After leaving Natural Bridges National Monument, we had to descend the spectacular and cliff-hugging Moki Dugway, down almost 2000 ft, in order to get to Mexican Hat, where we stayed the night. The dugway was carved out of the cliffs for uranium-mining trucks back in 1958 to get from the mine at Fry Canyon to the mill in Mexican Hat. As you descend the series of sharp gravel switchbacks, you get a good look at the Valley of the Gods below, which looks a lot like Monument Valley.
We took the unimproved dirt and gravel drive that wends its way through the Valley of the Gods to get a closer look at the spectacular buttes. Storm clouds overhead, the first we encountered on our trip, gave this isolated, sparsely travelled road a foreboding atmosphere.
If Monument Valley’s iconic symbolism is not important or tourist crowds an irritation, you might find Valley of the Gods just the ticket. You can wander around here to your heart’s content.
Many travelers going through the Southwest skip Natural Bridges National Monument because it’s tucked out of the way and maybe because the small park features only three natural stone bridges. But a visit is well worth the time.
Bridges are rock spans that are carved out by a river. They typically form where a river meanders and undercuts the base of a fin that eventually collapses. This is in contrast to a natural arch, which does not require the agency of a river to create it.
To get good views of the bridges, you need to hike down the canyons to the river beds. The trails are generally very steep, easier to get down than returning. The main road (Bridge View Drive) lies on the mesa composed of Cedar Mesa sandstone. We were able to reach the base of all three bridges in one day.
Sipapu Bridge is the largest of the three bridges and second largest in the world. The trail requires negotiating steep sections, bridges, ladders and some stairs. This is decidedly the toughest bridge trail hike. But, the effort is worth it. Once you reach the bridge, its size overwhelms. An even greater experience is to walk directly underneath it and look up, something we couldn’t do at Landscape Bridge in Arches National Park. Sipapu is 220 feet high, 268 feet across, and 31 feet wide.
Kachina Bridge is the youngest bridge as evidenced by the relatively small size of its opening (or the relative thickness of the span). In 1992, 4,000 tons of rock fell from underneath. The rubble can still be seen below. The bridge rises 210 feet high, is 204 feet across and 44 feet wide.
Owachomo Bridge is thought to be the oldest bridge. One sign of this is the relative thinness of the span (see below). The bridge is 106 feet high, 180 feet across, and 27 feet wide.
An additional attraction is that Natural Bridges is a certified dark-sky park which means that there is no light pollution to prevent your being able to see the Milky Way in all its splendor. It’s unfortunate that even in small towns, we are unable to make out the vastness of our galaxy and wonder about our place in the universe.