By Robert Samuelsen

In the amazing canyon country of southern Utah, there are naturally formed spans of rock – arches and bridges in geological parlance. In Arches National Park, there are over 2,000 documented arches while just a few miles south is Natural Bridges National Monument with three huge natural bridges. They may appear to be similar but arches are carved by wind and the rarer natural bridges are carved by water. Arches occur in tall “fins” of rock that erode away forming holes, then windows, and finally arches. Bridges occur as water erodes the outer banks of a looping stream bed bend until it punches through the rock making a short cut. The abandon loop is called a meander or meander scar. While all streams have meanders, only in canyon country do the streambeds “drill a hole” though the rock to form a natural bridge. Ultimately, all streams want to be straight because water wants to take the path of least resistance.

The three bridges in White Canyon were first publicized by Natural Geographic Magazine in 1904 and the Natural Bridges National Monument was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. Over a hundred years later in 2016, the monument became the heart of the huge newly created Bear Ears National Monument (a park within a park) only to be orphaned again in 2017 when it fell outside of political favor and the 85% reduced Bear Ears boundary. Unfortunately, the magnificence of this area has been caught up in recent presidential politics.

Besides the three fantastic bridges, this area has been inhabited by native peoples from the Archaic period (7000 BC) to the present. Small artifacts are found throughout the area but well-preserved Puebloan housing structures are highly visible from the mesa top. With short easy hikes, visitors can see all three natural bridges and several prominent Puebloan buildings from public promontories. For the more adventurous, hiking trails descend into the cool deep canyon for a close-up view. Easily visible, the twin 9,000 foot “Bear Ears” peaks act as sentinels over the park’s beautiful landscape.

I camped among the pinon pine and Utah juniper in the small public campground within in monument. The scented aroma and cool mountain air made the nightfall delightful. I could hear the howls of coyotes and see the erratic flights of bats as the sun set in the twilight of the evening. The warm day turned to a cool night – pleasant and refreshing – perfect for sleeping. Snuggled in my tent, I read for an hour before the exhaustion of the day overtook my consciousness as I slipped into a blissful dope of dreamland.

Rob Samuelsen is an executive and adventurer supported by his long-suffering but supportive wife!

About author View all posts

Guest Author