The central region reaches from Lake Powell and the Colorado River on the west to the Colorado state border on the east. Attractions here include the Abajo Mountains, Fry Canyon, Hite Marina at Lake Powell, Natural Bridges National Monument, Dark Canyon and Grand Gulch Primitive areas, and more. Base your lodging from Blanding or on the edges with Bluff and Monticello. This is an excellent area for canyon exploration (canyoneering), hiking, photography, viewing Ancient Puebloan dwellings, petroglyphs, and more.
Natural Bridges National Monument is located about 45 minutes from Blanding, Utah. The monument is best known for its three natural bridges, Kachina, Owachomo, and the largest, Sipapu, which is also the second largest natural bridge in the world. The bridge names come from the Hopi tribe, which once dominated the region. Sipapu, for example, is the Hopi word for the gateway which souls pass through to the spirit world, and Kachina is named for traditional Hopi spirit dancers. Owachomo Bridge is defined by a rock formation at one end, and aptly named with the Hopi word for 'rock mound.'
Natural Bridges National Monument is located on a tree-covered mesa surrounded by white canyons. A great way to explore the monument is by driving the nine-mile scenic loop which leads to overlooks for all three bridges. A short walking trail at each scenic stop leads to the viewing points.
To get the most from any visit to Natural Bridges National Monument, moderate trails (all under 1.5 miles roundtrip) lead to the base of each bridge. Owachomo Trail is the shortest, about a half-mile roundtrip with some rocky steps. The trail to Sipapu Bridge is steep and rocky but there are stairs and wooden ladders to aid hikers. There is a ledge about halfway down the trail that offers an excellent view of Sipapu. Kachina is the “youngest” bridge with a relatively small opening compared to Sipapu and Owachomo. In 1992, about 4,000 tons of rock fell from Kachina, as evidenced by a huge pile of boulders near the bridge’s base.
Other trails in Natural Bridges National Monument are the Loop Trail, which passes all three bridges, and Horsecollar Ruin Overlook Trail, a fairly level trail that crosses the mesa to the edge of White Canyon. The overlook features a view of an ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling.
Dark Sky Program
Home to some of the darkest skies in the country, in 2007 Natural Bridges became the world's first 'International Dark Sky Park' certified by the International Dark Sky Association. Natural Bridges has made protecting its dark sky a priority so that in some areas, it's possible to see up to 15,000 stars throughout the night. In contrast, fewer than 500 stars may be visible from more urban environments.
Astronomy programs are held at dusk in front of the visitor center Wednesday & Thursday nights, May- October. Visitors are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket to sit on. Please contact the park before your visit to verify times and dates.
A natural bridge is formed primarily by water erosion. Water shapes the streambeds at the base of the canyons, eventually eroding enough of the canyon walls so that it flows beneath it to create a natural bridge. Evidence shows that at least two more natural bridges once existed here. The bridges in Natural Bridges National Monument are carved from Cedar Mesa white sandstone, remnants of ancient sand dunes from the Permian period, around 250 million years ago. Nearby White Canyon also gets its name from the white Cedar Mesa sandstone.
Natural Bridges National Monument’s elevation ranges from 5,500 feet to 6,500 feet. Flora throughout much of the park is typical of the high-desert vegetation found throughout much of southern Utah, although willow and cottonwood trees flourish near the streams along the canyon floor. Off-road vehicles are heavily restricted within the monument boundaries, allowing much of the native vegetation and cryptobiotic soils to thrive.
Natural Bridges National Monument services include a visitor center with ranger-guided walks and interpretive programs. A 13-site campground is available on a first-come basis. The monument is open daily year-round. The visitor center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Mexican Hat, Bluff, Blanding, and Monticello offer convenient access to the monument, as well as gas, food, and lodging. Head north on Highway 261 to Highway 95 from Mexican Hat. Head north on US Highway 191 from Bluff, or head south on US Highway 191 to reach the monument from Monticello or Blanding. Stay on Highway 95 for about 30 miles and turn right onto Highway 275. The entrance to Natural Bridges National Monument is at the end of Highway 275.
Natural Bridges: http://www.nps.gov/nabr/index.htm
The Abajo Mountains, also known as the Blue Mountains, are a small mountain range located west of Monticello and north of Blanding. Although “Abajo” means low in Spanish, the range peaks at 11,362 feet at Abajo Peak. Scenic drives lead through the pleasant mountain scenery, climbing out of the red rock desert and into the aspen- and fir-timbered peaks. The Abajo Loop crosses the mountain range, peaking around 9,000 feet and ending on the north side of the range near SR-211 near Canyonlands National Park. South Creek Road, a spur road on the Abjao Loop, continues to the top of Abajo Peak for views of Canyonlands National Park and southeastern Utah. The Elk Ridge Road Scenic Backway (FR-079) near Natural Bridges National Monument climbs over 8,700 feet in elevation onto Elk Ridge, and through the Bear’s Ears formations. The Trail of the Ancients, a sub-alpine mountain biking trail, begins near Bear’s Ear Pass and follows along Elk Ridge. Rich in Anasazi history, ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs can be found throughout the Abajo Mountains, particularly at the secluded Arch Canyon. Anglers seeking alpine solitude will find a few small lakes such as Loyd’s, Foy, and Monticello lakes with decent trout fishing. The remote and primitive Dark Canyon Wilderness Area is located nearby.
Elevation: 6,000 feet (1,830 meters)
Blanding, 'Base Camp to Adventure,' is the gateway to the Trail of the Ancients. The trail encompasses Natural Bridges and Hovenweep National Monuments, Goosenecks State Park, and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding displays ancient Puebloan artifacts and maintains an accessible ruin.
At The Dinosaur Museum, you can look into the distant past as you move among life-size realistic dinosaur models, fossils, and skeletons. Stand by a tree trunk that is 275 million years old, or stroll through the History Hall of Hollywood Dinosaurs. The Nations of the Four Corners Cultural Center features home sites typical of the area's historic cultures: a Navajo hogan (ho'gone), Ute tepee, small Hispanic hacienda, and pioneer log cabin.
Popular day tours include the Trail of the Ancients, Edge of the Cedars State Park, Natural Bridges and Hovenweep National Monuments, Grand Gulch Primitive Area, Goosenecks State Park, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Glen Canyon Recreation Area/Lake Powell, and the Charles Hall Ferry, crossing Lake Powell on a regular schedule. Full services.
At an elevation of 6,036 feet, Blanding is twenty-one miles south of Monticello on US 191, and is the largest and youngest community in the county. Blanding's goal is to become the service center for southeastern Utah. The community is surrounded by wheat fields and pasture, with easy access to mountain recreation.
Utah State University- Blanding Campus, a branch of Utah State University in Logan, is located in Blanding and offers Associates, Bachelors, and Masters Degrees. The San Juan Foundation, the Four Corners Heritage Council, and the San Juan Heritage Council are also headquartered in Blanding.
Blanding supports a public swimming pool, a library, public parks, and a lighted sports field. Edge of the Cedars State Park is located in Blanding and houses an extensive collection of ancient Pueblo artifacts. Blanding is also home to The Dinosaur Museum, run by paleontologist Stephen Czerkas.
Blanding's estimated 2000 population was 3600. Water, sewer, garbage collection, and electric service are provided within the city limits, and Blanding provides volunteer fire protection.
Blanding Municipal Airport, Located south of Blanding on US 191, this airport maintains a 6000-foot paved runway, a beacon, medium intensity runway lights and hangars, No repair or maintenance facility. Lo Lead and Jet A fuels are available.
Radio Frequency: 122.8
Elevation: 3,700 feet (1,250 meters)
Halls Crossing and Hite, two of the five marinas on the lake, are in San Juan County; and all furnish fuel, fishing gear, groceries, general merchandise, boat rentals, water toys, and tours.
Although there are few marked trails, the sandstone cliffs and canyons invite short hikes. Boat tours to Rainbow Bridge National Monument leave daily from Halls Crossing Marina. For a bird's eye view, scenic flights are available at the Cal Black Memorial Airport, also at Halls Crossing. Campgrounds are operated by both the National Park Service and the concessionaire.
Fry Canyon, forty miles southeast of Hite Marina on Utah Highway 95, was once a busy hub of uranium mining.
Popular day tours include the Maze District of Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks, Goblin Valley State Park, the Burr Trail, the Henry Mountains, and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The Charles Hall Ferry crosses daily between Halls Crossing and Bullfrog Marinas on a regular schedule. The ferry accommodates large motorhomes. Full services.
Calvin Black Memorial Airport
Located on Utah 276, ten miles from Halls Crossing Marina on Lake Powell, this airport maintains a 5700-foot paved runway, a beacon, low/medium or high intensity runway lights, and a shuttle to the marina. The terminal building is staffed 24 hours a day by fixed base operator. There are twenty tie downs but no hangar facility. Lo Lead, Jet A, and automobile fuels are available. The airport is solar powered.
Radio Frequency: 123.0
In the southeast corner of Utah, Lake Powell sparkles like a jewel in the heart of canyon country. The lake is an oasis of relaxation and adventure for millions of annual visitors seeking world-class fishing, boating, water sports, beaches, canyons, and scenery. Nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline surrounds the 186-mile lake, the second largest man-made reservoir in the U.S. The lake was created in 1963 as part of the Glen Canyon Dam project, and is named for John Wesley Powell who led significant expeditions in the region during the 1860s.
Lake Powell sits at an elevation 3,700 feet and is surrounded by a dramatic backdrop of deep sandstone walls. The best way to see Lake Powell is from the water, whether taking a boat tour to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, exploring the intriguing lake canyons by sea kayak, renting a houseboat, or launching a private boat to fish for bass, crappie, and bluegill. Six marinas around the lake give access to Lake Powell.
At the northernmost end of the lake Hite Marina, accessible via Highway 95, offers limited services: a gas station, convenience store, restrooms, dump station, and primitive campground. Water levels are typically low so boat launching isn’t recommended, but the remote marina appeals to anglers. During high water, Hite offers boat access into Canyonlands and Cataract Canyon. River rafting down Cataract Canyon from Moab to Hite is a popular and thrilling adventure. Hite Crossing Bridge is the only bridge that spans Lake Powell. The two-lane bridge signifies the lake’s upstream limit and continues Highway 95 toward Blanding.
Even more services are available at Halls Crossing, at the end of Highway 276. The marina has a boat launch, gas station, grocery store, campground, beach access, and regularly scheduled ferry service on the John Atlantic Burr Ferry Line. The ferry provides service to Bullfrog Marina where passengers can continue on Highway 276. Halls Crossing is named for Charles Hall, who built the ferry used by Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers in 1880. Now 35 miles upstream from its original location, Halls Crossing also offers daily sightseeing tours to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the world’s largest known natural bridge.
Halls Crossing can be reached by taking Highway 276 from the intersection of Highway 95 near Natural Bridges National Monument. For more amenities, towns along Highway 95 such as Blanding, Bluff, and Monticello offer lodging, dining, shopping, and other services.
If it's difficult to imagine Rainbow Bridge's scale - 290 feet high and spanning 275 feet across - picture this: the U.S. Capitol building would fit beneath it. Rainbow Bridge is 42 feet wide and 33 feet thick at the top of the arch. More than 300,000 people around the world visit the monument each year, but Rainbow Bridge holds an especially sacred place in local Native American culture. Ancient Puebloans named the bridge Nonnezoshe, which means “rainbow turned to stone.” While it's possible to hike several hours to Rainbow Bridge through Navajo lands (permit required), most visitors arrive by ferry. The boat ride to Rainbow Bridge takes about two hours from Hall's Crossing, followed by a 1.25-mile hike from the Bridge Canyon wharf.
Although located in the Navajo Nation, Rainbow Bridge National Monument is administered by the National Park Service-Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Navajo Mountain Access:
Permits obtained from Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation
Lake Powell Access by boat:
Tours leave regularly from Halls Crossing Marina and other marinas.
Elevation: 6,000 feet (1,830 meters)
In the book, A History of San Juan County, In the Palm of Time, Robert McPherson says, 'The Ute and Paiute experience between 1880 and 1933 was traumatic.'
'Squeezed in a vice of farming communities, livestock operations, and an inadequate reservation, the people had no choice but to give up their hunting-gathering way of life.' They fought to keep their ancient lifestyle, but lost their land, and '...their way of life melted away in the crucible of the twentieth century.'
This small Ute community is governed by the White Mesa Ute Council, roughly akin to a city council form of government. Gasoline and fast food available. No lodging.
White Mesa is located on the White Mesa Ute Reservation about thirteen miles south of Blanding on US 191. At 6200 feet elevation, White Mesa provides water to its residents. Its estimated 2000 population was 375.
The White Mesa Ute Reservation is a sub-agency of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, which is headquartered some 100 miles to the east in Towaoc, Colorado.