Sunlight Bridge is a major natural bridge with the colors of sunlight that is located in the midst of spectacular narrows and hidden deep in the Grapevine Mountains. Sunlight Bridge is also the crown jewel of my personal Death Valley explorations and discovery efforts. Difficulties encountered on the hike include figuring out the location of the canyon and bypassing one fairly difficult 40 foot dry fall obstacle that must be overcome in order to reach Sunlight Bridge. Route maps and GPS coordinates are not provided in order to avoid a large amount of increased visitation to this area and to protect fragile formations.
The discovery of Sunlight Bridge became a fairytale ending to my Fall 2013 trip. I'm writing this report over six weeks after it happened, and I'm still stunned at how everything wrapped up so perfectly. To provide some background, I decided to label my November 2013 trip to Death Valley as my Natural Bridges Trip. The reason being that for the past few years, I've really focused on tracking down and documenting all of the major natural bridges within the park. Anyone who is familiar with my reports and my hiking knows how much visiting these bridges means to me. This particular trip was designed to spend a full week documenting the major natural bridges that I had not yet covered. These included the Sidewinder Canyon bridges, Jensen Bridge, and Keane Wonder Bridge. In addition, I made the bold proclamation on my blog that I hoped to discover a brand new previously unknown natural bridge while on the trip. I said this because after spending many hours studying satellite imagery at home, I targeted three areas in the park which I felt had the potential to hold natural bridge formations. The first two that I checked were not natural bridges at all, but just distorted satellite terrain. The third one was a different story. When it came to the third area, which was an undocumented canyon in the Grapevine Mountains, my friend Kauri and I had both researched this area and discussed doing the hike to see what was out there. Due to scheduling conflicts, we would not be able to actually do the hike together. We would need to both do the hike separately on our own family trips which would be taken one month apart. But we agreed that we would share equal credit on any discoveries that were made. We also agreed not to share any information about what was or wasn't found with each other or with the public until we had both taken the hike.
Thus, near the end of my Natural Bridges trip, I set out for a solo hike into an isolated area of the Grapevine Mountains. It was Friday morning, November 15, 2013. After a challenging morning of hiking, I was able to reach the canyon that we were targeting. A short time later, the canyon started to narrow down quickly. The sunlight above the canyon was creating a fiery red and yellow glow on the walls of the narrows. The canyon was already amazing. And then I walked around a corner and was literally stunned beyond belief. In front of me stood one of the most colorful and beautiful major natural bridges that I had ever seen. It's hard to put into words what that moment felt like inside. It was the best moment that I have ever had in Death Valley in all my years of hiking there. I just stood there for several minutes, staring at the new bridge in disbelief. When I finally accepted that I had just co-discovered a brand new major natural bridge, I walked forward to take a closer look. The new bridge was red in color and it was a complete canyon span. It was a very thick bridge that crossed quite high above. The design seemed to contain elements of both Crescent Bridge and Moonlight Bridge, which are also found in the Grapevine Mountains. Yet, the bridge had a unique character all to itself. And the setting of the bridge within the red and yellow canyon narrows was simply spectacular. Beyond the bridge were more beautiful narrows and a side slot which contained the tightest passable narrows I have ever found in the park.
Upon returning home, I spent six weeks thinking up potential names for Death Valley's newest natural bridge. I wanted the name to include something related to both the bridge itself and the area that it was found in. My list of possibilities ended up having about 30 names on it. I was able to narrow that down to my 5 favorites. I then passed the list on to Kauri, who had also accomplished the hike and found the bridge, and asked her to make the final decision on which name to choose. She liked all of the names but chose her favorite, which turned out to be Sunlight Bridge. Sunlight Bridge is a very fitting name for several reasons. First, the sunlight which shines into the canyon and onto the bridge creates an amazing setting around the bridge. Second, the name provides a connection to Moonlight Bridge (Moonlight & Sunlight). While Moonlight Bridge is pale in color just like the moon, Sunlight Bridge is bright in color just like the sun. We hope that you like the name that we have chosen as much as we do. We are leaving the location of Sunlight Canyon unpublished at this time. Reaching Sunlight Bridge requires the bypass of a fairly challenging 40 foot dry fall. The bypass itself is a difficult undertaking. Thus, in the interest of visitor safety, experienced hikers will need to figure out where Sunlight Canyon is on their own. It's somewhere in the Grapevine Mountains, but it is a lot more challenging to find than Tunnel Bridge or Crescent Bridge. For those who can find it, Sunlight Bridge is best visited in the late morning or early afternoon when the sun has the most impact. And that brings to an end the report on my biggest lifetime discovery in Death Valley, which is a great honor to share along with Kauri and her family. It had been my dream to find a new natural bridge in the park and that dream came true. To read Kauri's account of discovering Sunlight Bridge, click here. On November 19, 2017, I returned to Sunlight Canyon and Sunlight Bridge for the first time in four years to show Death Valley Superintendent Mike Reynolds our discovery. Click here to watch a video of Sunlight Canyon that I filmed on that day.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT