Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kachina & Owachomo Loop Trail In Natural Bridges

The Kachina and Owachomo Loop Trail is  5.4 miles between two of the large bridges in Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah. Three miles of the route is in Armstrong Canyon and the rest passes over the mesa top.

I started at the Kachina Bridge Trail Head. The trail from the canyon rim down to the bridge is 0.75 miles. The route is steep but there are steps and handrails installed to make the trip easier. Kachina Bridge has many Ancestral Pueblo petroglyphs on both sides of the base and there is a small unusual ruins site on the far side.

The loop trail up Armstrong Canyon toward Owachomo Bridge branches off about halfway to the bottom, so a visit to Kachina requires a backtrack back up to continue. There is also a loop trail up White Canyon to Sipapu Bridge. From the parking area of Kachina Bridge, a small circular storage ruins can be spotted on a ledge above the trail toward Owachomo. That ruins is hidden from sight along the trail even as you pass right below it.

In the first mile of hiking a large alcove appears on the left. With binoculars, some wall structures can be spotted. There was a three person crew that appeared to be studying this ruins site on the day I hiked past. The sunny alcove was perched above steep cliffs and finding a way to get closer would take some searching.

In mid April after a heavy snow year there were many pools of water in the canyon bottom. There are some patches of sagebrush indicating good soils for farming, but the fields were small. There were cottonwood trees in places, along with Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper on the canyon sides.

 In the Natural Bridges area silver green Roundleaf Buffaloberry shrub is common. There is an example of it with some interpretive information on the short botany trail at the park Visitor Center. This plant isn't seen much in the other canyon areas of the Four Corners. I also saw some of the evergreen Fremont Barberry along the trail.

About 1.0 mile from Owachomo Bridge is a rock formation called the Shoe. The Shoe has a small arch. To get a good view of the arch requires a short detour off the trail, staying high rather than dropping down to the canyon floor.

Below the shoe is the Shoe Pictograph Panel. The view from the trail is about 30 feet below the intricate art work. The long rows of triangles that look like shark’s teeth are the most eye catching. There are also spirals and many humanoid figures. There may be a ruins site on the ledge up near the panel, but I didn’t try to climb up.

Most visitors to Owachomo Bridge stop when they are underneath it. There is an obscure trail that continues across the canyon and climbs the opposite side for some good views. This trail looks like it was constructed 50 years ago and hasn’t been maintained since then.

Owachomo spans 180 feet and is 106 feet high. It is one of the most graceful rock spans in the region. Climbing back to the rim, it is 2.2 miles along the Mesa Top Trail back to the Kachina parking area. The Mesa Top Trail passes through Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest and climbs over some rocky sandstone outcrops. In a few places there are good views toward the canyons.

I spent about 5:00 hours for the 5.4 mile loop. I did some backtracking in the area around the Shoe Panel and spent some time climbing in the area across from Owachomo. A hiker could also spend time viewing the rock art near Kachina Bridge. I carried and drank 3 liters of water on a 65 F degree mid April day.