Utah Nature November 03, 2018
The Underrated Natural Wonder Every Utahn Should See At Least Once
There’s no shortage of natural wonders in Utah. From the majestic
Delicate Arch to the strange, other-worldly hoodoos at Goblin Valley State Park, the Beehive State’s geological treasures never fail to delight and amaze. There’s one place in Utah that’s underrated, though, and it features three natural wonders that every Utahn really should see it at least once.
Natural Bridges National Monument was designated as Utah's first national monument in 1908.
The monument is located in the far southeastern corner of the state, with Canyonlands National Park to its north, and Mexican Hat to its south.
You'll find three magnificent natural bridges there: Owachomo, Kachina, and Sipapu. Each was given a name that reflects the ancient Puebloan people who once occupied this place.
Owachomo means, "rock mound" in Hopi, because of the rock prominence on its east abutment.
At 106 feet high and 27 feet wide, Owachomo is the smallest of the three natural bridges. It also has the thinnest span, which means that it may be the first to collapse at some point. To see the bridge up close, take a short half-mile walk from the Owachomo Bridge parking lot.
In Hopi, Sipapu means, "the place of emergence." The Hopi believe that their ancestors came here through the sipapu - the opening between earth and the spirit world.
The largest of the three bridges, Sipapu stands 220 feet tall and 31 feet wide. You can't begin to get an idea of its size until you see it in person! It's the first bridge you'll see in the park, and you can reach it with a 10 minute stroll.
Kachina Bridge features rock art that's similar to that found on kachina dolls made by native people, which is how it got its name.
Kachina Bridge stands 210 feet high and 44 feet wide, and it recently got a makeover. These formations sometimes undergo dramatic changes that remind us of the effects that ongoing erosion has on them. In 1992, 4,000 tons of sandstone came crashing down from the inside of Kachina, increasing the opening of its span. To see Kachina up close, you'll have a one-hour hike from the Kachina Bridge parking area, but you can also see it from the Kachina Bridge Viewpoint - a much faster, 10 minute walk.
You might wonder why these formations are considered "bridges" instead of "arches."
Bridges are formed by running water, and Owachomo, Sipapu, and Kachina were all formed by ancient streams that wound through the canyons, eventually wearing away the sandstone, but leaving a bridge above the hole it created and flowed through. Arches are formed when water seeps through cracks in the sandstone, then freezes and and thaws, expanding the cracks and eventually breaking off the sandstone to form an arch.
Remember to respect these natural wonders when you visit.
While erosion continues to change the bridges, humans should not. Please don't deface the bridges or other sandstone rock formations. Pack out any trash you pack in, and teach your children to also respect this amazing place so that generations of Utahns can continue to enjoy its beauty.
Have you ever visited Natural Bridges National Monument? You can learn more about it on the
National Park Service’s website.