Rainbow Arch, located just above the visitor center in Arches National Park, collapsed sometime this winter. A park ranger noticed it was no longer standing during a hike in February. The arch was cataloged by Stevens and McCarrick as SA-137 and had a reported span of 11.7 feet.
A research team from the University of Utah, including Jeff Moore and Paul Geimer, had actually been studying this arch not long before the collapse. The “before collapse” photos here were taken by Jeff Moore, and the “after collapse” photos were taken by Paul Geimer. The “before-after” comparison below was assembled by Holly Walker.
The team made vibration measurements four times at the site in 2017, focusing on a prominent crack working through the center of the span that appeared to be putting the structure in jeopardy. The crack is circled in the photo below.
Close-up photo of the crack before collapse:
However, the team observed no changes in the crack or vibration characteristics over 12 months, and backed off on their monitoring program, believing the arch to be more stable that it appeared.
The collapse is bittersweet for the team, as it highlights and validates the fragility of these features, but unfortunately they were unable to record its last few weeks and months and identify accumulating damage.
Below is a photo after collapse.
While they can’t say for certain what caused the collapse, they believe the most likely explanation is that fatigue caused by daily and annual heating cycles finally stressed the tip of the crack enough to cause a runaway failure sometime this past winter.
Rainbow Arch lives on in the virtual world as an interactive 3D model made by the research team that can be found at https://skfb.ly/VMvB.
Rope swinging at Corona Arch is now a thing of the past (photo courtesy Brian Mosbaugh at Slacklinemedia.com, Instagram: @Moabmonkeys).
BLM public information officer Lisa Bryant has supplied NABS with the following statement:
BLM-Moab has restricted roped activities, including swinging, for about 37 acres of BLM administered public lands, including Corona Arch (and nearby Bowtie Arch) and Gemini Bridges. The rest of the Moab Field Office area is still open for roped activities and includes several focus areas specifically for climbing and activities such as base jumping and highlining.
Gemini Bridges and Corona Arch are two outstanding geologic formations located northeast of Moab, Utah, in spectacularly scenic settings reached by short hiking trails. Corona Arch was acquired May 8, 2014 through the Utah Recreational Land Exchange, although the hiking trail leading to the arch has always crossed BLM managed lands.
Both features have been very popular destinations for hikers, sightseers and photographers for many years. It is estimated that 40,000 people visit Corona Arch and 50,000 people visit Gemini Bridges each year. Both geological features, but especially Corona Arch, are among the most often photographed sites on BLM lands.
In recent years Gemini Bridges and Corona Arch have become popular areas for a small number of visitors engaging in roped activities, such as highlining and swinging. This had led to a number of complaints from the public about the roped activities diminishing the experience of hikers and sightseers. Recently damage to the arch has also been noted from the rigging structures and ropes. On January 6, 2016 BLM issued a decision to temporarily restrict roped activities for two years, while it looked at appropriate management for the area. Following several public comment periods and environmental reviews, and the federal rule making process, that restriction became permanent on August 17, 2017.
Pat and I visited the Big Island of Hawaii to do some arch hunting and snorkeling. The first day I drove from the Kailua-Kona International Airport: 2.2 miles north on State Hwy 19 there is a lava tube on the right which contains a natural tunnel (4Q-812026-2188066, estimated 50 feet);
and a lava bridge (4Q-811905-2188044, estimated 30 feet);
and another lava bridge (4Q-811901-2188039, estimated 20 feet):
On the way to Hilo we visited some beautiful waterfalls such as Kamaee Falls, Umauma Falls and Akaka Falls.
The second day I drove west to some more beautiful waterfalls such as Rainbow Falls, Peepee Falls and Wailuku Falls. Next, I drove south on State Hwy 11 to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and then down the Chain of Craters Road to the end of the road and walked to the cliffline to see Holei Arch (5Q-279568-2134773, estimated 50 feet):
On the way back up on the Chain of Craters Road I found a natural arch at a pullout on the south side of the road and call this “Pele’s Eye” (5Q-266481-2142225, 4 feet). This arch is 14.6 mile from the end of the Chain of Craters Road or 0.4 miles past a road to Mauna Ulu:
We then visited the Kilauea caldera which is amazing.
The third day I drove State Hwy 19 to Hapuna Beach and hiked south to M’s Arches (5Q-203756-2212281, estimated 4 feet and 8 feet), a nice double sea arch:
You can also reach this arch from Beach 69 (Waialea Beach) or a 4WD. The next area we visited was Kuki’o Beach which has two sea arches, each 4 feet in size (4Q-814140-2194122):
From State Hwy 19 turn west onto Kaupulehu Road and then turn left on a road (Aina Kaha Pl.), turn right before a gate up ahead and get a visitors pass from a guard. Go back to the gate and show the pass and the road will soon end at a parking area. Walk the trail to the beach. The last area was Noio Point which has two arches (5Q-911379-276932, estimated 5 feet and 20 feet). There are a dozen sea arches near Honaunau Bay that can be seen if you take a snorkel boat tour. Aloha!
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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 tour travels by several good viewpoints of Tower Butte which was a landmark for travelers long before the reservoir came into being.
Observant passengers may see other small arches in the sandstone shoreline of the lake and photo opportunities abound.
Not long after the boat enters Forbidding Canyon, 25-foot Rainbow Canyon Jughandle arch comes into view high on the right.
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.
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.
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.
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 from below. All photos courtesy Dave Kennedy.
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).
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.
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.
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:
Just east of CA-85 are two other sea arches, 10×8 and 20×15 feet, Photos 2 and 3:
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:
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:
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:
Go south along the bluffs to the first rock outcropping to find a nice arch, 10S-436805-4308560, 30×15 feet, Photo 8:
To the left is another sea arch, 10×5 feet, Photo 9:
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:
The next rock outcropping is The Hitch’n Post, 10S-436855-4308455, 20×40 feet, Photo 13:
Below the view point of The Hitch’n Post is another sea arch, 10×40 feet, Photo 14:
South along the bluffs is a sea arch with seaweed growing inside it, 10×30 feet, Photo 15:
Further south in a cove is sea arch which was the last one I saw, 10×8 feet, Photo 16:
I just got back from a trip to the Tetons and Yellowstone, and, of course, I made a point of hiking to Yellowstone Natural Bridge (NABSQNO 12T-543257-4930475).
A loop trail completely encircles the area where the bridge is, including going to the back side of the bridge from how I first saw it. At one point the trail goes near the top of the bridge and it was while I was standing there looking at the top of the bridge that I made an interesting discovery for myself.
The Natural Bridge of Yellowstone is actually a double bridge. The informational bulletin board down below the bridge mentions its height and span at about 51 feet and 29 feet respectively, but doesn’t say anything about it’s being double.
What I discovered is that behind the span that I first saw when hiking to the bridge there’s a good-sized crack that goes all the way through separating this front span from a second span that has a tree growing on it. As you can see from the first photo below, the front span has a rather narrow width and is almost pointed on top, while the second span is wider and more squared off. To get the photo of the top of the double bridge, I was standing up against the “Keep Off the Bridge” sign that the Park Service placed to one side of the bridge to keep visitors from walking on top or across the spans.
In Vreeland’s Nature’s Bridges and Arches Volume 19 he mentions the double nature of this waterfall-type natural bridge and gives the widths of the two lintels as 2 feet and 5 feet.
The photo above shows the double nature of the span. The photo below shows the view from the standard approach.
This past Memorial Day, Pat and I drove up to Fort Bragg, CA and stopped at Noyo Headlands Park which is a newly opened park. The city bought the land that used to be the the old Georgia Pacific Lumber Company and made some walking trails along the bluffs with some beautiful overlooks. The first area we visited was the southern entrance to the park which can be reached from State Hwy 1.
We turned west onto Cypress St. in Fort Bragg and parked at the end of the road. We walked the trail west then north to Johnson Rock. On the way is CA-209, Skip’s Punchbowl (10S-429814-4364940, span 15′ x height 20′):
The last area we visited was the northern entrance to the park which can be reached from State Hwy 1. We turned west onto Elm St. in Fort Bragg and parked at Glass Beach. We walked the trail west then south to Otsuchi Point. Just before reaching Otsuchi Point there are some steps made from logs that go down to a beach.
At the left side of the beach is CA-208, Glass Beach Arch (span 3′ x height 3′):
Back on the trail to Otsuchi Point are 4 more sea arches as follows.
Skeleton Key Arch (span 3′ x height 6′):
Island Arch (span 2′ x height 4′):
Cavity Arch (left opening span 10′ x height 14″ and right opening span 2′ x height 14′):