The 204-foot Snake Bridge had also been in my distant plans for years, but it was another one I had been putting off for some indefinite future. It was on Navajo reservation land; I had heard how difficult it was to find, that it required some heavy 4-wheel-driving, and that the local Navajos werenít too happy about all of us arch-hounds suddenly wanting to go tramping around in their canyons. They of course had known about the bridge for generations Ė  the bridgeís recent "discovery" was more accurately just its first documentation in print. But all of us wanted to go see it. Itís very unlikely another span of its size exists out there unknown, so it could well be the last great discovery of its kind (over 200 feet). Fewer people had seen this one than any of the nine great spans. But many people were being refused permission to go visit it, and I hated to go that far and then get turned down.

Snake Bridge, Sanostee, New Mexico

A few months ago, I had to drive to Oregon for business. I had lots of time. It suddenly occurred to me, why not swing by there and try it? If I couldnít get in, I could still go see the Royal Arch, just an hour distant [see next story], so it wouldnít be a total loss. And I had just bought the biggest 4-wheel-drive truck on the market, specifically for my arching expeditions. And so, to my surprise, only an hour after I left the main highway, I found myself face to face with the monumental Snake Bridge, the only one of the bunch I was afraid Iíd never get to see. I had had no trouble at all getting in or finding it. And it was a beauty! Itís not especially high off the ground, but it is rather high above the river, which doesnít pass under it at all now, if it ever did. There has been constant controversy as to whether itís a bridge or an arch, anyhow.

But there was one more thing I had to try. I didnít see any easy way to get on top, but it didnít look like too much of a scramble to climb the rocky slope to get under the span. Wheezing in the high altitude, eventually I found the wide shadow of the bridge right over my head, and then I was through it and out the other side. But up behind it, to the left Ė did that really look possible? . . . if I went on up and around. . . pushing through the trees, a bit of hand-over-hand climbing, a pause for breath, a little stumble, and even some blood Ė  and hey, I was there! On top of the world!

So I made my triumphal little march along the top and back, whistling to the birds and waving my arms like an idiot. It was twenty feet wide even at the narrowest point, no real peril involved, though the fin the bridge is in is so long I never really knew just when I was standing over open air and when I was back over solid rock, but I didnít care. I just walked it again, and tried to come back down the other end, which got too scary, so I gave that up and walked back across once more.

I came back to the ground in front of the bridge, set my camera on a tripod, set the timer to click after I crawled back up there, and went up again! But now it was getting too dark. I turned out looking like just another small rock on top. And in the life of a bridge like this one, I guess Iím not much more significant.

But these arches are significant to me. They turned a city kid into an outdoors nut. They gave me wilderness adventures I never knew I could handle, much less enjoy. And they made me take up photography, by just sitting there being so beautiful, so that perhaps I could share the arches I love with some of the six billion who may never see them.

But the Landscape Arch will always be my favorite. I say "always", but there is a very real chance I could outlive that grand, fragile structure myself. Its life of hundreds of thousands of years is very close to its close, and nothing we can do can save it from gravity and the elements. After all, they formed it; and they will finish it.

See it while you can.

 

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