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Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow Bridge

Hank Hassell
Line Drawings & Maps R. Sean Evans
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Rainbow Bridge
    Book Description:

    On the morning of August 14, 1909, a small, diverse group including Professor Byron Cummings of the University of Utah, Government Land Office surveyor William Douglass, pioneer archaeologist and trader John Weatherill, and Paiute guide Nasja Begay gazed at the largest structure of its kind in the world-Rainbow Bridge. Their presence marked the official discovery of the magnificent natural bridge, which spans 275 feet and towers 291 feet above the stream bed below it. Of the discovery party, only Nasja Begay had seen the stone arch before; he was one of a probably small number of Paiutes and Navajos, the true modern discoverers, who had visited it. In 1910, an executive order issued under the still fresh Antiquities Act created Rainbow Bridge National Monument, one of the first. This was only the beginning of the Rainbow Bridge historical record. Its fame was soon widespread, but for many years its visitors would be few, their numbers restricted by the long arduous trail around Navajo Mountain to the site. Those few and the tour guides and businesses that emerged to serve them, especially at Rainbow Lodge, were an interesting mix though. The bridge's story included such western figures as trader Louisa Weatherill, wife of John and a Navajo speaker who was the first Anglo to hear of the bridge; Barry Goldwater, who for a time owned and operated Rainbow Lodge; Zane Grey, who wrote about the bridge; and David Brower, the Sierra Club leader who got wrapped up in the intersection of the Rainbow Bridge story with that of Glen Canyon Dam. Its construction and the filling of Lake Powell behind it made Rainbow Bridge a battleground, key territory in the larger war over water and conservation in the West. The remote, hard to reach national monument was supposed to define a limit to Colorado River reclamation but instead was inundated by Lake Powell and the tide of visitors who then could reach the foot of the bridge by boat. Though Rainbow is now easily and frequently visited and National Park Service amenities are in place, access to Rainbow Bridge is still an evolving and controversial issue.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-459-8
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, History

Table of Contents

  1. 1 The Rainbow Trail
    (pp. 1-10)

    Early May, 1988. Already heat is baking the canyon like midsummer, and the air feels heavy and somnolent. The sun has finally dipped behind the canyon wall to our left, so we are at last in shade. It makes no difference. The rocks and sand by the side of the trail are sending upward the day’s accumulation of solar energy, and the red-orange sandstone walls radiate intensely. Every living thing that can has scurried deep underground. The spiny plants sit motionless, seemingly indifferent to the seasonal variations in heat and sun, but the cottonwood leaves hang immobile, conserving the precious...

  2. 2 The Story in the Rocks: How Rainbow Bridge Came to Be
    (pp. 11-24)

    At the dawn of the Triassic period, approxi mately 225 million years ago,* the region we know as the Colorado Plateau was markedly different in appearance from the way we see it today. The vast oceans, which covered the whole region during the middle Permian era, had finally retreated off to the south and west, and so most of what is today southern Utah and northern Arizona was at last above the sea level. For the next 50 million years the region would remain as part of a large prehistoric continent, receiving in this period the rich and colorful sandstones...

  3. 3 Navajo Mountain Religion: Rainbow Bridge through Indian Eyes
    (pp. 25-31)

    That a particular piece of geography can have spiritual significance should come as no surprise to anyone even loosely acquainted with the great world religions. For Jews the huge bulk of Mount Sinai is held in great reverence as the place the Law was given to Moses. Islam reveres a small hill in Jerusalem called Dome of the Rock where the Prophet ascended into heaven. Christians revere numerous sites in Palestine, none with more fervor than Golgotha, the spot where Christ was crucified. So it is with the American Indian. Throughout North America native tribes, whether agricultural or nomadic, developed...

  4. 4 From Shadow into Light: The Discovery of Rainbow Bridge
    (pp. 32-64)

    From their ancient perch deep within the sandstone walls of Bridge Canyon the Holy People gazed down in amazed bewilderment. Below them, in a scene never before witnessed, thirteen horsemen and assorted pack animals were moving steadily down Nonnezoshi Boko. Although only midmorning on this brilliant August day the heat was already intense, and the ten whites, two Paiutes, and one Navajo were sweat-soaked and caked with dust. The shod hooves of the white men’s ponies clanked noisily on the numerous rocks of the dry creek bottom as the party, stretched out now for nearly a mile, pushed their exhausted...

  5. 5 “Not for Many Eyes to See”: Early-Day Tourism in Rainbow Bridge Country
    (pp. 65-91)

    When Byron Cummings published his article on the natural bridges of southern Utah early in 1910, the whole country was alerted to the discovery of “the largest natural arch yet found.”¹ Interviews with members of the discovery expedition appeared in newspapers and magazines from California to Massachusetts, and prints of Stuart M. Young’s spectacular photographs were convincing evidence of the beauty and grace embodied in this newest national monument. The adventure inherent in the discovery of Rainbow Bridge excited the interest and imagination of those travelers who yearned for a challenge and had time on their hands, and it became...

  6. 6 Echo Park and Beyond
    (pp. 92-114)

    The Colorado. As rivers go it isn’t large. In fact, in terms of the volume of water carried it doesn’t even rank among the top ten of American rivers. For the most part its course lies deep within rugged and nearly inaccessible canyons, so few settlements, and no major cities, grace its banks. Yet circumstances have conspired to make it the most litigated, the most utilized, and the most regulated stream in the world. Today almost none of its flow ever reaches its outlet in the Gulf of California, every drop having long since been diverted to quench the thirsty...

  7. 7 The Sierra Club Goes to War
    (pp. 115-145)

    With the enactment of the Colorado River Storage Project Act in 1956 the long battle over the nature and parameters of water development in the Upper Basin came to an end, and the leaders of the newly empowered American preservationist movement prepared to strike their tents and head home. These men must have left Washington, D.C., filled with pride and satisfaction over what, against all odds, they had been able to accomplish. True, the Bureau of Reclamation had been able to persuade Congress to authorize a series of major dams and storage reservoirs, and all too many remarkable places would...

  8. 8 Reprise and Reflection
    (pp. 146-156)

    April, 1997. A brilliant sky and a surprisingly strong sun have us in a fine mood as we swing the red Jeep Cherokee into what passes for a parking lot at the head of the north trail to Rainbow Bridge. This country is not noted for consistently good spring weather, so we feel fortunate to have selected what appears to be a perfect weekend. My hiking companion for this trip is Bill Hoffman, a recently retired pilot with American Airlines who has some really rugged trails in the Grand Canyon under his belt and a lust for adventure deep in...