Trip Report: Rainbow Bridge

Location: Navajo Nation

State: Arizona

Miles: 25

Days: 2

Type: In and Out

Rainbow Bridge–north trail–25-26 miles in/out–2.5 days

The start–
I follow a dirt road, watching the fresh tire tracks. I am surprised I am doing this, the Jeep seems to find its way to the parking spot for the north trailhead for Rainbow Bridge without my guiding it. I knew another backpacking party was in, had sort of invited myself, then disinvited myself on the trip, thinking I could not get up here in time. The weather looked not good, with big boiling clouds and some wind. Oh well–could get rained on here as well as up by Hite.

I park, glance at the sky, and swing the pack on. Feels heavy as I probably have not packed well. I start down the obvious trail at the end of the car park, and let my feet find the pace.
It’s beautiful here, quiet, and uncrowded. The trail is plain but I sense the remoteness, a few flowers appear to appeal to my senses. I have never seen so many brillant blushes to the Indian Paintbrush. Soon the wonderful Navajo sandstone appears, in close and distant towers. Navajo Mountain wears a cottony crown of clouds, with silvery snow streaking its flanks. The trail dips into several washes –the first being Cha, which has enough water to make for a boulder hop over the small stream. Nothing like the sound of running water in the desert–we are so lucky this year.
I rise to walk more on the benches and the views abound. The distant Henries and Little Rockies–snow topped; the straight cliffs with clouds hovering, the intriguing sandstone formations bounding this area, the expanse of Navajo Mountain–seemingly so close. The sun is out more and the clouds less thick. Such a pleasure to be walking with this weight on my back. I would be no where else right now.
I arrive at the top of the switchbacks for Bald Rock Canyon and love the view down this deep canyon. At the bottom the water runs over slickrock and forms shallow pools, gorgeous, with nice campsites nearby. A large alcove looms that I will explore on my return. Right now I wish to make some miles before dark, then get to Rainbow Bridge the next day and not have to rush. The long light of spring days is on my side.
More of a slickrock ramble up then down again to Nasja canyon, more intimate and as beautiful as Bald Rock. An old graffitied picnic table is at a killer campsite after crossing the rocky creek. Shortly I feel my eyes drawn away from the trail—its a small perfectly formed arch!!! The later afternoon light is nice for photos. I walk on, climbing out of this canyon surrounded by towering rock walls. Some sexy sandstone is nearby–I think its Entrada, super smooth and silky, I run my hand along the surface of this petrified dune, amazed at the textures I feel. I go into a little valley, a graben, the walls tighter and more varied–its Surpise Valley.
Here its wooded and cozy, no water however. It opens some; again onto the benchlands with extraordinary views of the north side of Navajo Mountain. I am tiring from the long drive, then hike, and start to seek a campsite. I cross over one more deep canyon with water. I am not sure it is Oak Canyon, as it is narrow and much smaller than the other canyons. I want to camp high, to get the warm morning sun’s rays, and to pay homage to the mountain. The bench is very rocky, discreetly covered in Sego lilies, a couple of varieties, and I find some white ones which I understand are a little rare to see. I finally find a sandy hummock off a small sleight of slickrock; and pitch my tent. Its’ after 6:00, still lots of light. I carried some unnecessary extra water, as I was not sure of the H20 situation, so had plenty for my dry camp. The wind is cold, but light. I keep my vestibule door open all night– to great stars and no rain. The morning is perfect, the sun flaming the towers of sandstone all around me and streaking the sides of the mountain right in front of my doorstep. It’s warmer, and no ugly clouds in sight, just nice fluffy fat pure white ones, a lenticular cloud coming off the mountain.

I start walking again, early, not sure how far my destination is. I dip into a narrow rocky crevasse, then a dry canyon with a few pools. Again, up and drop into a large canyon —is it Oak, I think??– I revise that as I keep walking in this incredible canyon with rising walls so familiar to me, a bit like the east side trending canyons of the Escalante. The running water, the trees, the green, the red walls, the blue sky. How could a place in time be so perfect. Yet it is. I do not know exactly where I am and that is ok. I have a trail and I will follow.
I have noted some fresh horse and donkey tracks more and more, at first I thought a day ahead but now closer. As I amble along I look across the canyon and see a pack train coming my way, a few Navajo horsemen mounted and the rest empty saddles. They ask me to stand off the trail uphill and I do so. They are very friendly and say “You are almost there!!”.
I must look blank and they point down the canyon and there is Rainbow Bridge! I hadn’t seen it yet. They were surprised I was alone (what is it about that???Is it because I am female—I’ll bet no one asks men that question!!).
I press on, note a split in the trail to what must be Echo camp and drop my pack there and walk around the old camp up the the spring and alcove. Noises do reverberate there.

I take my camera and my water to the bridge. I approach expecting voices, the party dropped off, people from the boat up from Lake Powell, the others in the backpacking party. There is no one. Ah, my beauty you are mine all mine!!! At least for a few minutes. I make my pictures, then sit along a stone wall in the shade, just looking, listening, dreaming. Perfection in an arc of stone. It is nature to make it that way, we can never touch that for all our vaunted technology. Why does the blue sky look more so through an arch, why does it seem so magical? I felt the whole time was magical so far.
I stay about an hour and want to be on the road again. To some campsite by water this time I think. I can read and dream some more. When I head back I bump into the group–two I know–Sredfield and Dave, the others I do not. I say my lines “Dr. Livingston, I presume” , chat briefly and head out as they go to spend time and take their own photos. I do not see them again.
My walk takes me to Oak Canyon for the night, I camp off the trail in a nice obviously used site, with water nearby and a good sized rock to lounge on. Insects and birds sing, no problem with mosquitos though. Another nice, warm night and another day of walking. The sun higher, in spots the blooming cactii and dune primroses make quite the showstoppers. I stop and eat a snack at ye old picnic table at Nasja, find the Navajo horse pictograph, then play at Bald Rock. Here I drop my pack, climb the little hill right after the trail crosses the creek and climb to the base of the large alcove, the bottom a dried pool in a hanging paradise garden. Getting into the alcove is tricky with a little ledge climb then up a very steep loose talus slope, so silty at times I’m in to mid calf. At the top, if anything was there it is buried under tons of debris. There was an old fire ring and some wood, it would be hard work to get up here but what a campsite, safe from weather and a view. I am fascinated by the crinilations in the rock roof where the rocks had spalled off. Such precise ovals, evenly spaced. I couldn’t begin to draw like that.
After I come down a different way I decide to take my boots off and walk up the slickrock stream bed, its soothing cold waters to tired feet. I find a spot and lay down for a nap, the rock curved perfectly to my body, my head and feet inches from the split stream, I drift off for a half hour or more. When I wake I can’t decide to stay or go. I am not far from the trailhead and lots of light left yet. More adventures north call to me. I hate to leave, its so beautiful here. Back on the trail, uneventful to the Jeep, I am refreshed. I drive on out, to spend the night at Mexican Hat, to get a shower and a meal. Then on to more the next day—

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