OVERVIEW OF DEATH VALLEY'S NATURAL BRIDGES
Natural bridges are one of the most rare and special features found in the canyons of Death Valley National Park. They have a spectacular beauty that draws hikers, photographers, and artists to come and visit them. While many of the arches and natural bridges in Utah are made of sandstone, Death Valley's arches and natural bridges are often made of conglomerate rock. Of the seventeen major natural bridges that have been discovered as of 2016 in Death Valley, all but one of them are made of conglomerate rock. The other one is made of solid rock. 9 of the 17 major natural bridges in Death Valley (or over 1/2 of them) were discovered between the years of 2010-2016. Keep in mind that when used anywhere on this page, the term "discovered" simply means that the natural bridge was documented publicly for the first time by the person listed. It doesn't mean that the person claims to be the first person to ever come across the bridge in ancient or modern times. But for reference purposes, it seems appropriate to list the first person to document a natural bridge as the discoverer or co-discoverer.
Many wonder what the difference is between a natural arch and a natural bridge. Usually natural bridges are much larger and they are always found in the middle of canyons, connecting one side of a canyon wall to the other. The flow of water during storms often passes underneath a natural bridge as it flows down a canyon. With arches (such as Grand View Arch), they are formations often found on hillsides or up on canyon walls. There is also a difference between minor natural bridges and major natural bridges. Minor natural bridges are smaller in size and not usually considered a hiking destination all by themselves. An example of a minor natural bridge is shown to the right (found in Sidewinder Canyon Slot #3). Major natural bridges are very distinct and considered important discoveries that a hiker would be willing to spend an entire day hiking to in order to visit. This special report page on Death Valley's Natural Bridges focuses in on the known major natural bridges of the park, not the ones considered minor in nature. Another aspect of Death Valley's natural bridges is that there is secrecy surrounding some of them. The locations at times are not published in order to protect them from increased visitation which can cause erosion and other types of harm. Yet, with effort out exploring and studying of our hiking reports along with satellite imagery, long time Death Valley hikers should be able to figure out how to find all of the major natural bridges. We would appreciate it if you would assist us and NPS staff members by not publishing the exact locations within your own reports. The major natural bridges with currently unpublished locations include Keane Wonder Bridge, Hidden Bridge, Crescent Bridge, Sunlight Bridge, and others.
When it comes to major natural bridges, they usually take two forms. The first type can be called a "canyon span" and stretches all the way from one canyon wall to the other canyon wall on the opposite side. It is usually possible to walk underneath the canyon span and get photographs of the natural bridge from both sides and below it. The second type can be called an "angled column" with one side starting up on the canyon wall and then curving down towards the canyon wash, forming a sort of angled column to walk under. Sometimes false natural bridges are formed when very large boulders from hillsides break loose and roll down either partially into a canyon or above it, forming a sort of roof to walk under. At times, it can be difficult to distinguish a false natural bridge from a real natural bridge. Take the photograph on the left for instance. This formation can be found in the main side canyon of Corkscrew Canyon. It is labeled as a false natural bridge, but it was once thought to be a genuine natural bridge. If you take a look at the photograph, it shows what used to be called "Corkscrew Bridge". However, further study revealed that the supposed bridge is simply a collapsed section of the canyon wall which happened to fall against the wall on the other side. The pictures below show a front and back view of the minor natural bridge (or perhaps false natural bridge) known as Badlands Bridge. It can be found in the circular badlands area (which I named The Cauldron) located between the mouth of Fall Canyon and the mouth of Palmer Canyon. Be sure to visit this minor natural bridge if you hike those canyons. Our first visit to see this minor bridge was on November 19, 2009 and we have stopped by several times since then.
The picture below was added as an example of the difference between a natural bridge and an arch. Seen here is Grand View Arch. This large arch resembles a natural bridge, but is found way up on a hillside. The canyon floor is far below. Because Grand View Arch is a stand-alone feature high above a canyon, it was designated as an arch.
DEATH VALLEY'S 17 MAJOR NATURAL BRIDGES
Natural Bridge (Black Mountains) -- We start out with the most famous natural bridge in the park which is a heavily visited tourist destination. Natural Bridge has the distinction of being the largest (by volume) natural bridge in the park. It is only a short walk of about 1/3 of a mile to reach it. Natural Bridge is often crowded with tourists and visitors may have to wait around for a while if they want a picture of the bridge by itself.
Little Bridge (Tucki Mountain) -- Little Bridge is probably the second most well known natural bridge in the park. It sees a fair amount of hikers as the starting point is close to Stovepipe Wells and the distance is a little less than 3 1/2 miles one-way. The views and canyon scenery make the hike to Little Bridge very enjoyable and worth the effort, as long as hikers are good with maps and directions.
Jensen Bridge (Funeral Mountains) -- Jensen Bridge is one of the easiest natural bridges to hike out to and it is quite unique in comparison to other bridges because it crosses above a dry fall. It was fairly unknown until 2013, when it received more attention due to being included in my database of natural bridges. Jensen Bridge is located in the midst of Mummy Canyon, a small canyon located close to the eastern park entrance near Pyramid Peak.
Sidewinder Slot #1 Bridge (Black Mountains) -- Sidewinder Slot #1 Bridge has to be the most difficult to photograph and truly appreciate. It towers above the first official slot in Sidewinder Canyon, being located about halfway through the passable slot just before the canyon gets very dark. The front and bottom parts of this canyon span are visible from below, but the backside is hidden in the midst of chaotic canyon walls.
Sidewinder Slot #2 Bridge (Black Mountains) -- Sidewinder Slot #2 Bridge is perhaps the most visually impressive of the three Sidewinder Canyon major natural bridges. Being located deep in the slot and above multiple challenging climbing sections, it is somewhat hard to visit. There are several different spots which are near and around the angled column of the bridge that make for great photo-taking opportunities.
Sidewinder Slot #3 Bridge (Black Mountains) -- A water channel that is no longer in use and is now filling up with sediment wraps around Sidewinder Slot #3 Bridge. This natural bridge has a door-like opening to walk through, with the bottom of the bridge being just above head level. The bridge itself has great height and is difficult to fully photograph in one frame due to its location within a very narrow slot.
Keane Wonder Bridge (Funeral Mountains) -- Keane Wonder Bridge is located in perhaps the most scenic area of all the Funeral Mountains. The most striking aspects of the bridge are its beautiful color and nearly perfect rectangular shape. At this time, visitation to Keane Wonder Bridge is not permitted because the Keane Wonder Mine area is closed due to safety hazards. Once it reopens, I will share more details in a full report on the area.
Hidden Bridge (Cottonwood Mountains) -- Hidden Bridge was discovered by a geologist in the 1990's. It is the most spectacular natural bridge in the park and the only one which is made of solid rock. It is one of the harder bridges to reach, requiring clue solving to find the location and a 10 mile hike one-way across some harsh desert terrain. Bypassing the dry fall behind Hidden Bridge leads into one of the best narrow canyons in the park.
Tunnel Bridge (Grapevine Mountains) -- Tunnel Bridge was the 9th major natural bridge to be documented in Death Valley. Credit for the discovery goes to myself, Charlie, and Alan when we first documented it on March 13, 2010. Tunnel Bridge was so-named because it is the longest bridge to pass under, which makes it feel like walking through a tunnel. White Slickenside, the largest slickenside in the park, can be found farther up canyon. This discovery sparked the search for additional major natural bridges carried out by hikers during the next decade.
Crescent Bridge (Grapevine Mountains) -- Crescent Bridge was the 10th major natural bridge discovered in Death Valley. It was discovered by a hiker named Robbie in April of 2011. Crescent Bridge is quite spectacular and the most stunning bridge to walk through. The spirals on the walls can make a hiker dizzy. Crescent Bridge is set in the midst of beautiful narrows and is one of five natural bridges to have an unpublished location.
Tucki Bridge (Tucki Mountain) -- Tucki Bridge became the 11th major natural bridge discovered in Death Valley when it was found by two canyoneers named Rick and Abby in November of 2012. Reaching Tucki Bridge requires the most difficult and challenging hike of all the natural bridges, thus greatly limiting access. There is an amazing view of the bridge from above the canyon and the narrows in route to the bridge are breathtaking.
Moonlight Bridge (Grapevine Mountains) -- Moonlight Bridge was the 12th major natural bridge discovered in Death Valley. It was discovered by a hiker named Kauri in April of 2013. Moonlight Bridge is located in a side canyon of Moonlight Canyon and holds the distinction of being the tallest natural bridge in the park at an estimated 60 feet in height. Standing underneath it really makes a hiker feel small.
Sunlight Bridge (Grapevine Mountains) -- Sunlight Bridge was the 13th major natural bridge discovered in Death Valley. It was discovered by myself and Kauri on November 15, 2013. We chose the name Sunlight Bridge due to the stunning effect that sunlight has on the deep red and burnt orange colored rock of the natural bridge. Sunlight Bridge is set in the midst of amazing canyon narrows with dramatic lighting. The co-discovery of Sunlight Bridge has been one of my biggest accomplishments in the park.
Turret Bridge (Grapevine Mountains) -- Turret Bridge has been confirmed as the 14th major natural bridge to be discovered in Death Valley. Kauri discovered this beautiful natural bridge on December 26, 2014. She named it Turret Bridge because the setting around the bridge reminded her of a castle formation. Turret Bridge is located close to a number of spectacular canyons, including Little Arches Canyon, Palmer Canyon, and the short slots of the colorful badlands known as The Cauldron.
Crown Bridge (Funeral Mountains) -- Crown Bridge was discovered by Kauri on December 29, 2014, a mere three days after she discovered Turret Bridge. This despite the two natural bridges being located in completely different mountain ranges. As the 15th confirmed major natural bridge, Crown Bridge is a fragile formation that was created by the flow of water down a steep hillside drainage located in the Funeral Slot Canyon general area.
Double Bridge (Funeral Mountains) -- Double Bridge became the 16th major natural bridge to be confirmed in Death Valley. It was discovered by myself and Tobin on January 1, 2016. Double Bridge holds the distinction of being the only double natural bridge which has ever been found in the park. The right side bridge is about four feet tall and the left side bridge is about seven feet tall. The two bridges are connected by a shared middle column. Directly behind Double Bridge is a beautiful slot canyon with a pitch black area called the Dark Spot.
Cavern Bridge (Black Mountains) -- Cavern Bridge became the 17th and most recent major natural bridge to be documented in Death Valley. I discovered this bridge while carrying out a very challenging hike on November 24, 2016. Cavern Bridge is located deep within a section of slot narrows which is pitch black inside. Above the bridge is a cavern-like area where the slot canyon expands, thus the name Cavern Bridge. This natural bridge would be impossible to spot without a flashlight and the eerie darkness makes photographing it quite challenging.
NATURAL TUNNELS AND NATURAL WINDOWS
In addition to major natural bridges, minor natural bridges, and natural arches, there are other formations created by erosion and the power of water and wind. Two of these formations are natural tunnels and natural windows. Death Valley has both natural tunnels and natural windows. Natural windows are essentially arches located on the top of hillsides which allow you to see directly through them to the other side. The Eye of the Needle in Echo Canyon is one example of a well-known natural window in the park Natural tunnels could also be called "drainage holes" or "erosional holes", as they allow for water to flow down small hillside drainages or blocked-up areas of terrain through underground channels that resemble small tunnels. Most all of these natural tunnels as found within the park are not large enough to crawl through. An exception to this is Oriel Tunnel located in the Funeral Slot Canyon general area of the Funeral Mountains. Oriel Tunnel has an opening that is approximately 10 feet high at the front, a distance through it of about 50 feet in length (which includes a major bend), and a back opening which is about 5 feet high. I was able to walk and crawl all the way through Oriel Tunnel to the other side. However, this is not something that I am recommending due to the potential of collapse. I wasn't thinking about it at the time, but upon further reflection, the safety and structural integrity of any natural tunnel is completely unknown. Please keep yourself safe and do not try to enter or pass through Oriel Tunnel. The next six pictures show various views of Oriel Tunnel while I explored it. Credit for the discovery of Oriel Tunnel goes to myself and Kauri. Kauri first spotted the formation, while I was the first person to explore it and determine that it was a natural tunnel. We named the formation Oriel Tunnel because the word oriel can be defined as "a large upper-story bay window projecting from the face of a wall, typically supported from the ground or by corbels". And that's exactly what the entrance to Oriel Tunnel looks like from below. In particular, a medieval oriel.
THE SEARCH FOR MAJOR NATURAL BRIDGES
Natural bridges are fragile formations that can be eroded by careless hikers and those seeking thrill photos. Please show respect for the beautiful natural bridges of Death Valley by not touching them or attempting to stand on top of them, which can be very dangerous anyway. Natural bridges can collapse without warning and cause serious injury or death to somebody attempting to scramble on top of one. Enjoy them from a safe distance and help protect these park treasures for future generations of visitors. And do not cause damage in any way to the canyon walls or dry falls near the natural bridges. If you want to get past a dry fall located below or behind a natural bridge, don't damage the dry fall, but exit the canyon and look for a way to get up onto the hillside and then drop back into the canyon behind the bridge.
For those of you who love and appreciate the major natural bridges as much as I do, keep in mind that there are likely more to discover within the park. Dozens of major canyons and hundreds of side canyons remain undocumented and potentially unexplored in Death Valley. So there is a high likelihood that more natural bridges will be discovered in the years to come. Will you be the person who makes the discovery? You just might be if you get out there and explore Death Valley National Park. Before you do, make sure that you understand desert hiking, have the proper experience, and can safely handle the challenges presented in carrying out a search effort. Please contact me if you discover a major natural bridge in the park or know of any that are not listed here. It is my goal to keep this database current and complete as I continue to search for more natural bridges in Death Valley. The pictures below show a failed 2014 search that I carried out.