Although the trail to Kachina Bridge
is slightly longer than the one to Sipapu Bridge
, it is less steep and feels less taxing. Kachina Bridge
presides over the confluence of White Canyon and Armstrong Canyon. It is considered the geologically "youngest" of the three bridges in the National Monument because less erosion has chipped away at the span leaving it thicker than the others. The bridge is named for the Kachina dancers that play a central role in Hopi religious tradition.
From the parking area, briefly follow the paved Kachina Bridge Overlook Trail
before taking a left onto the natural Kachina Bridge Trail. Descend some slickrock sections with the aid of handrails and the friction of your shoes. Then follow steps cut into the rock and a series of many, many stone steps engineered into stairway-like precision. After more switchbacks, you arrive at a junction with the Kachina to Owachomo Trail. This is the long, inner-canyon "loop" trail that visits all three bridges in the monument. Staying right to continue along the Kachina Bridge Trail, traverse another bench near a pour-over and drop into the wash at the bottom of the canyon using a log ladder.
From here, follow the cairns along the stream to the surprisingly thick Kachina Bridge
. The bridge spans White Canyon where it joins Armstrong Canyon. The steep canyon walls often provide welcome shade here in this peaceful grotto. A great deal of impressive rock art can be found under the right-hand side of the arch above a small ledge and also further under the bridge. Both pictographs (painted images) and petroglyphs (scratched images) are visible, showing dancing figures, animals, symbols and hand prints.
Budget enough time to laze around in this sandy oasis, making up stories about what the petroglyphs mean, having a snack, or taking a nap. On your return trip, be sure to stay to the left as you pass back under the bridge, that way you retrace your steps back up Armstrong Canyon (instead of heading right down White Canyon and out of the park). Take breaks on the steep ascent and, as always, bring adequate water and sun protection.
As the park's brochures and info boards explain, natural bridges are created differently than arches. Bridges are formed by and span streams of flowing water. Arches are formed by weather-powered erosion or pounding waves.
Cottonwoods line the bottom of these impressive canyons.