A natural bridge or natural arch is described accurately by its name. It’s a geological formation eroded in such a way as to leave behind an opening below stone that continues to stand. Water seems to be the most common denominator. Before today I never realized that a Natural Arch and Bridge Society existed "to support the interests of both amateur arch enthusiasts and serious researchers of natural arches and bridges alike." It does, however, as I soon discovered during my search and it provides an excellent resource for these topics including a picture gallery.
I knew natural bridges existed in multiple places and I’ve visited several of them including some of the famous ones located at Arches National Park (my visit). I didn’t realize they were actually somewhat common and examples are located throughout the world. I’ll feature several instances located in the United States, all of which feature the phrase "Natural Bridge" in their their official names. That still leaves many worthy candidates untouched in spite of my attempt to keep the list down to a manageable size.
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The natural bridge in Virginia may be THE natural bridge, not because it’s necessarily the most impressive but because it has quite an historical pedigree. It’s believed that George Washington surveyed this site personally in 1750. It later became part of property owned by Thomas Jefferson. He purchased it from the crown in 1774 when Virginia was still a British colony. This stone arch lent a name to surrounding Rockbridge County which receives a 12MC seal of approval for that wonderful geo-recognition.
Natural Bridge appears in Google Maps satellite view. It’s easy to see the small river that carved a path and created the arch. U.S. Route 11 drives directly across it although that doesn’t make much difference to tourists: fences have been constructed on both sides of the highway to keep visitors from stopping atop the bridge, peeking over the side and becoming a road hazard (street view).
Natural Bridges National Monument
Owachomo. SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons in the public domain
Natural Bridges National Monument appears within Utah’s portion of the four-corners area (map). Flash floods rather than regular stream flow contributed to the creation of three major arches. These period floods undercut stone walls over time. The National Park Service describes the names of the arches:
… the General Land Office assigned the Hopi names “Sipapu,” “Kachina” and “Owachomo” in 1909. Sipapu means “the place of emergence,” an entryway by which the Hopi believe their ancestors came into this world. Kachina is named for rock art on the bridge that resembles symbols commonly used on kachina dolls. Owachomo means “rock mound,” a feature atop the bridge’s east abutment.
Natural Bridges State Beach
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It’s hard to find natural bridges on Google Maps street view because they’re frequently located in hard-to-reach spots away from roads. Fortunately that’s not the case with Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, California. Here the eroding water comes from the wave action of surrounding Monterey Bay.
This beach, with its famous natural bridge, is an excellent vantage point for viewing shore birds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing offshore. Further along the beach, tidepools offer a glimpse of life beneath the sea. Low tides reveal sea stars, crabs, sea anemones, and other colorful ocean life.
Natural Bridge Caverns
SOURCE: Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Natural Bridge Caverns (map) isn’t actually a natural bridge inside a cavern, sad to say. Rather, it’s a feature located just outside of the entrance to this largest commercial cave in Texas. The formation has an interesting evolution. In this instance water created a sinkhole and the natural bridge remained when surrounding terrain fell into the hole.
Natural Bridge Battlefield
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This is the only battlefield I know of that’s associated with a natural bridge. It’s located near Tallahassee, Florida where the St. Marks River falls into a sinkhole and reappears a little while later. Notice the water on the Google Maps satellite view and you can see where that happens. The battle is commemorated by Natural Bridge Battlefield State Historic Site:
During the final weeks of the Civil War, a Union flotilla landed at Apalachee Bay planning to capture Fort Ward (San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park) and march north to the state capital. With a timely warning, volunteers from the Tallahassee area – Confederate soldiers, old men and young boys – met the Union forces at Natural Bridge and successfully repelled three major attacks. The Union troops were forced to retreat to the coast and Tallahassee was the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not captured by the Union.
Natural Bridge Avenue
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What’s the deal with Natural Bridge Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri? There’s no natural bridge here. That’s because the road used to extend much farther. Portions were obliterated by the expansion of Lambert Airport and the routing of Interstate 70. The reason may no longer exist but the name remains.