A little more than a century after President Theodore Roosevelt designated Natural Bridges National Monument, making it the first National Park System unit in Utah, the monument will serve as the backdrop for a celebration of 100 years of national parks in the state.
That Natural Bridges does not carry the "national park" moniker is no disservice, and actually might be a blessing in disguise for those who make the effort to visit the monument and find it practically to themselves.
Located in southeastern Utah about two hours south of Moab via U.S. 191 and Utah 95, the monument covers but 8,000 acres. That said, it's surrounded by some 2 million acres of public land, making it an incredible destination if you like exploring southern Utah's rugged canyon country. Within this landscape can be found numerous ruins and ancient American artworks carved and painted onto sandstone palettes.
Now, President Roosevelt bestowed the "monument" designation on Natural Bridges on April 16, 1908, so the monument itself actually is a handful of months older than 100 years. Still, it's a fitting place to mark the National Park System's existence in Utah. Overall the state is home to five national parks -- Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion -- as well as a handful of other monuments and historic sites. But Natural Bridges was the very first.
The National Park Service plans to celebrate that century in Utah beginning Friday, August 29, and continuing through September 1 with a number of activities and events at Natural Bridges. Scheduled activities include an on-scene painting competition, with a resultant art show displaying the works in Blanding and Moab later in September.
“Living History” programs will include ancient pre-Columbian skills demonstrations and reminiscence of pioneer days with a character actor portraying “Zeke Johnson,” a local legend and the first ranger stationed at Natural Bridges.
Special archeology tours of pueblo ruins will be offered, some by advanced reservation. On Saturday August 30th a special postal cancellation stamp will be available at the park visitor center.
Another significant “first” for Natural Bridges National Monument was being named the as the world’s first International Dark Sky Park in 2007. To mark that distinction, the Salt Lake Astronomical Society will host Star Parties on Friday and Saturday nights, August 29th and 30th, with about 10 large telescopes available for the public to view the Natural Bridges award-winning night sky.
For more information about these programs or to inquire about reservations for the archaeological tours, contact the Natural Bridges visitor center at 435-692-1234.