronuba must have yuccas to reproduce. The yuccas must have Pronubas
to reproduce. Neither can get along without the other.

[Number: 7A] Prickly pear cactus [Opuntia]. Like all desert cactus,
these are well adapted to the arid environment. Like Ephedra, cactus are
all stem, have no leaves, and the stems (or “pads”) contain green
chlorophyll, the critically important element in food production. Cactus
spines are modified leaves that serve as effective protection, but are
not functional food producers. When moisture is abundant, cactus pads
get plump and smooth. During extended dry spells, the pads shrink and
wrinkle as the plant uses the stored water. How has the weather been
around here recently? Look at the cactus and you can tell!

[Number: 8] 0.5 (4.8)

You won’t get a very good view of Kachina Bridge here, but you will find
it much easier to understand how bridges are formed if you walk out to
the canyon rim. There is no trail, but it’s an easy walk without unusual
hazards other than the ever present cliffs. Remember, DON’T WALK ON THE

    [Illustration: Desert Varnish]

Desert varnish, the dark streaks on the canyon walls, is common in arid
areas such as this. Each time the rock gets wet, some moisture is
absorbed by the rock. Water actually seeps into tiny spaces between the
grains of sand. Later, the moisture is drawn out of the rock and
evaporated by hot, dry air. While inside the sandstone, however, the
water dissolves minute amounts of minerals like iron and manganese. When
the water comes to the rock surface and evaporates, the minerals come
with it—but the minerals do not evaporate. They accumulate on the
surface of the rock over thousands of years, slowly forming a very thin
dark crust.

    [Illustration: White Canyon]

Notice the long, curving, fairly level valley right below you. This is
an important part of the bridge formation story, for that valley was the
stream channel before Kachina Bridge was formed. The stream now flows
through the hole under the bridge, of course, but before there was a
hole the water had to run around this side of the mass of rock that now
forms the bridge. Every time White Canyon flooded (which is every time
it rained very much), the stream cut a little deeper into the base of
the rock and most of the cutting took place right where the stream was
forced to turn toward you. As flood waters roared around this curving
valley, the shape of the canyon also threw them against the downstream
side of the obstructing wall of rock, so that the stream was eating into
both sides of a fairly thin wall. It eventually ate right through the
obstruction, and from then on the stream followed the shorter,
straighter route. Continued erosion enlarged the opening and cut the
channel deeper into the canyon. Downcutting of the new channel left this
old channel high and dry. And there it sits!

Actually, the water coming down Armstrong Canyon (on the left) also
contributed to bridge development, but we’ll get into that at a later

    [Illustration: Kachina Bridge]

[Number: 9] 0.3 (5.1) Kachina Bridge, viewpoint and trailhead

Kachina is an excellent example of a young bridge. The thick, heavy span
crosses a relatively small opening. The span and abutments are massive,
not slim and graceful.

    [Illustration: Pictographs]

Below the bridge are ancient pictographs (drawings on stone) that some
people felt represented or at least looked like the Hopi Indian gods
called Kachinas. So the original name was discarded and “Kachina” was

As at the other bridges, there is a very nice little trail down into the
canyon. The trail is in good condition, you can walk it without special
equipment, and it isn’t especially strenuous. It is a bit steep, so
coming back on a hot day you may find the trip can be tedious. If the
weather is fairly warm or hot today, you may also want to take water. An
hour or hour and a half is adequate time to allow for the trip—unless
you fool around a lot.

[Number: 9A] The Monument landscape is typified by hundreds of ledges
and shelves separating the cliffs. Nearly all the canyon walls are lined
with such ledges. That is because the rather hard Cedar Mesa sandstone
is seamed with many thin layers of relatively soft rock. The softer
material erodes very much faster, and as it wears away, the rock above
and below it is also exposed to the elements. As a deep horizontal
crevice develops, support for the rock above it is removed and chunks
eventually fall out. In time, a wide ledge (or shelf, or bench, or
whatever) forms.

All of the above is happening here, right in front of you. This isn’t
just an interesting formation, it’s a dynamic, continuing process that
is changing the landscape.

[Number: 9B] The canyon coming around the corner on your left is
Armstrong Canyon. It joins White Canyon on your right. In front of you
is a waterfall (or it would be there if any water was flowing) above a
deep, narrow plunge pool. This type of thing is often called a “nick
point,” and it is evidence of some abrupt change in the canyon’s
development. In this case, that change was probably formation of Kachina
Bridge, which changed the gradient, or steepness, of the stream. The
water, rushing over the lip and plunging into the pool, quarries out a
hollow under the lip. In time the lip breaks off, the waterfall moves
back a few feet, and the process goes on. A similar, but somewhat larger
nick point is Niagara Falls.

If the canyon is dry today, it may be a little difficult to believe the
explanation. If you could be here just after a heavy rain, when the
flood thunders over the rocks at a rate of thousands of gallons each
second, you would find the whole thing more believable.

    [Illustration: Nick Point]

    [Illustration: Little Arch]

[Number: 9C] This little arch (it’s not a bridge) may not win prizes for
size, but it is very handy for helping explain bridge or arch growth. A
bridge is first formed by the action of running water, but much of its
subsequent growth is like development of an arch. Water seeps into tiny
cracks, freezes in winter, and pries flakes or blocks of stone loose.
Alternate heat and cold causes rock to expand and contract and that
opens little cracks, causes tension, etc. If the rock has natural planes
in it, it may break away along those lines.

If you look at the underside and sides of this little arch, you can see
evidence of these processes. Please don’t “help nature along” by prying
pieces loose.

This arch may not have been here very many centuries, but it is a very
“old” arch. Thin and delicate, the fragile span over a relatively huge
opening is near the end of its life.

[Number: 9D] Back when we explained bridge formation and abandoned
meanders, we said Armstrong Canyon’s run-off played an important role in
Kachina’s development and that we would explain it “later.”

Well, now is later. Before the opening was formed, while White Canyon
run-off came around the channel on your right, Armstrong Canyon run-off
flowed down the channel from your left and rushed right against the rock
wall that once existed where the opening now is. Flood waters roaring
down Armstrong would rush out its mouth, cross the White Canyon
streambed, and smash into that rock wall. Floods carry great loads of
sediment: sand, gravel, pebbles, rocks and boulders. These are the teeth
of a flood, the sand and boulders. They are the agents of erosion that
bang, smash and batter any obstruction. It is a bit like a liquid saw
with stone teeth. It’s an act of violence, a cataclysm, a ripping and
tearing. There really isn’t anything nice or gentle about it, but it’s a
great way to undercut rock walls and gnaw holes in them!

And that is precisely what it did.

Well, that’s about enough for a while. You are more than halfway through
the Monument and we’ve been telling you what to see, do, and think
entirely long enough. Go now, and just enjoy the rest of this lovely
walk. Walk the trail in leisure and peace. At the bridge are ancient
ruins and irreplaceable prehistoric rock art. Let them speak to you,
respect them, and consider your long gone predecessors here. Consider
your place here, too, and the role you play in our beautiful little

BEWARE! And go cautiously, for there are spirits here that will make you
part of this land and forever call you back!

    [Illustration: Ancient Ruins and Rock Art]

[Number: 10] 2.0 (7.1) Owachomo Bridge viewpoint and trailhead

Owachomo is a lovely bridge. Long, thin, flat; a fragile old bridge
nearing its logical and inevitable end: collapse. The opening grows very
slowly under an old bridge. The opening widens as the bridge abutments
wear away and the overhead span (the bridge itself) becomes thinner and
thinner, one grain of sand at a time.

The walk down to this bridge is the easiest of all. You can be down and
back in a half hour (as usual, we recommend that you take longer). It is
not strenuous, compared with the other two, and it offers some nice
insights about bridges. In other words, here’s another different point
of view. Owachomo is sort of a different kind of natural bridge, for it
was formed differently than the others. We’ll explain that when you get
down there.

[Number: 10A] We haven’t said very much about wildlife here, mostly
because you aren’t likely to see much of it. Here however, you can see
the work of a porcupine. Porcupines like to eat pinyon bark at times,
and this pinyon must be pretty tasty. The large rodents gnaw at the tree
to get at the nutritious inner bark, and may in time kill the tree by
girdling it. The inner bark carries needed food and water between roots
and leaves (both up and down), and if all the lifelines between the top
and bottom of the tree are severed, the top will die.

No, we don’t try to “protect” the tree from porcupines. We call this a
natural area, and that means it is an area where we try to let natural
events proceed without the interference of man. That isn’t just
“protection” of things, it’s protection of a system. It just means that
if the porcupine wants to eat the pinyon, let him do it. It doesn’t mean
the porcupine is “worth” more than the pine, nor vice versa. Each has
its own place, its own life, and its own interactions with the rest of
the world. Just like you do!

[Number: 10B] This is a good place to consider Owachomo’s origin and

Run-off from a large area used to flow down the little canyon (Tuwa
Canyon) in front of you, along the base of a rock fin, and into
Armstrong Canyon behind you to your right. Owachomo did not exist; there
was no natural bridge at that time. Flood waters rushing down this side
of the fin ate into the base of the fin and flood waters of Armstrong
Canyon ate into the other side. A hole developed in the fin, creating
the bridge and allowing Tuwa’s run-off a shorter route to Armstrong.

So, Owachomo was formed by the action of two separate streams, and that
makes it different from Kachina and Sipapu (and most other natural
bridges we know about).

    [Illustration: Owachomo Bridge]

Erosion is a continuing, dynamic process; however, stream channels
gradually change. The run-off from Tuwa no longer flows through the
little canyon in front of you because there is now a deeper canyon on
the other side of the bridge fin.

[Number: 10C] Passing the “Unmaintained Trail” sign isn’t like
abandoning all hope, but it does mean that the trail may be harder to
follow and that we don’t do as much to protect or help you. Some hikers
continue from here and go all the way back to Sipapu via the canyon’s
trail. Many people start at Sipapu and come out this way (which is a lot
easier), but a few start here and go back. It isn’t really a terribly
difficult hike, either way, and it is a lot of fun.

Owachomo must once have looked like Kachina—massive, solid, strong.
Later, it was more like Sipapu—graceful and well balanced. Now it looks
only like itself and the even more fragile Landscape Arch in Arches
National Park.

At some time soon, one more grain will fall, a crack will race through
the stone, and the bridge will be a heap of rubble in the canyon. We’ll
probably run around and yell a lot when it happens, while the sand
grains will quietly continue to break free and begin the next phase of
their existence.

If you decide to walk on under the bridge, look behind the left
abutment. There, a thin bed of the softer red stone has eroded back
under the harder stuff of which the bridge is made. As erosion eats into
the red-bed, removing support from the abutment, the future of the
bridge becomes less and less secure. Frankly, we always feel a little
nervous standing under it (where you are now) because it might collapse
... now!

As you return to your car, be aware that you may hear the death roar of
Owachomo. The final, critical grain of sand may slip out of place, a
bird may land on the bridge, or one of your military jets may pass at
supersonic speed. However it happens, Owachomo must someday fall. And
its billions of sand grains must continue their journey to another
resting place, and that’s the way it ought to be.

[Number: 11] 1.4 (8.5) Maverick Point View

To your right, across what appears as a fairly level stretch of
pinyon-juniper forest, the Cedar Mesa sandstone is cut, slashed,
incised, and divided by a bewildering complex of canyons. Slightly to
the left of the “flats,” Maverick Point, Bears Ears, and long Elk Ridge
(named by and for three cowboys with the initials E, L, and K, if you’d
like another point of view!) form the skyline. Bears Ears, by the way,
was named by Spanish explorers far to the south, from which point they
look just like a bear peeking over the ridge.

[Number: 12] 0.6 (9.1) Sunset Point

If sunset is imminent, stay right here. Sunsets are sometimes very
spectacular here.

Now go, and travel in peace, comfort and safety. Come again when the
Canyon Country calls, if you can, but remember always that it remains
here waiting, free, beautiful and untamed.

If you have questions about this magnificent land, stop at the Visitor
Center. The men and women of the National Park Service will be greatly
pleased to talk with you of this and the 300 other areas they serve for
you and your children. And their children. And theirs.

    [Illustration: _Sunset Point_]

    [Illustration: Solar Photovoltaic Power System]

[Number: 13] Solar Photovoltaic Power System

Most of the electricity used in the Monument is produced by converting
sunlight directly into electricity. The process seems a little bit like
magic, but it really does work. The system here is a demonstration of
the feasibility of supplying small, remotely located communities with
electricity without using fossil fuels to produce it. This process is
liable to become very widely used within a decade, so the Natural
Bridges installation is sort of a peek into the future. Exhibits and
information leaflet explain the system in detail.

    [Illustration: Map showing national parks and monuments in the Four
    Corners region]

Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Corrected a few palpable typos.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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