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Natural Bridge Canyon to the Bridge and Pour-Over
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park
natural bridge canyon
Trailhead and information kiosk (view east)

Overview

This is short (10-15 minutes), fairly easy walk up a narrow canyon to a surprisingly large natural bridge in the Death Valley Wilderness Area. Hiking and scrambling farther up the canyon to a 20-ft-high dry pour-over, which blocks further progress, makes for a nice 1-hour round-trip walk in an interesting canyon.

Link to map.

natural bridge canyon
Faulting in the north wall of the canyon. The yellow lines outline an offset layer of alluvial material

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...the hike to the bridge is pretty safe, but stay out of the canyon if it is raining or threatens to rain because of flash flood dangers. Beyond the bridge, there are several small pour-overs to climb or scramble over, two of which are easy 3rd-class scrambling (which is to say, fairly easy). However, the rock is water-polished and slick, plus it is covered with dust and gravel, so the risk of slipping is greater than usual.

The Park Rangers practice their rescue skills on the pour-over at the end of this canyon because they often haul injured people out of there. That is a hint: they practice here because they need to -- don't try to climb the pour-over.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this is a fairly short hike, so just bring what you need of the 10 Essentials.

natural bridge canyon
Narrow canyon (view east to the bridge)

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Death Valley National Park, about 3.25 hours northwest of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Death Valley. From the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 712), drive south on Highway 190 for about 1.25 miles to the Badwater (Highway 178) turnoff (Site 741). Turn south (right) towards Badwater, and drive for about 13.0 miles to the Natural Bridge access road (Site 771). Turn east (left) towards the mountains and drive for 1.5 miles over an unusually rough dirt road (it takes 8-9 minutes to drive 1.5 miles) to the parking lot at the end of the road (Site 772). Park here; this is the trailhead.

natural bridge canyon
Natural bridge with an adult human for scale (view E)

The Hike

Before leaving the parking area, stop at the information kiosk and read about the local geology. This information is helpful for understanding the geologic formations you will see in the canyon.

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), walk east on the old dirt road towards the mouth of the canyon, which is only a few moments away. Here, you are walking along the top of an alluvial fan with beautiful deposits (i.e., water-washed and sorted sands, silts, gravels, and boulders) and cliffs with various shades of gray, tan, purple, white, and red.

natural bridge canyon
Slot with pour-over (view southeast)

The trail turns a corner and heads up into the canyon. As you enter the canyon, which is fairly steep but not too bad, you are greeted with towering reddish cliffs formed from ancient alluvial materials. The 60- to 80-ft-high wall on the north (left) side of the canyon is a hard conglomerate rock that shows bands of different-sized alluvial materials. If you trace the bands along the wall, you can see little faults and offsets where the rock fractured, slipped, and the bands no longer line up properly. The cliff on the south (right) side of the canyon is a softer alluvial material, and this side is not as steep or as high as the north side. Throughout this canyon, there are interesting colors and textures in the walls.

A few minutes up the trail, the canyon narrows to about 20-ft wide with vertical walls on both sides that are about 25-ft high. At this point, you can actually see the natural bridge farther up the canyon.

After a total of about 10-15 minutes of walking in the canyon, you arrive at Natural Bridge (Wpt. 02). This arch is about 25-ft tall, 30-ft across, and 10-ft thick at the base. The top of the arch is even with top of the cliffs on the south side, but not as high as the wall on the north side. If you read the sign at the trailhead, you will recognize the old watercourse around the north side of the bridge.

natural bridge canyon
Atop first pour-overs (view W, down canyon)

Continuing up the canyon beyond Natural Bridge, you quickly come to a fairly thin, rocky fin that sticks out into canyon from the south wall. Given time, the flash floods might punch a hole through this fin and make another arch. Just past the fin, there is an interesting pour-over in the south wall where the rock has eroded such that the pour-over is back in a narrow slot.

A few minutes past the pour-over in the slot, you arrive at Cave Fault, which is on the north wall. Here, the rock has fractured and one side of the fault has eroded to form a cave.

A few minutes above Cave Fault, you get to a point where the canyon walls change from alluvial deposits to the metamorphic rocks that form the mountains that tower above Death Valley. Here, you can see that the alluvial deposits were laid down on top of the metamorphic "parent material" and that the forces of erosion have cut down through both of them. In places, you can see where alluvial deposits are stuck to the sides of the metamorphic canyon walls and haven't yet completely eroded away. In the metamorphic rock, which originally was sedimentary rock, you can see pretty swirls of blue, red, gray, and white, especially where the water has polished the rock.

natural bridge canyon
20-foot pour-over blocking the canyon (view east)

The metamorphic rocks are harder than the alluvial materials, so they erode more slowly along the bottom of the wash, and shortly after getting into the metamorphic rocks, you arrive at two water-polished pour-overs. The two pour-overs involve a bit of 2nd-class scrambling, maybe 3rd-class climbing, and are fairly easy to get over, but the slick, water-polished rock is covered with dust and gravel, so watch your step. Above the second pour-over, a big boulder fell into canyon, and you have to crawl under it. It makes you wonder when the next one will fall.

A few minutes after the boulder, you arrive at a 20-ft pour-over that blocks the trail (Wpt. 03). Enjoy the scenery, contemplate what it would be like with a flash flood blast through here, and then return to the trailhead by following your footprints in the gravel.

Natural Bridge Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge Natural Bridge

Table 1. Highway Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
0712 Furnace Creek Visitor Center 36.46159 116.86574 512030 4034954 -186 Yes
0741 Hwy 190 at Badwater Rd 36.44841 116.85192 513271 4033494 4 Yes-2
0771 Hwy 178 at Natural Bridge Canyon Rd 36.27409 116.79192 518689 4014169 -237 Yes
0772 Natural Bridge Canyon Parking 36.28119 116.76888 520757 4014961 374 Yes

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27, UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
01 Trailhead 520757 4014962 374 GPS
02 Natural Bridge 521107 4015347 460 GPS
03 Trail end at 20-ft pour-over 521518 4015578 812 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 130212

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