Bobbie and I have camped at Natural Bridges National Monument a couple/three times, back in the good ole days when you could just roll into a campground without making reservations a year in advance. We hiked the loop road on top, which, more or less, follows a deep, multihued canyon, well garnished with streaks of desert varnish. But for some reason, maybe because we were always in a hurry on our way to or from a higher prioritized destination. Until—what was it, 2016?—we made a date with Suzanne to get this hike in our respective "bags" and see the "bridges" from the bottom up instead of a "pull out."
Natural Bridges is basically sandstone country, dotted with little plots of shallow soil enough to sprout fragrant sagebrush and an anemic forest of pinion/juniper. Without much soil to absorb runoff, flash flooding is common in sandstone country. Signs warn backcountry travelers to "get to high ground" during cloudbursts...and wait till the storm passes and water recedes before attempting to cross normally dry creek beds.
Spirits were high on our hike with Suzanne, as well as expectations to bag the entire canyon trail as well as the loop back across the mesa to our vehicle...about 12 miles. But our 20 percent chance of showers disintegrated to a full-blown thunderstorm about two thirds of the way through the canyon trek. As rain increased in intensity, I recalled the flash flood warnings.
Ultimately, we arrived at a trail junction just beyond Kachina Bridge. One bail-out route headed up to the rim, the other continued on through the canyon to the third and final bridge, Owachomo. I told Bobbie and Suzanne that we should consider bailing. But they opted to finish, hoping thunder storms would pass like they usually do. Soaking wet and getting wetter by the second, I headed up to the rim with a warning the gals that if and when creek-crossings become river crossings, turn around.
Not five minutes after we parted ways, lightning struck in-canyon wigh a resounding simultaneous boom of thunder. The gals caught up with me on the second switchback. Guess they changed their minds. :)
In spite of rain jackets, we were soaked to the bone by the time we reached the rim. It was still pouring so we took shelter in a restroom facility to wait it out. But it was the lightning and thunder that kept us pinned down, even as the rain relented. Bored, and tired of the smell, we finally decided to slop out the last 3 or 4 miles to our vehicle, come Hell or high water.
We got both, Hell and High Water. Every little crease and crevice on the mesa-top had swollen into roaring creeks. About half way across we came to a river. It raged with full blown rapids that sweep over a 15 foot fall. I waded out to my knees before chickening out. If you stepped into a pothole, you'd be a goner.
We vowed to come back and finish the canyon hike someday. It was disappointing to leave it undone, having had a taste.
|Sunrise on Sipapu Bridge|
|Here comes the sun|
|Bobbie examines petroglyphs under massive Kachina Bridge|
|A dry pour-off|