Natural Wonders Abound
By Jim Favors
Lake Powell offers a great opportunity for boaters who might enjoy more variety in their cruising activities; and with over 1,960 miles of shoreline there is plenty of area to interest this type of boater. During our short, 12-day visit, it seems we were only able to scratch the surface. Prior to making our plans to cruise Lake Powell we only knew of one place on the lake that we definitely wanted to see, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a natural wonder. The remainder of the schedule was wide open and up for deviations or revisions.
Floating buoys, like this Rainbow Bridge directional, were welcome navigation aids on Lake Powell.
Even a casual observer, or appreciator, of Mother Nature and her world-wide wonders would have, at one time or other, seen a photograph of Rainbow Bridge; you may not have known where it is located but that wouldnt have stopped you from appreciating the miracle of its existence. We were so excited to be going to the worlds largest natural arch ourselves; we decided to devote an entire day to take in its sensational beauty.
Most areas on Lake Powell are a special treat for the eyes and stimulating for the brain but Rainbow Bridge stands alone as the most unique. Even before arriving at the bridge we were teased by Mother Natures talents she neatly hid this gem from the masses of society by making it a bit of a chore to visit. To get there by boat we had to enter the somewhat camouflaged mouth of the Forbidding Canyon, which without a GPS, and or the floating buoy at the canyon entrance, we may have missed entirely. Mesmerized by the vertical height of the canyon walls and snake like meandering route, we made our way, ever so slowly, back into the depths of the ever-narrowing canyon.
This is how the entrance of Rainbow Bridge Canyon looks from the bow of Kismet, Im glad we had a GPS to guide us through.
Halfway into Forbidding Canyon, where it starts to become significantly narrower, the mouth of the canyons entrance appeared to the port side of our boat. The entrance is narrower than most, barely wide enough for two boats to pass each other. It was an eerie feeling being so close to the high canyon walls in this narrow body of water. When youre inside this canyon your line of sight takes in only up to the next bend. Coming around a blind curve in the river, we came to a somewhat larger pool where we encountered a tour boat returning from the Rainbow Bridge boat dock. It was in this passage we had to hold back for the tour boat to pass as we could see there was only room for one vessel at a time around the bend where the tour boat had just exited.
The entire cruise into Rainbow Bridge Canyon was one of the most serene cruises Lisa and I have ever experienced. The waters were still, tranquil and thick like a fresh batch of blueberry Jell-O and the sky a deep resounding blue just like we experienced in the Bahamas. As we came around the last bend we saw Rainbow Bridge gradually emerge from the starboard side of the canyon. As we inched further in, the enormity of the ancient water craved marvel filled up the canyon gorge before the bow of Kismet. Wow, what a sight!
Looks pretty narrow to me! We are just past the pool as we worked our way to Rainbow Bridge monument boat dock.
Im a facts kind of guy, so I researched the worlds largest natural arch and found out what makes it what it is today. Its 290 feet above the streambed, 275 feet wide and 42 feet thick. It was carved out of the sandstone by centuries of natural water flow from Bridge Creek, which still runs under the shadows of the expansive arch to this day. I found it interesting that the Navajo, Piute, Pueblo and Ute Indians were the only people that knew of the natural bridge up until August 14, 1909. It was on this date that an Indian led, white, exploration group discovered the bridge for the rest of the world. Less than one year later, on May 30, 1910, President Taft declared Rainbow Bridge a National monument and to President Tafts credit, 160 acres were set aside to be managed by the National Park Service.
There are only three ways to physically get to Rainbow Bridge. Besides boating, as we did, into Rainbow Bridge Canyon and docking at the National Park Service maintained dock, one can hike or horseback ride to the arch. My research found there are two inland trails, both rugged and not for the timid of heart. The north trail is 16 miles long and can be hiked or you can ride in on horseback, while the shorter 13-mile, southern trail, can only be hiked. Once there you can spend the day at the park, but no overnight camping or docking is allowed.
Safely docked and enjoying lunch at the NPS dock with the Rainbow Bridge arch visible over my right shoulder.
Although Rainbow Bridge is completely visible from where wed tied up at the monuments boat dock, in the sliver-sized pool at the end of the canyon, there is still a pleasant one-mile hike to get up close and personal with the arch. Because the flooded waters of Lake Powell can never reach the higher base of the bridge the area surrounding the arch hasnt changed much since it was put on the world map in 1909. My research revealed that the base of the lowest leg of the arch is at an elevation of 3,721 feet, whereas the crest of the Glen Canyon Dam is at 3,711 feet. Whether this was planned or not, I dont know. The obvious benefit of this fact is that the waters of Lake Powell can never reach the arch to cause unwanted or further, hastened, erosion thereby helping to preserve the bridge for future generations.
Objects seem to gain more significance when you see them in person; Rainbow Bridge is certainly no exception to this axiom. As we left the boat and started our ascent, following the NPS well marked trail, we couldnt help but wonder how the 1909 expedition members must have felt as they viewed the bridge for the very first time. Just like we imagine they had felt, we were in awe, even though we had the knowledge of the bridges existence in the canyon before our arrival it was still an amazing sight to behold.
Mother Natures gift in all its glory!
While hiking up the mile long trail to the protective boundary of the monument, we saw the small Bridge Creek still working its corrosive powers against the sandstone. Visitors are strongly urged not to veer off the trail or pass a marked boundary around the foot of the monument and pets are not allowed to not only protect the environment but out of respect for this sacred Indian sanctuary. Once we reached the point where we were as close to the arch as we could legally get, we were only then able to truly appreciate magnitude and beauty of this natural wonder. Although Lisa takes remarkable photographs, I personally feel this is one of those places that almost beg the viewer to take the time to etch a snapshot in their mind.
With fresh memories of Rainbow Bridge still warming our souls, we decided to explore Davis Gulch the next day, wed read there was a smaller unique arch to be seen there. Davis Gulch is up the Escalante River Arm, just 5.5 miles off of Lake Powell. With 96 named canyons we thought theyd all start to look alike but each has its own distinctive characteristics, as was reinforced on our exploratory cruise into Davis Gulch the next day.
With the arch being as tall as it is we need to think about how high the natural water level was at one time.
Named after John Davis, an early Utah cattleman, Davis Gulch, which resembles a canyon more than a Gulch, begs the question, Whats the difference? By definition a canyon is a deep ravine between cliffs often carved out of the landscape by a river. On the other hand a gulch is, by definition, a deep V shaped valley formed by erosion and may contain a small creek or dry riverbed. In my mind Davis Gulch is a canyon because of its deep ravine and high cliffs but called a Gulch because of the tree lined, flower-strewn, valley that continues for many miles past the waters end.
Here you see the riverbed of Bridge Creek that created the Rainbow Bridge arch; it was hardly a trickle when we were there.
Our boat looked pretty small against the backdrop of the monuments steep, canyon walls.
Meandering back into Davis Gulch on Kismet I couldnt help but think about earlier times, before the ground beneath us was flooded. What is now a riverbed used to have John Davis cattle wandering down to the Escalante River for a dip. After daydreaming about the old days we had finally worked our way back to LaGorce Arch. It appeared instantly as we came through a set of narrow hairpin, sheer wall turns, as if it was expecting us. This arch rests where the water depth was 40 deep at the archs base and because we were able to get Kismet up close and personal, it appeared much larger than its actual size. The 100-foot wide, 75-foot tall natural window opening of the arch gave us pause as to the strength of the moving waters erosive power and ability to create such natural beauty.
The LaGorce Arch looks more impressive in person, but this gives a great comparison to Rainbow Bridge.
By the time we reached Davis Gulch, five days into our ten-day exploration cruise, we were only 76 miles from our starting point, Wahweap Marina. I guess we werent surprised that wed only averaged 15 miles per day, theres just so much to appreciate we had to take our time to savor Lake Powells natural wonders.