2019 Fall Gateway

mcaywood

Story and photos by Phil Clark

Rainbow Bridge is a huge natural stone ridge in a remote part of

southern Utah and is sacred to Native Americans. There are two

ways to get to Rainbow Bridge: by boat or on foot. I recently went

on foot, with a full pack and with four other new friends.

William Howard Taft established Rainbow Bridge National Monument by

Presidential Proclamation in May 1910. The National Monument preserves

a unique and impressively large natural bridge which has been known to Native

Americans long before the arrival of anglos to the Colorado Plateau. It

arcs across the sky as if a rainbow indeed turned into a reddish brown sandstone

arch streaked with desert varnish. From its base to the top of the arch,

it is 290 feet-nearly the height of the Statue of Liberty-and spans 275 feet

across the arroyo. Navajo stories tell of a male and a female rainbow person

coming together in perfect union, and being frozen in time. This rock rainbow

is particularly special because it looks like a rainbow from both sides,

which is quite rare.

Everyone has a bucket list. Mine is still a work in progress and hiking

to Rainbow Bridge was one of the items on that list. A friend of mine announced

one day on Facebook that he was organizing a backpacking trip to

Rainbow Bridge and to let him know if anyone was interested in going. I

jumped at the chance. To hike to Rainbow Bridge, the party must have a

Navajo Nation hiking permit. The group leader was in charge of that. The

rest of us just had to get our packs ready and show up.

Five of us showed up at the rendezvous address and piled our heavy packs

in the back of a friend's pickup. As I hoisted my pack, an 'old school' Kelty

frame, I was glad it was not as heavy as usual. At 44 pounds with water,

while lighter than usual, it still felt heavy.

We drove some 100 miles to the trailhead on a day when the skies were

clear and hardly a breeze was blowing. The wildflowers were highlighting

the landscape with color as we approached the trailhead. After leaving

the paved road, the roads weren't marked and criss-crossed through the sandy

and rocky landscape. Our leader knew the way. Finally, we got to the

trailhead and the view was already impressive. We had only a hint of what

awaited us. Some in the group had been on the hike. The rest of us hadn't.

The hike is not for the novice backpacker. While the net elevation drop

from trailhead to Lake Powell is around 2200 feet, the hike has plenty of uphills

to climb for a net elevation gain. The two longest steep climbs ended

up easier than they looked from the bottom, even in the 80s heat.

Water is the crucial factor in deciding when to go. A person needs four

liters of water to start the trip, the minimum for one day. Some years, the

www.GatewaytoCanyonCountry.com 13

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