We arrived at Natural Bridges National Monument by mid-afternoon on Sunday and checked in at the Visitor’s Center to flash our colorful America The Beautiful Pass at the peculiar rangers on duty. (We’ve noticed that each set of rangers is unique to each national park, and Natural Bridges did not disappoint).
We were interested in more information about the hiking opportunities than what is typically covered in the glossy brochure handed out to visitors. True to form, a second brochure was selectively produced from a special drawer after we asked the right questions. A storm front was slated to move in the next day and we were concerned about hiking through the wash in the canyon below on Tuesday.
While one gleeful ranger waxed on about “my park”, “my canyon”, “my ruins”, and “my celestial darkness”, his partner studiously pounded pinyon pine nuts with a rock on the glass topped counter in front of us. At any moment, we expected to be offered a nut to sample, or at least receive a short lecture on said pine nuts, but neither was forthcoming. However, the information we DID get was invaluable in shaping our Tuesday hike.
Before selecting a campsite for the night, we drove the nine mile one-way loop inside the park and walked out to the overlooks at each of the three main natural bridges— Sipapu, Kachina and Owachomo as well as the enticing Horsecollar Ruin wedged into a horizontal crack on the opposite wall of the canyon.
The small campground just north of the Visitor’s Center was all but deserted. We had the place to ourselves except for a woman who slept curled up in the sun on top of a nearby picnic table. The night sky was indeed spectacular with stars and the Milky Way in full view out the van windows all night. The sunrise was pretty great too. We packed up early and dropped the van off at the Kachina Bridge overlook so we could fit in a loop from there to Sipapu Bridge before departing on the next final leg of our trip.
The rangers recommended warming up for the seven mile hike by first walking two miles over the mesa top. Then we’d drop down 500 feet to the canyon floor to go through Sipapu Bridge, and follow the wash downstream for a couple of miles. We’d exit the canyon by Kachina Bridge and climb back up to the van at the Kachina overlook.
Along the way, the rangers advised us to keep an eye out for archeologic evidence (ruins, petroglyphs, etc.) that they couldn’t explicitly tell us about but— wink-wink —were plentiful if one paid attention. With binoculars in hand, we spied rock walls, granaries and petroglyphs along the way. They encouraged us to climb up to the Horsecollar Ruin as long as we didn’t touch or remove any artifacts.
David was game to explore the Horsecollar Ruin but the approach required a bit of scrambling up the steep canyon wall. Chris opted out when she saw the angle, especially since she knew it’s always easier to huck it up rather than down the sandstone walls.
With storm clouds gathering, we did not linger on the canyon floor as long as we would have liked. We’ll come back another time and explore further when the weather is not as unstable. No sooner did we reach the van when the rain started to fall and thunder rumbled in the distance.