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Rainbow Bridge via South Trail
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mini location map2011-04-02
60 by photographer avatarRandal_Schulhauser
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Rainbow Bridge via South TrailNortheast, AZ
Northeast, AZ
Backpack avatar Apr 02 2011
Backpack13.18 Miles 2,794 AEG
Backpack13.18 Miles3 Days         
2,794 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
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Rainbow Bridge 2011

I've had this iconic destination on my "wish list" since moving to Arizona in 2003. The fact that this natural bridge wasn't "discovered" until August 1909 only adds to the allure (check out => ... idge.html# ). Organizing a trek to the bridge in present times proves fleeting as attempts in 2009 and 2010 were scheduled and ultimately cancelled. But campfire discussions during last year's treks to Grand Gulch and Chaco led to an agreement that the first weekend in April 2011 would be targeted. I blocked out a 4 day weekend on my calendar and Casa Grande Rob posted the HAZ Event => viewtopic.php?t=4650

The trek began Friday April 1st with my F-150 hitting the road on the back end of morning rush hour traffic. Stopped for a chilli bowl lunch in Flagstaff at the Beaver Street Brewery and purchased a Rail Road Stout growler (check out => ) for some post-hiking consumption. Picked up Larry (aka squatpuke) at a designated rendezvous spot at the east end of Flagstaff. I met Mrs. Squatpuke as we transferred Larry's gear into my F-150 and indicated to her that we'll see her again late Monday.

Stopped along Hwy 89 to check out the Wupatki roadside kachinas and pondered Rainbow Bridge and Navajo Mountain significance to the Hopi. Larry and I checked into our Friday night base camp at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Page AZ and walked to our designated evening gathering spot, The Fiesta Mexicana Family Restaurant at 125 S. Lake Powell Blvd. Our group soon assembles; PageRob, squatpuke, Toad, Clanton and various Page residents (seems that everyone in Page knows each other) at our table on the front patio. Final hiking plans are made with and agreed 5am meet-up Saturday morning at Rob's house.

Alarm rings 4-ish on Saturday morning, check out of our base camp and meet up at Rob's for coffee and truck-pooling. We soon depart from Page following Hwy 98 about 50 miles towards Kayenta. At the intersection of IR16 (aka Navajo Mountain Road), we head north towards Inscription House and Navajo Mountain. I'm surprised that our drive has been confined to paved roads until we reach our IR161 cut-off (about 33 miles from Hwy 98). Our trail notes indicate rodeo grounds with water tank on the west side and signage for "Navajo Mountain School". More confidence we're on the correct dirt track when I spot an IR161 sign. We spot Haystack Rock having traveled about 5 miles and take the dirt track towards Navajo Mountain. There's a well at War God Springs where a local is filling up his tanker truck. He points out the double-track heading towards our TH at Rainbow Lodge ruins. The double track rapidly deteriorates. Rob's Explorer requires a spotter at multiple points to negotiate around tire sidewall slashing and differential smashing rocks. At another split in the double-track, we choose the right split towards a water tank (wrong turn!). We retrace our tracks and get back on course arriving at the Rainbow Lodge ruins and the elusive TH.

Having explored the ruins and posed for a TH group shot, we position those heavy packs on our backs and hit the South Trail (aka Rainbow Lodge Trail). We soon drop into appropriately named "First Canyon" and pop up onto a bench with elevated heart rates. Horse Canyon soon comes into view with a rather insane downward grade (check out photo evidence) to the bottom wash. Having exited Horse Canyon, we drop our packs for some refreshments, snacks, and photo ops.

Back on the trail again across some benches and unnamed washes until we reach Yabut Pass. My jaw drops. The shear wall drop and a trail visible in the bottom canyon leave you scratching your head - How do you get down there?

Arriving at the bottom of Cliff Canyon, I realize this is a toll trail and I've paid with my left hip and knee. Clanton is feeling the same way as we spot some cottonwood trees and begin hearing a cacophony of canyon frogs. That has to be Cliff Canyon Springs just ahead and our designated Camp #1.

As we set up camp, Rob and I share a traditional Cag => My hip and knee make an instant recovery without having a 50lb pack strapped to my back. As the day light wanes, we're treated to a "purple haze" sunset and a continuing cacophony of canyon frogs. The evening camp fire is toasty and comforting as the group discusses changing from "Plan A" to "Plan B" => exit via the Lake Powell water route rather than the South Trail "in-and-out". With that settled and the winds beginning to pick up, time to turn in and call it a night.

Sunday morning we break camp and head downstream towards Redbud Pass. The trail becomes confusing at the confluence of multiple side canyons into a wide basin. We make a minor detour into blind canyon, but soon correct ourselves finding the "Redbud Pass" signage =>

We spot some Basket-Maker vintage rock art on the walls of Redbud Pass. Redbud soon becomes a narrow slot with evidence of the original dynamite blasting from the 1920's. Upon cresting Redbud Pass, it's all downstream from here. We are soon at the confluence of Bridge Canyon and merge with the North Trail (aka Discovery Route named after the 1909 expedition).

As we pass through a gate into the Echo Camp Basin area, I can sense the presence of our main objective nearby - RAINBOW BRIDGE!

"Out of the shade, into the heat. I tramp on through the winding gorge, through the harsh brittle silence. In this arid atmosphere sounds do not fade, echo or die softly but are extinguished suddenly, sharply, without the slightest hint of reverberation. The clash of rock against rock is like a shot - abrupt, exaggerated, toneless.

I round the next bend in the canyon and all at once, quite unexpectedly, there it is, the bridge of stone.

Quite unexpectedly, I write. Why? Certainly I had faith; I knew the bridge would be here, against all odds. And I knew well enough what it would look like - we've all seen the pictures of it a hundred times. Nor am I disappointed in that vague way we often feel, coming at last upon a long-imagined spectacle. Rainbow Bridge seems neither less nor greater than what I had foreseen.

Through God's window into eternity.

Oh well. I climb to the foot of the east buttress and sign for Ralph and myself in the visitor's register. He is the 14,467th and I the next to enter our names in this book since the first white men came to Rainbow Bridge in 1909. Not many, for a period of more than half a century, in the age above all of publicity. But then it's never been an easy journey. Until now..."
- Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire", pp240-241.

Larry, Rob, Toad, and Clanton have made a detour into Echo Camp to set up camp early in the Alcove. I press on, drawn by the magnetic allure of RAINBOW BRIDGE. I can sense it and as I cross the National Monument fence and gate exiting the Rez and rounding the bend, it's there!

Sunday evening camping in the Alcove, we recreate scenes from the 1913 Teddy Roosevelt visit as we roll out our sleeping bags on the metal bed springs that have served campers since that time. Our evening fire heats up the entire Alcove as I fall asleep under the stars.

Monday morning we break camp at dawn, photograph Rainbow Bridge from every possible angle and catch the Tour Boat back to Page AZ => . The Tour Boat shuttle bus takes us to Rob's house where we grab my truck and make the trek back to Rainbow Lodge ruins to retrieve Rob's vehicle =>

Thanks to Rob for pulling this all together. Good to meet Toad, Clanton, and Larry making this a truly memorable adventure! Got to have a redux soon via the "Discovery Route" aka the North Route =>

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