Sipapu Bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges: Explore Geologic Wonders And Ancient History In The Four Corners

Though we’ve lived within driving distance from Natural Bridges National Monument for close to three decades, up until earlier this summer we’ve only visited it once. Even then, only in passing. So, I didn’t remember much of it before we ended up driving through it during our summer trip through the Four Corners.

We had no time to properly explore it though, since the park is relatively far from other major destinations. Still, we’ve seen enough to realize that we would want to be back. But we knew we would need to bring our camping gear, since camping is the only type of accommodation offered at the park. If we wanted to properly explore it, we knew we needed to stay overnight.

We didn’t expect to return so soon though. But two weeks later we had to cancel our scheduled Yellowstone trip due to the extensive flooding they experienced. With a few days left to change plans, and not many other alternatives within driving distance to consider, we drove into the Four Corners again.

Back In Natural Bridges National Monument – For The Second Time During The Summer

This time we brought our camping gear. Though we didn’t camp every day of the week-long trip, we counted on doing it at Natural Bridges. Especially since we knew the park would be dark enough for stargazing.

Camping at the site gave us an opportunity to explore the area without worrying about leaving in time to get to the closest town.

Hiking in Natural Bridges National Monument

Hiking in Natural Bridges

Summers are hot in Natural Bridges. Not Phoenix-hot, for sure, but a-bit-uncomfortable-for-hiking hot. At least for me. My husband and daughter had no problem hiking – and sweating – in the heat.

I admit I am out of shape, my age is definitely not the culprit – only an excuse. As opposed to my husband, who goes out hiking and/or biking even in over 100F degree weather, every day, I can’t do it. So when we are in town, in Phoenix, I don’t leave the house in the summer – except to go to the grocery store or maybe a museum.

Which is why in Natural Bridges I only hiked the shorter versions of the trails, or just walked to the viewpoints. That still offered some spectacular views, enough to make me feel the trip was worth it. I did see all three bridges, even if I didn’t stand under them.

However, if I visit in the fall, or any time when temperatures are under the 90sand hopefully we’d have some cloud cover, I’ll definitely hike down to the bridges. It looks worth it. However, for a summer visit the short versions still offer gorgeous views.

Sipapu Bridge

Sipapu Bridge. view from the trail viewpoint

The largest and most spectacular of the bridges in the park, Sipapu Bridge is middle-aged, geologically speaking. The trail leading to it was just a bit challenging – and I didn’t go all the way down to it. Once I reached an enormous overhang, with a clear view of the bridge, I sat down in the cool shade.

With no shade on the trail until we reached that spot, the sunny trail was uncomfortably hot in June. Still fun though, as we had to climb down several ladders. But once I had a clear view from a shaded spot, I feel too need to walk in the sun again. Especially knowing that I’d have to climb back out – and I have a knee that doesn’t like steep terrain. (I broke it when I was 14 and got hit by an excuse for a car they called Trabant, but coming at me at enough speed to put my knee out of commission for a while and hurt when hiking forty years later).

While the spot I chose to wait offers a gorgeous view of the bridge, and the perfect setting for enjoying the canyon, in the fall it would not be too difficult to hike all the way down. Once on the bottom, trees offer some shade, unless you hike close to mid-day like we did.

Horse Collar Ruin

Natural Bridges. View of the canyon

One of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloans ruins in the area, Horse Collar Ruin is visible from an overlook you need to hike to on slick rock. The ruins feature two round structures resembling horse colors, hence the name.

The short walk on slick rock to the overlook gets sunny and hot summer months, but still worth it. However, you won’t find a trail leading down to the ruins.

The closest you could get to it would be on a long hiking trip on the bottom of the canyon, from Sipapu to Kachina Bridge. I wouldn’t recommend it in the summer, but any other time of the year I think it would be worth it.

Kachina Bridge

Kachina Bridge from the viewpoint

The youngest of the three bridges, and the widest, Kachina Bridge was named for the petroglyphs found on its side. Though we started on the hike towards it, on a sunny afternoon, we didn’t get far, so I can only claim to have seen it from the viewpoint.

Halfway along the scenic loop drive, the viewpoint offers a good opportunity to enjoy the high desert landscape.

Owachomo Bridge

Owachomo Bridge

At the end of the scenic loop drive, Owachomo Bridge is closest to the viewpoint. In fact, the only reason I didn’t walk down to it was the fact that I could see the whole trail and the bridge from above – and I just didn’t want to be walking in the sun.

The smallest and thinnest of the three bridges, Owachomo was named after a rock formation on top of the east end of the trail, its name meaning rock mound in Hopi.

The walk to the viewpoint is paved and shaded in some areas, with benches along the walkway. The second time we stopped there, it was close to sunset, so we took the opportunity to sit in the shade of juniper trees and enjoy the sunset near the bridge.

Camping in Natural Bridges, A Dark Sky Park Site

Summer might not be the ideal time to hike the steep and sunny trails in Natural Bridges National Monument, but it is perfect for camping. By the time the sun sets, temperatures drop low enough to be comfortable, while not too cold.

And you can’t find many places with skies as clear as here. The dry high desert air offers the best stargazing opportunities, while being far from any cities, the park is a perfect dark sky place.

Of course, you need to deal with other campers. And some of them turn out to be interesting characters, waking you up at three in the morning. But at Natural Bridges you can only camp with a tent, so you won’t hear the noise, and won’t have the lights of RVs.

Solar Power: Sustainability at Natural Bridges National Monument

Solar power produces all the electricity at Natural Bridges National Monument. The solar panels across the Visitor Center supply all the energy needs of the Visitor Center and the small community of the park personnel and their families.

One of the oldest, and, at largest in the world at the time of its dedication in June of 1980, this solar system was a demonstration site for use of solar energy. The monument’s sunny climate (that makes hiking less pleasant in the summer) and its elevation, besides its remoteness, made with the ideal place for it.

Scroll to Top