Thursday, December 17, 2015

When Rainbow Bridge was discovered and preserved

                     Rainbow Bridge as seen from the top of Navajo Mountain.
                                                        Photos by Ravell Call

By Lynn Arave
RAINBOW Bridge, a sacred site to the Navajos, is so remote that it wasn't even discovered until Aug. 14, 1909 by government surveyor William B. Douglas -- and he required the help on an Indian Guide to find it.
And, initially a Native American could not be found who had actually seen the Bridge. It required an extensive search all one winter to find an experienced guide, according to the Salt Lake Herald Newspaper of June 3, 1910.
Douglas had tried to failed to reach the Bridge, 309 feet high and 278 feet across,  a year earlier in 1908.
It was less than a year later in the late spring of 1910 that Rainbow Bridge was made a National Monument by Presidential declaration.
A wagon road was not completed into the Navajo Mountain area until 1925, so discovering the Bridge was a real adventure in 1908-1910.
Even today the area is isolated. Rainbow Bridge is located 12 miles northwest of Navajo Mountain, a 10,000-plus-foot-high peak that dominates the landscape. One has to drive into Arizona and then back into Utah to reach the Navajo Mountain Community.
"Hole in the Rock Shaped Liked a Rainbow" was a Navajo name for the sacred arch, believed to be of two beings, male and female, frozen in place. From it comes rainbows, clouds and moisture for the reservation.
Rainbow Bridge was a focal point of debate over the proposed construction of a dam to create Lake Powell in the 1950s. It was argued the backup of water would damage the arch. Initially, some special backwater dams were proposed to protect the arch, but then it was determined they would only damage the feature more than backed up Colorado River water would.
So, the Glen Canyon Dam was built as planned and in June of 1963, waters rose underneath Rainbow Bridge. This also made the Bridge all to accessible by boat, vs. a long, long day hike otherwise. Many insensitive visitors traveled under the arch and even climbed it, despite it Native American sacredness.
Likewise, Navajo Mountain is no longer quite as sacred today, since cell towers sit a top the peak.
-There is also another arch in the area, Talking Rock, in a nearby tributary of Rainbow Canyon, at Echo Canyon, also a sacred Navajo site.


                                         Navajo Mountain from the south.

OTHER SOURCE: "Navajo Places: History, Legend and Landscape," by Laurence D. Linford.


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