Saturday, 5/8/21: Bridges vs Arches

What a gorgeous and free campsite in the Valley of the Gods, Utah.

I look just a bit like Brett Favre in this selfie with my stubble.

Utah is famous for its arches, and deservedly so. The parks with the iconic arches, we hear, are overrun with tourists. The Natural Bridge National Monument is both spectacular and only lightly visited. But, do they have arches? Well, yes and no. They have bridges and it is argued that bridges and arches are not the same. Technically, natural bridges are formed by a river flowing under them. Arches are not associated with a river. They are presumably formed by wind erosion. But, in ancient times, who knows if an arch didn’t get its start with a little water action.

We really didn’t care, we were hunting for these gorgeous formations no matter how they were formed. Natural Bridges National Monument had three of these graceful wonders tucked into, you guessed, a canyon.

But first, to get to the park, we had to drive the scary Moki Dugway Dirt Switchbacks. In one 3-mile stretch, highway 261, a really nice smooth road, has to claw its way up the side of an insanely tall and vertical cliff. For some reason, the state decided to construct this engineering feat out of dirt. It is such a treacherous stretch of road that they forbid trucks, RVs, and anything with a trailer to access the road. Instead of utilizing guardrails, they just piled a row of large gravel about 12” high to keep your wheels from careening off into oblivion. I don’t know who Moki was, but Moki did provide us with a great carne ride.

Hmmm, that’s an ominous sign.

The pavement ends?

The Natural Bridges National Park provides a 9-mile driving loop with overlooks to see the bridges from afar. The canyon itself, even without the bridges, is one of the most beautiful canyons we have seen yet. The meandering river far below etched out an intricate path that left isolated islands of majestic rock formations. The vegetation was landscaped as if a master landscaper spent decades of planning and developing.

To really experience the bridges, the overlooks just didn’t bring the goods home. You have to invest the effort and hike down to meet them close up. The trails are arduous, with the most difficult trail incorporating primitive log ladders to climb the steepest cliff sides. The first bridge trail was a 2 1/2 mile round trip with a rugged 500’ elevation descent. The trail was as gorgeous as any trail we have experienced so far.

At the bottom, the bridge was nothing short of breathtaking. The little nearly dry creek that was responsible for the huge bridge smiled at us knowing that we were confused as to how such a humble body of water could engineer such a monolithic structure.

What little moisture left in the creek irrigated a thick lush jungle along its banks. I did find a couple of small isolated pools of open water. In the pools were tiny fish with odd gills sticking way out. At first, I thought they were tadpoles with back legs starting to grow. On closer inspection, what looked like legs were gills. How odd! And how permanent were these pools? What a precarious place to call home.

The trail going down was fun. The return trip was tough. The key was to go slow, which was made easier by all the stops we made to enjoy the amazing vistas.

Natural Bridges National Monument was not only one of the most beautiful places we have visited, it was very uncrowded, especially for a weekend.

The first set of stairs was modern. It got rustic quickly after that.

More rustic.

The ladder seems to abruptly just quit, and it does. For the rest of way we were just barely able to hang on.

Most of the river was dry. These small pools of water were a rare exception.

Believe it, or not! These pools of water actually had fish in them. I have never seen fish with such odd looking gills before.

We passed on the second trail to the second bridge. We were bushed. We recuperated enough to tackle the third trail to the third bridge. It was only a mile round trip and only 200’ of elevation. Again, all I can say is, spectacular.

This was the second bridge from the road overlook. The overlook just didn’t do it justice. You have to get up close to really appreciate it.

The third and most delicate bridge in the park.

I had hoped to check out the House On Fire, a unique ruins on a trail in the Bear Ears National Monument. We spent so much time at Natural Bridge and spent so much effort, that I just pulled over at the trailhead and dozed for 30 minutes. The House On Fire is a stone house that is tucked away under a rock ledge. When the sunlight hits it just right, it gives off an illusion of flames emitting from the top of the house. 10 am to 11 am is the optimum time to view the illusion. It was already 4 pm when I woke up. We moved on to the town of Blanding.

Blanding actually had a small grocery store. We stopped and picked up and couple of items. No beer, however, Blanding is a dry town. I got no smiles when I remarked that I thought only Mississippi had dry towns. Mormons, apparently, are sensitive to that issue. I quickly recovered and complemented them on a good and healthy choice.

Blanding also had Pop’s Burrito Take Out. It was set up like a Subway Restaurant. We started with a flour tortilla the size of a super-large pizza pan. We then went down a counter of fillings and picked out what we wanted inside our burrito. We piled it high with goodies and they somehow were able to fold it up.

Our phone signal was strong in Blanding, so we found a nice city park to eat our burrito and do a little catching up on emails and the sort.

When we returned to V-Jer around sundown, our only neighbor stopped by to warn us that they were going to rev up their powered paragliders in the morning. We told them that we were pilots, had cut our aeronautical teeth on ultralights, had built and flown gyrocopters, owned two airplanes in our flying careers, and that we would be up with the chickens to watch them take off at dawn. That seemed to please the guy.

Glossary of terms used for newcomers: 1) V-Jer. The name of our camper. 2) Saturn. The name of our Van. 3) Duende. Our mischievous gremlin that breaks things. 4) Tata. The good gremlin that helps us fix Duende’s dirty work. 5) The Black Hole. This is what we call Walmart because every time we go in for just a couple of items, we come out spending way more than we figured. 6) QT. Quaint Town.

Dave and Wanda

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