Rainbow Bridge National Monument

c/o Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
P.O. Box 1507
Page, AZ 86040-1507
(928) 608-6200

Rainbow Bridge, the world's largest natural bridge, is considered a sacred place by many Native Americans. To the Navajo, rainbows represent guardians of the universe. This natural wondernestles among canyons carved by streams en route to the Colorado River from Navajo Mountain'snorth flank. Until the formation of Lake Powell, this was one of the most remote andinaccessible regions in the contiguous United States. Today the bridge is accessible by boat. (Photo by Kenneth Silver.)

The first publicized sighting of the bridge was made by the Douglass-Cummings party in 1909.Two parties had set out, under government surveyor W. B. Douglass and under University of Utah dean Byron Cummings, to seek the great stone arch that Native Americans said lay near Navajo Mountain. The 2 parties eventually met and joined forces. They were guided by Ute Jim Mike and Paiute Nasja Begay, and by John Wetherill, trader and self-taught archeologist. The country proved rough and treacherous. Horses slipped and skidded on slickrock surfaces. Rimrock ledges, like terrible sandstone mazes, frequently blocked progress and turned the partyback. They struggled through canyons, some dry and boulder choked, some containing water anddense brush. Then, coming down what is now Bridge Canyon in the late afternoon of August 14, the party beheld this beautiful natural stone bridge.

With a span of 275 feet (84 meters), Rainbow Bridge arches to a height of 290 feet (88 meters).The top is 42 feet (13 meters) thick and 33 feet (10 meters) wide. The dark, vertical streaks onthe sandstone, called "desert varnish," are composed of iron oxide or manganese. Many believe these particles leach from the rocks; others believe that minerals are blown as dust particles andsettle on wetter areas of rock. Afternoon sunlight makes the colors especially brilliant.

The base of Rainbow Bridge is composed of Kayenta Sandstone, reddish-brown sands and mudslaid down and consolidated hundreds of millions of years ago. Above its base the bridge iscomposed of Navajo Sandstone. This formation was created as wave upon wave of sand duneswere deposited to depths of 1,000 feet (305 meters). Over the next 1 00 million years, both these formations were buried more than 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) deep by other strata. The pressuresand temperatures of this burial consolidated and hardened the rock of these formations.

Some 60 million years ago the landscape we know as the Colorado Plateau began a gradualuplift. Today's landscape results from the erosion caused by streams cutting into these massivelayers of rock now lifted far above sea level. As the landscape lifted and tilted, these streamsacquired more force and began to downcut their meanders.

As Bridge Creek entrenched itself into the landscape, the scene was set for carving Rainbow Bridge. As the canyon cut through the Navajo Sandstone and then hit the hard Kayenta Formation rock, the cutting became more difficult. The stream widened its path and undercut the canyon walls. Finally it cut through the neck of a meander loop. The stream then altered its course, taking the more direct course through the break. Huge flakes of sandstone broke looseand fell, leaving a conchoidal or shell-like pattern like that found in the chipping of Native American arrowheads. Natural flaking, called exfoliation, contributes to the formation of alcovesand natural bridges throughout this region.

Visiting Rainbow Bridge
Most people travel by water to Rainbow Bridge, some 50 miles (93 kilometers) from Wahweap,Bullfrog, or Halls Crossing. From the courtesy dock landing in Bridge Canyon, Rainbow Bridgeis about a 1/2 mile (1 kilometer) walk along a moderate trail. Tours of Rainbow Bridge, leavingfrom Wahweap and Bullfrog, are offered by the park concessioner. For those who want to usetheir own boat, launch ramps and marinas with boating and camping supplies exist at Wahweap, Halls Crossing, Bullfrog, Hite, and Dangling Rope. Dangling Rope is the closest marina, 10 miles (19 kilometers) northwest of Rainbow Bridge. Concessioners: Wahweap Lodge andMarina, Box 1597, Page, AZ 86040; Hite Marina, Halls Crossing Resort and Marina, Bullfrog Resort and Marina -- all can be reached at Lake Powell, UT 84533. Lake Powell Air Service,Box 1385, Page, AZ 86040.

You can reach Rainbow Bridge via 2 foot trails: from Navajo Mountain Trading Post, 14 miles(26 kilometers), and from abandoned Rainbow Lodge, 13 miles (24 kilometers). Requiredpermits and detailed information on routes, water sources, and supplies may be obtained from the Navajo Nation (see below).

Both hiking trails traverse Navajo Nation land. Please respect the land and the privacy of the people living there.

Remember that hogans are private property. Allow livestock to graze undisturbed. Leave gatesas you find them. Use a backpacking stove. If you must build a fire, use previous fire sites andextinguish fires completely. Pack out all trash. Bury human wastes 8 inches (20 centimeters) below ground, and away from water sources.

There is no campground or picnic area. A vault toilet is available. The nearest town with food,lodging, and facilities is Page, Ariz., on U.S. 89.

The Trailheads

The trailheads are near Navajo Mountain. The Navajo Mountain Trading Post trailhead is unmarked; trail starts at the end of the road. The Rainbow Lodge Rainbow Bridge trailhead liesat the west end of the old Rainbow Lodge ruins. Both trails lie on the Navajo Indian Reservationand terminate at Rainbow Bridge National Monument. The trails are not maintained and they cross rough canyon country. They are not recommended for the beginning, casual, or careless hiker. In summer the trails are hot and dry; in winter elevations make them subject to severecold and high winds. Portions of both trails are subject to flash floods. You can use the twotrails round trip fashion. You can also make advance arrangements with a park concessioner for boat transportation back to Wahweap from Rainbow Bridge.

Trail bikes and motorized vehicles are illegal. Horse use on the Lodge-Bridge trail is not recommended. Hikers must obtain a permit before hiking these trails. Write: The Navajo Nation, Recreational Resources Department, Box 308, Window Rock, AZ 86515; call 602-871-6647, or 602 871-4941.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 19 Dec 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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