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Rainbow Bridge earns national recognition for Native American cultural significance

SALT LAKE CITY — Rainbow Bridge at Lake Powell, which for centuries has inspired stories of origin, ceremonial rites and pilgrimages for multiple tribes, has been designated by the National Park Service as a "traditional cultural property" — the first in Utah.

The designation gives it a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Anyone who has visited Rainbow Bridge can attest to its stunning beauty and unique value as an example of the geologic forces that have shaped this region for millions of years,” said William Shott, superintendent of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Rainbow Bridge National Monument.

"Designation as a traditional cultural property goes a step deeper, reflecting how meaningful Rainbow Bridge is to this region’s inhabitants. For centuries, if not millennia, it has inspired origin stories, ceremonial rites and pilgrimages for multiple tribes, and its focus as a site of vital meaning and cultural identity continues to this day,” Shott said.

The listing on the national register will now require consultation with associated traditional communities and a more rigorous review process before any federal project can be initiated that might affect the property.

The 290-foot-tall sandstone bridge, long before recorded history, has been steeped in traditions of the Hopi, Kaibab Paiute, Navajo, San Juan Southern Paiute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni people. Archaeological finds near the bridge include a hearth estimated to be 1,500 years old.

The bridge is one of the largest known stone arches in the world and spans 275 feet. It was formed by erosion from Bridge Creek, which carries water off the north side of Navajo Mountain.

The traditional cultural property is made up of 85 acres within the 160-acre Rainbow Bridge National Monument, which President William Howard Taft established in 1910 to protect the arch as a "wonder of nature."

More than 86,000 people visited the bridge last year, most making the trek by boat via Lake Powell to a trailhead 1.25 miles from the arch.

Other cultural sites that have received the cultural property designation include Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts, Bassett Grove Ceremonial Grounds in Oklahoma, and Kuchamaa or Tecate Peak in California.