FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — No road leads up to or over Rainbow Bridge, about eight miles north of the Arizona state line, and no hands built it.
The reddish sandstone of the Colorado Plateau was washed by the forces of water, sculpting a natural arch that takes hours to reach whether by boat, foot or horse.
The isolation of the bridge in far southern Utah kept it secret from many outside the area. But its proclamation as a national monument 100 years ago Sunday opened it up to visitors to explore its beauty and learn about its geological and human history.
“Celebrating that monument status is special in many regards, and I invite visitors to try and just grasp some idea of what the American West will be like in 100 years,” said Chuck Smith, an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service and the monument’s only full-time worker.
The majority of the 90,000 visitors take the easy route, by boat from Page, Ariz., which upon arrival requires a short hike. The 50-mile water trip across Lake Powell, made possible by the creation of Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s, gives way to views of cathedral-like canyons and geologic formations that are hundreds of millions of years old.
The hiking trails remain rough to this day. President William Taft would proclaim it a national monument on May 30, 1910, saying it “is of great scientific interest as an example of eccentric stream erosion.”
Though expansions were proposed over the years, the monument keeps its original 160-acre boundary. Smith carries a photo of people standing atop the bridge, when that was allowed, to give visitors an idea of the scale of the towering arch, which measures 291 feet tall and 275 feet across.