This year the TR Center is joining with Valerie Naylor, former superintendent of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to hunt out the TR related collections in parks dedicated by him. "My goal is to get items that are critical but that we haven't seen before," Naylor states. We will post updates of her travels and finds.
Natural Bridges National Monument, in southern Utah’s red rock country, is one of my favorite national park areas, even on a searing June day. I can’t resist the long, rugged vistas, the beautiful colors of rock and sky and the unique sandstone bridge formations. A natural bridge, like a natural arch, is formed by water, but a bridge has or had water running under it. Arches are formed by water in the form of frost and seeping action, but a stream does not flow underneath.
The three magnificent bridges in this beautiful park were given the Hopi names Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo in 1909. The highest and longest is Sipapu, 220 feet high with a 268 foot span. Short trails lead to overlooks of the bridges, and short, strenuous hikes take more curious visitors to the bridges themselves. I don’t recommend taking the hikes when it is over 100 degrees, but I couldn’t resist the shortest of the three, despite the heat. The rugged, long vistas fascinate me.
Utah now hosts 13 units of the National Park System - including well-known parks like Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands and Arches – but Natural Bridges was the first unit of the National Park System set aside in the state. Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed it a national monument on April 16, 1908, making it just large enough to encompass three spectacular sandstone bridges and some land around them. In 1909 President William Howard Taft increased the size of the monument to protect nearby Puebloan structures.
TR’s legacy is alive at Natural Bridges. The monument honors TR’s vision to preserve this and other public lands with an exhibit in the visitor center and a mention in the park brochure. My mission, as always, was to look for items about TR in the park archives, which I did prior to my visit. The Natural Bridges archives, along with those from other Southern Utah parks, are stored in Moab, Utah under the care of Archivist/Curator PeeKay Briggs. The collection yielded several articles and documents to be added to the Theodore Roosevelt Center digital library, and it also yielded questions that will lead me to do additional study. It is unclear whether TR ever visited Natural Bridges, but I plan to find out. I hope he got to see the spectacular place he preserved. I am already planning my next visit.