Tag Archives: National Monument

Natural Bridges Part 2: Full Canyon Loop Hike and heading home

Natural Bridges is a small enough park that you can really settle in and make it your own without too much work. I decided the year before that I wanted to do the full loop hike, hiking along the canyon bottom and hitting all 3 bridges together. The distance is respectable and even though half is on the mesa and half is in the canyon there is still some surprising ups and downs across the canyon bottom. But it’s all well worth it to be one with the desert.

Hiking across the mesa
Hiking across the mesa

All 3 bridges can be seen in one loop through Natural Bridges, the ranger advised starting out at Owachomo Bridge Parking lot and tackling the hike across the mesa first. The sun can be oppressive so it’s good to tackle the exposed section in the morning and spend the afternoon in the canyon with the odd shade.

Weathered Tree
Weathered Tree

The trail to Sipapu Bridge involves a few ladders and many stairs. And some interestingly weathered trees.

Sipapu Bridge
Sipapu Bridge

It’s hard to give the feeling of size in a picture, Sipapu Bridge is the second largest Natural Bridge in the world behind Rainbow Bridge. For a sense of scale those are full grown Cottonwood Trees looking like bushes below the bridge.

Life in the canyon
A tree in the canyon

The desert above the canyon is known as the Pygmy Forest because the lack of water and nutrients slows the tree’s growth. But in the bottom canyon trees grow tall and pools of water linger long after rains have past.

Native American Ruins
Native American Ruins

The canyon walls are full of relics of the time when the area was full of Anasazi.

Kachina Bridge
Beneath Kachina Bridge

The massive tonnage of rock suspended with nothing below it is mind blowing. See the two hikers beneath for scale.

Indian Kiva
A religious Kiva under the bridge

Much of the canyon has protected Indian relics.

Slickrock carving at the bottom of the canyon
Slickrock carved by coursing water

After seeing the deep canyons around Lake Powell it’s hard to imagine that each was slowly and intricately cut by water through the hard sandstone.

Slickrock under Owachomo Bridge
Slickrock under Owachomo Bridge

Owachomo Bridge is the “Old Man” of the park. The water no longer runs under it after a storm, having etched another route that bypasses the Bridge. Now it just slowly weathers until it will finally collapse.

Plus it was a bit of a relief finally seeing the end of the hike in sight after so many blind curves I expected to be the last turn only to have another canyon curve in the distance.

Comb Ridge
Comb Ridge curves off into the distance.

The hike took most of the day and I wanted to be back to Moab before night fell. But there was still enough time to get some quick pics of Comb Ridge. The ridge stretches in a giant crescent to the south, it’s not very developed but the area is full of Native American history and long rarely visited slickrock canyons. I hope to check it more in depth in the future.

Here is the map full of pictures from the second day down at Natural Bridges:

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The BLM is opening comments to improve the Lottery system for “The Wave”

The BLM is seeking to improve the lottery system they use to distribute the 20 daily passes to “The Wave” rock formation near Kanab that is so popular with photographers. The system definitely needs to be improved but if they stick to only 20 entrants a day there isn’t much they can do. It’s a simple matter of too much demand for so little product.

The Wave
Close up of the textures of “The Wave”

The current system divides 20 daily permits in half; 10 available in an online lottery up to 4 months prior, and 10 for a “walk-in” lottery. But since about 150 people show up every morning for those permits means that if you plan on walking in and getting a permit you have a snowball’s chance in hell.

You show up at the Kanab BLM office prior to 9 in the morning the day BEFORE you want to hike to enter your name in the lottery. At 9 you go into a small room with the other 150 tourists and listen as they read off 10 numbers to see if yours is called. If you aren’t present and don’t respond when they call your number they will wait a bit and call a new number instead so you must be there waiting every morning you want a chance.  If you’re lucky enough to win you get a permit to enter the area the day after (not the day you win the lottery).  The permits are per person, not per group or per vehicle. As an example who difficult that can be, when I was there a husband/wife photographer duo were trying to get in. He got a permit and she didn’t. She hugged and kissed him and said “Have fun, take some great pictures for us.”

Ouch, that’s not the makings of a happy vacation.

Coyote Buttes North Arizona
Hiking the Coyote Buttes Area

My advice to somebody who wants to see The Wave: apply online 4 months ahead until you get a slot. Then plan your vacation around it. Spending every morning of your vacation in a room waiting for eventual disappointment is horrible when you should be out enjoying and photographing a beautiful desert sunrise.

Lastly. After being to the wave I have to say it was over-hyped.

It is beautiful, but no more so than 1000 other places in southern Utah. It’s also a not as big of formation as I thought, the reason you see 100 pictures of the same wave is because that’s all there is. It’s a formation in an area of 50ft by 50ft so there aren’t a lot of different angles to shoot it. It looks like some weird painted landscape but it’s really just a weird painted slot, similar to many others in the area.

And that seems to be the BLM’s solution to the problem. Since it doesn’t look like there will be a large increase in permits given they are going to promote other nearby trails with gorgeous scenery. This is a great idea if you ask me; Grand Staircase-Escalante is a vast park covering some stunning locations that are relatively un-visited and un-photographed. It’s the perfect place to explore and find something almost nobody has seen and be the first to take an amazing photograph of it.

Permit only hiking
Coyote Buttes Are of Northern Arizona