Navajo Mountain, Rainbow Bridge

April-94, (Private trip)

By: David Campbell


Last April (1994) I climbed Navajo Mtn., my DPS "list finisher", with my wife, Mary Ann, Jack Archibald, and Dick Searle. To make the long drive more worthwhile, we added a backpack loop around the mountain to Rainbow Bridge. The last 27 miles of our drive to the "Navajo Mtn. Trading Post" on Sunday, April 16 were on washboarded, but otherwise good, dirt roads. From there we doubled back a short ways to pick up the dirt power line road leading into the "foothills" of Navajo Mtn. After 2.4 miles up this rough road we stopped to camp near a small radio repeater station. It was well before dark, so we took a walk further up the road and a mile above our camp saw two parked vehicles. It turns out they belonged to Vic Henney and Sue Wyman Henney and Ron Grau who had climbed Navajo that day. We enjoyed talking with them as they drove past our camp on their way down from the mountain.

Monday we drove up to where the others had parked at 7200 ft. Since the day promised to be warm, we started hiking at 6:45. We continued up the steep road past War God Spring, through pine and fir forests with nice views of Navajo's craggy lower bluffs and of red canyon country away to the west. The last thousand feet elevation were on snow. At 10:30 we reached the summit, with its numerous radio towers, etc. There we popped the cork on a bottle of champagne (75 foot cork trajectory, but not a drop was spilled!) to celebrate my list completion. After an hour of such frivolities, we started down, reaching the pickup at 2:00.

The rest of the day was spent setting up our car shuttle by leaving Dick's truck on the southeast side of Navajo Mountain, 1/2 mile from the ruins of Rainbow Lodge, and then driving around to a trailhead north-northeast of the mountain. The roads at each end required high clearance. We had dinner at the roadhead and, with only an hour of light remaining, began our backpack, carrying a lot of water. We covered about a mile before stopping to set up camp at Cha Canyon. There was very meager clear flat space to sleep on, but the canyon's stream was flowing, which augured well for canyons further along. We were serenaded to sleep by a chorus of frogs, something that was to be repeated the next two nights.

Tuesday we started hiking at 6:30. The weather was good, but hot for that season, getting into the 90's, and we had 11 miles to go that day. But the scenery was beautiful, with red Navajo Sandstone all about. To the south was Navajo Mtn. with its snowy forests; to the north were numerous canyons and mesas. The use trail we followed was good. Our hiking pattern was to climb into and out of a succession of canyons. After a few miles we dropped down into Bald Rock Canyon, where a nice stream flowed in thin sheets over smooth rock ("slick rock"). There were cottonwoods and a beautiful camp site; unused. By late morning we walked through "Surprise Valley", which was surrounded by nicely colored rock formations. Then, in Nasja Creek Canyon, we passed "Owl Bridge", a very attractive natural bridge. Shortly afterwards we met 5 people, the only other hikers we saw on our 31/2 day backpack. After a long hot hike, it was great to get to Oak Creek Canyon. What a refreshing place that was with a good, clear stream, fresh green gamble oaks, cottonwoods, and flowers! We washed in the cool water and rested an hour or so in the shade. Then we climbed out of the canyon and kept going to Bridge Canyon, where we found a good camp site (near its stream). We soaked again in the water. After dinner we relaxed and listened to the frog concert. As darkness arrived, we were treated to a spectacular display of stars.

Wednesday, we carried our packs down canyon a couple of miles; then left them near the junction of the incoming trail with the Redbud Pass Trail. Taking day packs, we walked the last two miles down Bridge Canyon to Rainbow Bridge. Along the way we listened to the songs and calls of rufous-sided towhees, white-throated swifts, and canyon wrens. There were numerous flowers, most showy of which were the blossoming redbud trees. All of this was in a setting of towering red canyon walls. Near Rainbow Bridge, it was something of a shock to encounter numerous tourists brought in by boat over Lake Powell. Rainbow Bridge is the largest natural bridge in the world and well worth seeing. After returning to our packs we hiked over Redbud Pass (some scrambling required) and on to Cliff Canyon, where we cooled off in the stream. As evening came, we again enjoyed the frogs and stars. In the morning , Mary Ann followed the trail up toward the next camp, while Jack, Dick and I took a trailless side trek further down canyon. We went down Cliff Canyon to Aztec Canyon and followed the latter a few miles to where it met a finger of Lake Powell. Along the way we saw a very nice, tall waterfall and many beautiful canyon walls. Back at camp, we loaded our packs and started up Cliff Canyon. Here the trail became very indistinct and erratic for about a mile, but then improved. We met Mary Ann about a mile above the "last water" and had dinner there in a nice shady spot. (She had already carried her pack up to the next camp and returned to meet us.) We then moved up a long series of switchbacks to 5700 ft. and a nice, though dry, camp. The stars that night were again brilliant, but we missed the chorus of frogs.

Friday, we started early and soon crossed Yabut Pass. Near Horse Canyon, we picked up another member to our group, a horse! Apparently an Indian pony, it was branded but unshod. He followed us for several miles. Before noon, we reached the Rainbow Lodge ruins and had lunch. Only a short walk remained to Dick's truck. This had been a most enjoyable adventure, very different in character from our more usual backpacks in the Sierra.

Topo maps (7.5') for this area include Rainbow Bridge, UT-AZ; Navajo Begay, UT-AZ; and Chaiyahi Flat, AZ. A guidebook is "Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau" by M.R. Kelsey, available from Kelsey Publishing, 456 E. 100 N., Provo, UT 84606. Shuttle transportation between the two roadheads is available from

Eric Atene, Navajo Mtn. Chapter
P.O. Box 10070
Tonalea, AZ 86044

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