Thursday, May 17, 2012

Natural Bridges - Sipapu Overlook

Sipapu Bridge from the overlook

We left Blanding in the morning, and headed west toward Natural Bridges National Monument.  After a brief stop at the Mule Canyon Ruin, we continued on to the monument.  Natural Bridges National Monument was designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, and became Utah's first area in the national park system.  The three bridges people come to visit first named President, Senator, and Congressman, and then later Augusta, Caroline, and Edwin.  Their current names are taken from the Hopi language and are Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo.  These names have been in place since 1909.

Sign welcoming you to the monument.

We began at the visitor's center.  There is a video presentation available here, but I did not stop to watch it.  It was COLD the morning we visited the park, with stiff winds driving the temperature downward. Since it was sunny, one of our group had managed to leave both a hat and sweatshirt in our motel, so my stop at the visitor's center involved some important shopping for necessary clothing items for the day.

After leaving the visitor's center, we took the 9 mile loop road to see the bridges.  The distinction between bridges and arches is the forces that form them.  Bridges are eroded by moving water, whereas arches are formed mainly by frost and seeping water.  Once bridges form, frost and seepage continue to erode and enlarge them. The stream still runs through the bottom of the canyon at Natural Bridges, and we could see it winding under two of the bridges.

View of the canyon as we started hiking.

It was so cold in the wind as we started our hike that we almost turned back.  However, we were going down into the canyon, and hoped that the steep walls would provide some shelter from the wind.  Hanging on to our hats and bundled in sweatshirts, we started down the Sipapu trail.  Sipapu is a Hopi word meaning "place of emergence."  It is the portal through which the Hopi believe their ancestors entered the world.  Carvings representing the sipapu are common in rock art, and many kivas have an off-center hole representing the sipapu as well.

Looking back at the trail.

The Sipapu view trail begins on slickrock. Cairns mark the way, and steps have been carved from the rock to make the trail easier to navigate.

Metal stairs descend into the canyon.

We descended down into the canyon via a set of metal stairs.  The walls did provide some shelter from the wind, and we started to thaw out a little bit.  Although April through October is the best season for visiting the monument, be prepared for varying weather conditions.

I negotiate the wooden ladder.

After the stairs, we climbed down a wooden ladder.  Getting settled on the first rungs is the toughest part.  If you are in a large group, the ladder is where people bottleneck on the trail.  The trail curved around, hugging the steep canyon wall.  It was beautiful.

Desert varnish on the canyon walls.

We continued on the trail which levels off significantly at this point.  The canyon dropped off steeply on our right.  We passed the junction where you can hike down into the canyon,  descending  to the bottom for an  intimate view of  Sipapu Bridge.  Our schedule and fitness level made us stick to the overlook trail.

Trail sign indicating your hiking options.

The trail emerged from the soft dirt of the canyon onto slickrock again, and we proceeded to the view point.  This is not a terribly long hike.  Including time spent taking pictures and enjoying the view, we spent about 40 minutes hiking this trail.

Tiny erosions pocked the canyon wall.

Despite its massive size, Sipapu Bridge is a bit hard to see at the overlook, depending on the lighting and time of day.  However, you can see the bridge from the viewpoint, and the view from this vantage point does give you a sense of its size.  According to the park information, Sipapu is 220 feet high with a span of 268 feet.  Some day I would like to hike to the bottom of the canyon and see it from there.

At the overlook...the bridge is on the right.

The overlook is not fenced, so use caution around the steep drop-offs.  After getting our fill of Sipapu Bridge, we retraced our steps to the parking lot, and continued on the scenic loop.  Natural Bridges can easily be viewed in a couple hours, or if you have time, you can do some extensive hiking here.  The monument also has camping sites.

Sipapu Bridge from the overlook - Natural Bridges National Monument

We hoped the wind would die down as we climbed back out of the canyon.  Sipapu was imposing and beautiful, and I was glad we took the time for our short hike!

Coming soon:
Natural Bridges - Kachina Bridge
Natural Bridges - Owachomo Bridge

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