Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 11, 2009

Negro Bill Canyon

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:43 pm
Near trailhead of Negro Bill Canyon; sunrise

Near trailhead of Negro Bill Canyon; sunrise

Saturday morning sun is at the horizon, and I am loading my Camelbak (reservoir refrigerated overnight — nice and cold!) and camera.  83 degrees.  Out to an unusual local canyon for a sunrise hike today.  William Granstaff was the first non-native American in this region, and his half-African-American blood earned him quite the moniker.  Old maps call the area “Nigger Bill Canyon,” but someone along the line tidied it up a little bit.  While the canyon still bears his nickname, the BLM campground was changed to his last name only.  Sad.  Nobody will know that name.

I pull into the trailhead parking area at 0622.  Now 77 degrees, six cooler than when I began — remarkable what a lot of cold water flowing through a canyon does.  A compact car with a couple European budget travelers is at the other end, its doors open wide, its sleeping occupants oblivious to my arrival.  Sleeping in one’s car is cheaper than camping.

Grabbing my gear, I head up.  My internet preparations told me that two miles up the second canyon I would find Morning Glory Natural Bridge, the sixth longest span in the U.S. at 234 feet.  The only downside:  plenty o’ poison ivy between me and it.  I travel today along a very rare feature, a perrenial stream that never stops flowing.  The p.ivy loves that.

It is quiet.  I am the first one upcanyon this day, and I won’t see another human for 2 hrs 20 minutes… just the way I like it.  The birds are up, and I have learned the Canyon Wren’s downward whistle that I first encountered in Zion whilst on my one and only Angel’s Landing hike.  It keeps me company in the morning stillness.  Nothing is moving except me and the stream.

IMG_1510Glad I wore my Keens today.  Sport sandals make it so easy to traverse this shallow stream — about half a dozen times before I reach my destination.  I hike in deep shadow, wondering why I chose sunglasses.  It will be a couple of hours before the sun is high enough to reach into this canyon.

Two hours in, nearing the end of the canyon, I am rewarded with the sight I was looking for:  Morning Glory Bridge.  It is massive, and high — but only 18 feet from the rock wall behind it, which requires one to be nearly underneath it before actually identifying it as a free-standing bridge.  I press on, avoiding the poison ivy which grows in veritable thickets here.  I want to find the water source that created this geologic marvel.

Canyon ends at Morning Glory Bridge

Canyon ends at Morning Glory Bridge

Negro Bill Canyon ends abruptly at the bridge.  I hear splashes, and follow the small stream up to a seep in the rocks.  Out of literally nowhere, a large trickle of water — maybe about as much as a bathtub faucet on high — emerges from a crack and tumbles down the rock to start the stream.  This must be joined by other seeps further down, or else I do not know how a 6- to 10-foot wide stream could form.

genus Rhus -- stay away!

genus Rhus -- stay away!

I choose not to do too much exploring around the pool beneath the bridge, due to the forest of P.I. living there.  It is a quiet and magnificent place to see, but I will go halfway back to a high vantage point to do my reflecting, praying, and thinking this morning.

Nothing but the ricegrass is even moving.  A White-Throated Swift  darts about, confidently owning the region.  A wren sings from a distant perch.  For just a moment, I try to imagine next month’s return to Mower County, MN.  I gulp.  A day without a hike of three to five miles feels empty to me.  These red sandstone walls have become my friends, my constant companions.

Looking straight up at M.G. Bridge

Looking straight up at M.G. Bridge


  1. We went sailing on Pepin today…very raucous ride! But such a beautiful day…low 70’s and sunshine. Yes, you will hate to leave that place, but sounds like you’re going back next summer. You can dream about that all through the school year…through the ice storms and howling blizzards!

    Comment by Kathy Lewis — July 11, 2009 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

  2. I found myself really gathered into your story of hiking into Negro Bill Canyon. That’s a sign of good writing! Yes, you are going to miss it all, but there IS something to be said about being “home” again. At least for a while, until the wanderlust hits again. (We are, you know, kin. I understand the feelings.) And another thing. You won’t begin to “miss” being home until you are actually on your way. Ordinarily I’d say about two days before, but your children will be with you then, so you will postpone your “anxious to be home” feelings.

    Comment by Mom — July 11, 2009 @ 7:50 pm | Reply

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