Rainbow Bridge National Monument

Dave Kennedy, member of the Natural Arch and Bridge Society Board of Directors and former editor of its newsletter, SPAN, wrote this article about his trip to Rainbow Bridge for the publication Our Backyard in Glade Park, Colorado, September 6, 2017.

Lake Powell attracts a couple of million visitors to its blue waters and scenic red sandstone surroundings every year and about 100,000 of them make the trip to see Rainbow Bridge. This natural rock span, listed on Google Earth as the world’s largest natural bridge, though it is not, sits in Utah in a branch of Forbidding Canyon about 50 miles up-lake from Glen Canyon Dam.

The boat ride from Wahweap Marina to Forbidding Canyon, home of Rainbow Bridge, crosses Warm Creek Bay and Padre Bay, both offering outstanding photographic opportunities.

The Natural Arch and Bridge Society has a page on their website at naturalarches.org which lists the “Big 19” arches and bridges in the world known to have a span greater than 200 feet. The Society seems to be the only body to set a protocol for measuring arches, which gets to be very technical for lay people. In short, span is defined by NABS as the horizontal extent of unsupported rock and is the organization’s basis for ranking the world’s arches and bridges. The Big 19 shows that Rainbow Bridge, spanning 234 feet, is the 6th longest natural bridge in the world and the 11th longest arch in the world (all natural bridges are arches, but not all natural arches are bridges). Its height is listed at 245 feet, making it also one of the tallest natural arches in the world. The five longest natural bridges listed in the Big 19 are all located in China. Of the Big 19, nine are located in China, nine on the Colorado Plateau and one is in the Sahara Desert of northeastern Chad, Africa.

In the NABS nomenclature, Rainbow Bridge is classified as a meander bridge formed in Navajo sandstone. That geologic stratum dates to the Jurassic Period from about 145 million years ago to about 200 million years ago. The bridge soars in a huge arc over the canyon and its intermittent stream below. The reaches of Bridge Canyon stand sentinel behind it and the entire scene is watched over by 10,000’ Navajo Mountain in the background. This is an outstanding example of the fabulous and fascinating landscapes of the American southwest.

Rainbow Bridge spans 234 feet and towers 245 feet from the ground, making it the sixth longest natural bridge known to exist in the world. About 100,000 people make the trip to Rainbow Bridge National Monument every year, most by boat but many others by backpacking one of two trails from Navajo Mountain.

President William Taft designated 160 acres that includes Rainbow Bridge as a National Monument in May 1910, less than a year after it was first documented by Anglos, though it could have been seen earlier by explorers who didn’t bother to record their having seen it. There is evidence of Native American habitation and visitation that dates to ancestral puebloan times and the bridge is held sacred by Navajos, Paiutes and today’s pueblo cultures. The native name for the bridge translates to “rainbow turned to stone.”

The native religious reverence for Rainbow Bridge has generated controversy over the years, which has been resolved to no one’s complete satisfaction by the placement of boulders and signs to discourage visitors from approaching or walking under the bridge. The National Park Service asks visitors to respect the site’s traditional religious nature by not doing so, but a lawsuit in prior years established that the NPS may not ban people from going under the bridge and that the current voluntary request does not constitute a ban.

The National Park Service asks visitors to Rainbow Bridge to voluntarily refrain from approaching or walking under the arch out of respect for Native American religious traditions.

Another controversy surrounding Rainbow Bridge comes from the story of its Anglo discovery. Two parties had been trying for a few years to locate the bridge based on tales told by Native Americans. One was led by Byron Cummings, a dean at the University of Utah and another by John Wetherill, he of the famous Wetherills that discovered Mesa Verde. At length the two parties combined for the trip that led to the finding of the bridge in 1909. Heated arguments ensued as to whether the discoverer should be Cummings or Wetherill. At least one source lists them in an epic weasel-out as co-discoverers.

Other controversies involving this natural bridge include scientific values, access, protection and cultural significance, all of which have shifted over time and are probably still shifting today.

There are two official ways to get to Rainbow Bridge National Monument. You can take a boat or you can hoof it. Private boats are allowed to enter Forbidding Canyon and tie up at the courtesy dock at the trail head for the bridge. The dock has a restroom but no other services are to be had there. Commercial boats are run by the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area concessionaire from Wahweap Marina. Trips take all day and, at the time we went, cost $125 per person.

Commercial and private boats can tie up at the courtesy dock at the trail head for Rainbow Bridge. There are no services at the dock other than a restroom.

The distance of walk from the dock to Rainbow Bridge depends on the level of Lake Powell. When we went the walk was about 1.25 miles each way. The trail ends at a viewing area near the bridge and there are signs requesting that visitors respect traditional religions and do not approach or walk under it. The concessionaire staffer on our trip yelled at one tourist to return to the viewing area and not go farther.

The hike to Rainbow Bridge from the courtesy dock is about 1.25 miles at the lake level when I was there. The trail brings visitors to many outstanding views of the magnificent natural bridge.

The boat ride is about two hours each way and leaves Wahweap Bay on the way to skirting Antelope Island on the 50-mile trip up-lake. Warm Creek Bay and Padre Bay, Lake Powell’s largest bay, offer up their fantastic scenery along the way.

The boat ride from Wahweap Marina to Forbidding Canyon, home of Rainbow Bridge, crosses Warm Creek Bay and Padre Bay, both offering outstanding photographic opportunities.

The tour travels by several good viewpoints of Tower Butte which was a landmark for travelers long before the reservoir came into being.

Tower Butte, whose top levels off some 1400 feet above lake level, stood as a landmark for overland travelers long before Lake Powell existed. Many visitors take helicopter tours which land on the butte.

Observant passengers may see other small arches in the sandstone shoreline of the lake and photo opportunities abound.

The picturesque shoreline of Lake Powell enthralls with scenery, such as this small arch seen on a boat tour to Rainbow Bridge.

Not long after the boat enters Forbidding Canyon, 25-foot Rainbow Canyon Jughandle arch comes into view high on the right.

Rainbow Canyon Jughandle arch spans 25 feet and can be seen not long after entering Forbidding Canyon by boat on the way to Rainbow Bridge.

The blue water contrasting with the sandstone canyon walls make the entire trip a photographer’s paradise. Online information about the tours and reservations can be found at lakepowell.com.

The other official way to get to Rainbow Bridge is to hike from Navajo Mountain by way of either of two long trails. The northern route is 32.7 miles roundtrip and involves about 7000 feet of elevation change. It has the advantage of being less steep, though harder to get to, and it also goes near lovely Owl Bridge. Its 61-foot span will have you digging your camera out of your backpack.

The southern trail from Navajo Mountain is shorter at 24.5 miles roundtrip but much steeper, with over 8400 feet of elevation change. Distances and elevations for both trails are taken from the alltrails.com website.

Both trails are entirely within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation except for the little distance they are in Rainbow Bridge National Monument. As such, permits from the Navajo are required and can be obtained from the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department in Window Rock, Arizona (928-871-6647) or from their website at navajonationparks.org.

Hikers with shuttle capabilities could walk in on one trail and back the other, and by making prior arrangements with the concessionaire at Wahweap Marina, hikers can ride out on one of the boat tours to the marina.

The trails are not maintained and may be subject to flash flooding, hot, dry conditions in the summer and severe cold and wind in the winter. There are not many trail signs but the trails are mostly marked with small stone cairns. These routes are not recommended for inexperienced or casual hikers.

The Lake Powell area of Utah and Arizona envelops a treasure trove of nature’s wonders for visitors of all interest levels from the casual to the intrepid. Visiting Rainbow Bridge will surely be one of the highlights of anyone’s trip to the area.

Sea Arches of Japan

By Toru Moriyasu

I am a NABS member from Japan and I greatly enjoyed meeting other NABS members at the 2015 NABS Rally in Escalante. Japan is an island country, so there are many sea arches here, and I would like to share some of them. Generally, they are not very large.


NABSQNO 54S-392039-3885693 is an arch rock near Ukishima in Chiba Prefecture. There is a shrine on the Ukishima island next to the arch rock, and we can land there once in a year when a sacred festival is held.


NABSQNO 54S-374119-3888470 is Umanosedoumon in Kanagawa Prefecture. This area is a bathing beach and in summer many people visit here to enjoy swimming. The photo below is the top of this arch. It is prohibited to walk on it.


NABSQNO 54S-295596-3854128 is Meganeccho in Shizuoka Prefecture. It looks like a magnifying glass, or like Godzilla! In the same area there is a famous sea cave, Tensoudou (see below).


NABSQNO 54S-294833-3852422 is another sea arch near Meganeccho and Tensoudou, with me in the foreground.


NABSQNO 54S-295596-3851220 is the sea cave Tensoudou, with a tour boat going under the arch.


NABSQNO 54S-293168-3844185 is Senganmon in Shizuoka Prefecture, in the same area as Meganeccho and Tensoudou. A tour boat goes through this arch.


NABSQNO 53S-686992-3828085 is Hiinosekimon in Aichi Prefecture. It is made of sedimentary rock.


NABSQNO 53S-531185-3727842 is Engetsuto in Wakayama Prefecture. The span of the opening is about 9 meters and the height of the entire rock is 25 meters. This area is a famous tourist resort, with many tourists in high season.


NABSQNO 52S-628231-3736269 is Hanagurise in Fukuoka Prefecture. The height of opening is about 10 meters. The arch is made of basalt.


NABSQNO 52R-385422-2932167 is Manzamou in Okinawa Prefecture. The height of the cliff is about 20 meters.


NABSQNO 51R-730446-2749088 is the arch on Sunayama Beach on Miyakojima Island in Okinawa Prefecture. The sea in this area is especially beautiful.

Azure Window Collapses

Famous Azure Window in Malta collapsed during a storm on March 8, 2017. Not only did the lintel itself collapse, but the entire outer column fell into the sea.

The arch was considered at risk of collapse and walking across the arch was prohibited only last December. And in January, a slab of rock fell off a lateral face of the outer column during high seas.

The spectacular arch was featured in many movies, including Game of Thrones. Some history of partial collapse can be seen in these movies. In the scene below from the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans, the underside of the arch is flat.

In the scene below from the 2002 movie The Count of Monte Christo, it can be seen that the underside of the lintel has fallen to create a more arced shape.

Vultee Arch Update

David Kennedy reports that some NABS website information about Vultee Arch near Sedona in Yavapai County, AZ, was out of date [it was updated accordingly today]. The website had reported that the trail went only to a viewpoint (shown below) and that to access the arch itself required significant bushwhacking.

Vultee Arch viewpoint

A hike there Feb. 7, 2017, revealed that a trail now goes up to a point next to the lintel of the arch, where the photo below was taken, so there is no longer any bushwhacking involved. From that point one can get onto the lintel and/or go down behind the arch to get beneath it. It is a steep descent to the lintel which Dave declined to take because the rock was wet at the time.

Vultee Arch lintel

A GPS reading at the photo vantage point was 12S 429812.28 E 3866826.42 N, very close to that reported on the website.

Vultee Arch

Vultee Arch from below. All photos courtesy Dave Kennedy.

 

 

Valley of Fire Arch Rally

The October 2016 NABS Valley of Fire Arch Rally in Nevada was, as usual, filled with fun and camaraderie. Presented here is a slide show of photos taken by NABS President Larry Beck. Click on any image to start the slide show. The title of each image in the slide show provides the UTM WGS84 coordinates (the NABSQNO number) in zone 11S, and where present the name and catalog number of the arch. Catalog numbers refer to the Arch Hunter Books Valley of Fire series (available to NABS members).

Portland Head Lighthouse Arch, Maine

By Nick Terzakis

Maine is not known for natural arches but there were four small ones reported in the Journal of Natural Arch Discoveries.

This October, Pat and I  drove up the Maine coast stopping at some nice lighthouses. At the Portland Head Lighthouse in South Portland, ME you can see Portland Head Lighthouse Arch (ME-4), which is just south of the lighthouse.

me-portland-head-lighthouse

me-4-portland-head-lighthouse-arch

Directions: In Portland, drive State Street south across the bridge into South Portland and turn left onto Cottage Road. Turn left into Ft. Williams State park and head to the lighthouse parking lot. You can see the arch to the south. Walk the trail south along the fence then go uphill to the top of the cliffs. Go left on a faint trail which goes on a pebble beach, and go right around the rocks to see the arch (only if it is low tide). The arch has a span of three feet.

Unfortunately nearby Portland Head Arch (ME-2) has fallen. It had a span of four feet. A scan of my old Polaroid photo is below.

me-2-portland-head-arch-fallen

 

Arch collapse at Legzira Beach, Morocco

The photo below shows two large natural arches at Legzira Beach, Morocco, in the Province D’Agadir about 10 kilometers north of Sidi Infi.

Legzira Beach - Victor Kaposi

The arch in the foreground, NABSQNO 29R 391178 3257234 with an estimated span of 60 feet, collapsed on September 23, 2016. The remains are shown in the photo below.

Legzira collapse

The remaining arch, with an estimated span of 90 feet, still stands. Our own Guilain Debossens stands by the arch in the photo below.

Legzira 2 - Guilain

Stornetta Public Lands

By Nick Terzakis

SPAN Editor Dave Kennedy gave me a tip about an area up the Northern California Coast called Storenetta Public Lands that has some sea arches. This area was once a dairy farm owned by Clover Creames based in Petaluma, CA. So I drove up to the area near the Pt. Arena lighthouse, parked at the Stornetta Public Lands trailhead, and walked the trail along the bluffs. It was quite windy. Coordinates given are from Jay Wilbur’s GIS section of the NABS website; sizes are estimates.

Off shore on a island is CA-85, Pt. Arena Arch, at 10S-43670-4310290, 30×35 feet, Photo 1:

Stornetta 01

 

Just east of CA-85 are two other sea arches, 10×8 and 20×15 feet, Photos 2 and 3:

Stornetta 02

Stornetta 03

 

South on the trail can be seen an island called “Sea Lion Rock” which contains two arches, 10S-436670-4310055, 30×20 feet, and 10S-436730-4309980, 20×5 feet, Photos 4 and 5:

Stornetta 04

Stornetta 05

 

Further south along the trail near some trees is a sinkhole that has a sea arch with a pillar inside it, 10S-437040-4309680, 15×8 feet, Photo 6:

Stornetta 06

 

The trail soon crosses a creek, then goes up hill, and then goes around an agricultural conservation easement which is private property. The trail turns left onto a road and then goes right through a gated fence and follows the fence to the bluffs. On the bluffs on the private property side you can see an arch, 10S-436795-4309005, 10×8 feet, Photo 7:

Stornetta 07

 

Go south along the bluffs to the first  rock outcropping to find a nice arch, 10S-436805-4308560, 30×15 feet, Photo 8:

Stornetta 08

 

To the left is another sea arch, 10×5 feet, Photo 9:

Stornetta 09

 

The second rock outcropping has 3 sea arches, one of which is a double, 30×15, 15×25, 25×40/30×20 feet, Photos 10-12:

Stornetta 10

Stornetta 11

Stornetta 12

 

The next rock outcropping is The Hitch’n Post, 10S-436855-4308455, 20×40 feet, Photo 13:

Stornetta 13

 

Below the view point of The Hitch’n Post is another sea arch, 10×40 feet, Photo 14:

Stornetta 14

 

South along the bluffs is a sea arch with seaweed growing inside it, 10×30 feet, Photo 15:

Stornetta 15

 

Further south in a cove is sea arch which was the last one I saw, 10×8 feet, Photo 16:

Stornetta 16