Oldest stone bridge at Natural Bridges
Natural Bridges National Monument derives its name from three massive stone bridges that span the canyon systems within the monument. Two of these, Sipapu and Kachina, require some effort to hike to, requiring slickrock descents and questionable ladders. The third bridge, Owachomo, is a study in contrasts with the first two. While Sipapu and Kachina both span active stream courses, Owachomo spans a small side canyon that drains into Armstrong Canyon. While Sipapu and Kachina are both massive, thick bridges, Owachomo is light, almost seeming to defy gravity with its thin slice of stone suspended in air. And while Sipapu and Kachina both are moderate hikes, the trip to Owachomo is a much simpler affair.
The trail for Owachomo starts at the Owachomo Overlook, which is the last paved parking lot on the Bridge View Loop Road in the monument. Take a moment to look down from the paved overlook, and see how insubstantial the bridge looks. Yet the bridge soars over a hundred feet over the side canyon, and spans 180 feet. Its delicacy comes from its width, which is only 27 feet, and its thickness, which is a remarkably thin 9 feet! After looking down on your objective, backtrack a few feet to the main trail and begin your descent.
While the trail to the overlook is paved, the trail down to the bridge itself is of natural materials. It mainly crosses bare sandstone of the Permian-era Cedar Mesa Formation. In some places, where the rock was not cooperative enough to provide a consistent slope down to the bridge, steps have been carved into the rock. In other places these steps are formed from separate rock blocks. The trail winds gently but generally continues straight towards the western abutment of the bridge. From there, it is one last stone staircase and you are on the bed of the sidecanyon. To your left is an overhang and a seep - during the summer monsoons this can be a small waterfall. To your right arches the opening to Owachomo Bridge.
Owachomo is a Hopi word meaning "rock mound" and it refers to the formation that can be seen on the top of the bridge on its eastern edge. Before being called Owachomo in 1908, this smallest of bridges at Natural Bridges was known as "Edwin" or "Little" bridge. Fitting? Even earlier in the history of the area, it was called "Congressman" by Cass Hite, a prospector in the area, who later went on down White Canyon to found the town of Hite. This town is now under Lake Powell, but a marina on the lake still bears the name, and is not far from Natural Bridges.
After Natural Bridges was declared a monument, but well before the paved loop road, solar facility, and state-of-the-art visitor's center, the intrepid visitor had to be more willing to make the trip an adventure. A dirt road led into the monument from the south, stopping on the other side of Armstrong Canyon from Owachomo. There the old campground and visitor's center was located, on the rim. If visitors wished to see the bridges or ruins, they had to strike out on horseback or foot. The first superintendent of the monument, "Zeke" Johnson constructed a trail from the rim to the bottom of Armstrong Canyon, where the tourists could begin their trek. This trail can still be seen, relatively intact, across the canyon, snaking to the bottom, from the opening of Owachomo. If Armstrong Creek isn't flowing, or not flowing very strong, you can cross the canyon to explore. Otherwise bask in the amazing sight of Owachomo Bridge hanging over your head, explore a bit up or down canyon, or simply relax before turning back and making your way back to the car by the way you came.
There is no water on this trail, except at the seep, and the flow there is irregular and marginal at best. Fill up your water bottles at the Visitor's Center before beginning this hike.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.