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Top Ten: Arches & Bridges

“I am a part of all that I have met; yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades forever and forever when I move.” ~Alfred Lord Tennyson

There are probably hundreds of natural arches and bridges of various sizes – both named and unnamed – to be found around the state of Arizona. The best ones are located in sandstone formations within the boundaries of the Navajo Reservation, which means that the services of a native guide must be used to visit these arches. Many others are located in hard-to-reach places in remote wilderness areas. Below I’ve listed some of the most prominent arches that are readily accessible or at least viewable from a distance.

1. Rainbow Bridge – Rainbow Bridge is said to be the world’s largest natural arch, with a span of 275 feet and a height of 290 feet. The top is 42 feet thick and 33 feet wide. Rainbow Bridge is probably the most accessible of the world’s large natural arches. It can be reached by a two-hour boat ride across Lake Powell from either of two marinas near Page, Arizona, followed by a mile-long walk from the National Park wharf in Bridge Canyon. It can also be accessed by a 13 mile hike from a trailhead on the south side of Lake Powell, though a permit is required from the Navajo Nation. There are several Indian tribes that still live in the area, and they all consider this graceful natural arch to be a sacred place. The National Park Service asks visitors to be respectful of its significance to these people.

2. Window Rock – The administrative center of the Navajo Nation is located adjacent to, and named after, a large pothole in a 200-foot high sandstone cliff. This landmark is preserved in Window Rock Tribal Park, about two miles north of Hwy. 264. Visitors are welcome to drive to the parking lot in front of the arch and view it along with the adjacent memorial to Navajo servicemen. The nearby tribal museum and zoo are also worth a visit. (There are a couple of other arches called Window Rock. One can be easily seen from Navajo Route 59, about 4 miles northwest of Many Farms; and there is a tall narrow arch on the southwest corner of Round Rock Butte that can be seen from a stretch of US Hwy. 191.)

3. Sitting Lizard Arch – This is a natural shelter arch eroded through Navajo sandstone. It’s located about a half mile east of Horsethief Mesa on the Navajo Reservation. A distant view of the arch can be seen from State Highway 98 near mile marker 327. A native guide is required for a closer visit.

4. Triple Pillar Arch – This unique triple pillar arch that eroded through DeChelly sandstone is located near the Ledge Ruins Overlook in Canyon DeChelly National Monument.

5. Angels Window – This natural arch eroded through Kaibab limestone is located at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, at Cape Royal. It can be accessed via a paved park road. There is a popular trail that leads over the top of the arch to a fenced overlook of the canyon.

6. Agate Bridge – Agate Bridge is a 110-foot long petrified log that spans a sandstone arroyo, forming a natural bridge. The fossilized log resisted erosion and remained suspended as the softer rock beneath it washed away. This log was originally called Natural Bridge or Petrified Bridge. In 1917, the Petrified Forest National Monument had a cement beam placed underneath the log to keep it from breaking.

7. Tonto Natural Bridge – Tonto Natural Bridge is considered the largest travertine bridge in the world. The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. It’s located in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, about ten miles north of Payson.

8. Eagle Eye – The Eagle Eye is a natural shelter arch in an outcrop of basalt, which from a distance looks like an eagle’s head and eye. The arch is visible from Hwy. 60 west of Wickenburg. As you approach the town of Aguila (Spanish for eagle), you can see the mountain that gives it its name: Eagle Eye Peak. It’s to the south of town and can’t be missed – the eye of the eagle stares down at the valley below. Eagle Eye Road heading south out of Aguila from Hwy 60 offers beautiful wilderness areas for jeep rides, hiking trails, rockhounding and scenic views. The road runs straight for at least two miles and heads almost directly toward Eagle Eye Peak.

9. Hole in the Rock – A natural shelter arch eroded through sandy conglomerate, Hole in the Rock is a prominent landmark in Papago Park, east of Phoenix.

10. Rocky Arch – The paved Sky Island Parkway goes right past this arch in the Coronado National Forest. It’s a natural fin arch eroded through granite.

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