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The site of the current 13th-largest natural bridge in the world happens to be located in Utah. Natural Bridges National Monument was officially declared a National Monument in 1908 by President Roosevelt after a National Geographic expedition shared pictures in its magazine. In those days, there were no roads, and the only way in and out was on horseback, which took three or four days. A road was finally created in the mid-1970s, and only then did the outdoor recreation begin to grow. Archeologists have found evidence of ancient settlements that date back to at least 7500 BCE. There are rock art and petroglyphs in various spots around the park.
Though there are a handful of small towns dotting the perimeter of the park, Blanding, has the most options in terms of shopping, dining, and attractions. It also has a small health clinic that provides emergency health care. The quiet community of around 4,000 residents made the news in 2009 when the FBI arrested 16 residents for illegally selling artifacts and fossils, which violated the Archeological Resources Act.
Natural Bridges National Monument is home to three natural bridges: kachina, owachomo, and sipapu. All three can be viewed from the scenic byway loop, but most visitors don’t drive hours just to look at them from their car. Instead, embark on one of the trails, which totals around 25 miles. In addition to enjoying these unique geological wonders, hikers are treated to the raw beauty of the Utah desert. The red crumbling soil of Utah is dotted by native desert plants like yucca, rabbitbrush, and sage. In nooks, crannies, and shaded areas where water might collect, thirsty plants like juniper, willows, and Indian paintbrushes cluster.
Due to the extreme heat and arid conditions, the high desert often appears to be barren of wildlife. Here, animals have adapted to these conditions by becoming largely nocturnal. On a full moon night, visitors can expect to see deer and rabbits running through the area. Predator animals like mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes are common, too, but they tend to be harder to find. Bird lovers will enjoy searching this park for one of the 200 avian species that fly, soar, or flit about, including golden eagles, turkey vultures, and northern pygmy owls.
Natural Bridges National Monument was the first park in the United States to be declared an International Dark Sky Park. Due to its remote location and minimal humidity, the night sky is extremely clear, and stars and other celestial objects are easy to discern with the naked eye or a telescope. During the summer months, the rangers lead a skywatching program most weekends to aid beginners with locating constellations, planets, and the milky way.
When you are far away from the closest hotel, it makes good sense to rent a camper and stay somewhere closer to Natural Bridges National Monument. This way, it’s easier to get up in the morning to watch a sunrise over one of the arches or to enjoy the night sky. Natural Bridges National Monument RV campground is a small facility with only 13 sites. There are no hookups, though there is a vault toilet. Most sites have juniper trees that act as a screen, blocking views of the neighboring RV sites. Each site is accompanied by a fire grill and picnic table. Campers should be aware that due to the tight turns to access the campground, vehicles longer than 26 feet are not recommended. Cell service is also very spotty, and all visitors should be well prepared for emergencies.
If amenities are a requirement, RV camp in Blanding, UT, instead, the town has a couple of RV parks. The Blanding RV Park offers to its camper's full hookups, WiFi, laundry, and a dog-walk area.
A huge swath of Bureau of Land Management land surrounds Natural Bridges National Monument, and adventurers can RV camp pretty much anywhere they like. If toilets are on the wish list of amenities, RV camping at Williams Bottom Campground, south of Moab, might be a good option. It’s also close to a climbing area and an off-road vehicle trailhead.
The small desert towns scattered across Utah are full of history, local lore, and interesting architecture. Many also have museums that proudly spotlight their heritage and culture. Traveling from town to town is a simple matter in a motorhome rental. Right in the middle of the town of Bluff is a small fort that was constructed in the 1880s to protect the settlers from raiders. Get a glimpse into what American pioneers endured as they struggled to survive in one of the harshest terrains in the country at the Frontier Museum in Monticello.
One of the star attractions in Blanding, UT, is the Dinosaur Museum. It features several fossils that have been found in Utah and around the world, including eggs, skins, and bones. Also on the wall displays are memorabilia from movies that featured dinosaurs.
At the end of a long day of exploring, relax outside an Airstream rental and cast your eyes skyward. Marvel at the dramatic night sky that most people can’t see anywhere else in the country.