Natural Bridge - Death Valley National Forest
Location : Badwater basin, Death Valley National Forest
Tree Cover : No treecover. Sunscreen recommended.
Parking : Parking near trailhead, click here.
Note : It is a good idea to carry water.
Note : Death valley gets pretty hot in summer so carry plenty of water with you. No dogs or bikes allowed on this trail. Be aware of rattlesnakes, scorpions, and stinging insects.
One-third of a mile from the parking area, an impressive natural bridge connects the walls of this canyon. The bridge is about 35 feet thick, and the same height above the canon floor. While carving the canyon, the stream sought a course along the path of least resistance, and so formed a sharp bend that eventually eroded into a fin of rock. Pounding floods punched a hole through the fin, creating a shorter creating a shorter route down the slope. Subsequent deepening of the canyon left the old meander behind - the alcove on the north side - and the bridge looming above the canyon floor. Along the trial are the other interesting geologic features, such as dripping mud that looks like wax formations, hanging canyons, and dry waterfalls.
At 0.3 miles from the parking lot is the Natural bridge. On the north side of the Natural Bridge notice the abandoned stream meander in the canyon wall, now about eight feet above the stream channel. Further up the canyon, beyond the natural bridge, look for dry waterfalls deeply cut into the canyon walls, where chutes have been polished by runoff.
Natural Bridge Canyon narrows dramatically, as it enters much older and harder bedrock. For most people, an almost impassable 15-foot vertical cliff ends further casual exploration.
In spite of Death Valley's arid climate, infrequent storms have produced erosive flash flooding. Over the course of thousand of years, these floods have carved canyons and produced features such as Natural Bridge.
This process by which Natural Bridge Canyon formed was slow and not very steady. Although carving of the canyon has taken many thousands of years, the actual work of erosion and removal of rock, accomplished during infrequent flash floods, has taken only a fraction of that time. During most of its' history, Natural Bridge Canyon has been as you normally see it, dry and quiet. It is hard to imagine flood-borne torrents, each lasting only a few hours or days, periodically scouring a channel through the rock of this ancient alluvial fan. Meanwhile up canyon, the natural Bridge was also being sculpted by the erosive force of water. At the location of the bridge, but before the bridge was actually formed, the eroding stream channel changed course, bending tightly to the north.
Although the exact cause of this change s not fully understood, several possibilities exist. The stream may have encountered an erosion-resistant portion of rock (the main span of the bridge). Unable to erode through this obstacle, the path of the stream was diverted around it to the north. Another possibility is that rivers often bend or "meander" in response to changes in their flow pattern. In this way the stream may have changed its' own path. Having changed course, the stream occupied the new channel for some time, only to abandon it at a later date, in favor of a straighter path. (As you walk up the canyon towards Natural Bridge, this abandoned channel can be seen in the north or left side of the canyon.) Renewed erosion along the straighter channel eventually undercut more rock, eventually deepening the channel, and forming Natural Bridge.