Blog Post Todd Christopher Apr 3, 2023

It's Arch Madness!

You chose a winner from an elite group of 8 world-famous landmarks in this light-hearted park-to-park competition held in March.

Each year, March’s popular athletic tournament attracts some 100 million viewers.

Even more popular? America’s national parks, which fuel local economies and bring Americans from all walks of life together.

Thanks to all who took part in our spirited tournament bracket featuring eight national park icons. Contenders ranged from the roughly curvilinear to the spectacularly parabolic — that is to say, they were all arches, more or less.

Your votes selected a national champion!

Here are facts you might not know about this well-rounded winner and its runner-up, both of which are in Utah.

Rainbow Bridge — a natural winner

Is this geological wonder a rainbow turned to stone? Actually, it’s a natural bridge formed by flowing water. It is one of the world’s largest natural bridges, and it remains sacred to Native American tribes of the Colorado Plateau.

Out of respect for Indigenous people, the National Park Service asks visitors not to approach or walk under Rainbow Bridge. Its presence can be likened to a cathedral — one that nature has sculpted over time.

Dedicated as Rainbow Bridge National Monument May 30, 1910, the legendary shape became known to the public in 1909 after a scholarly trek known as the Cummings-Douglass Expedition. Two rivals — archaeologist Dr. Byron Cummings of the University of Utah, and surveyor William B. Douglass of the General Land Office — agreed to work together to find the rumored bridge, and upon its sight they reportedly raced their horses to be the first white man to ride under it. Their assigned mediator, however, John Wetherill, rode ahead and performed the honor.

Natural Bridge — a classy runner-up

Natural Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in Bryce Canyon National Park. Its name is a bit of an error — natural bridges are formed by flowing water, while natural arches, such as this one, form from erosive forces.

Ice and rainwater in deep cracks weaken or dissolve the softer rock and gravity pulls it away, opening the archer wider and wider. Natural Bridge’s red color indicates a richness of iron oxide minerals.

Fans can view Natural Bridge near mile-marker 12 on the park’s scenic drive. Can’t make it there in person? Some of the park’s rock formations can be explored through a virtual tour.

Bryce Canyon celebrates its centennial this year. President Warren G. Harding established it as a monument June 8, 1923. The name would later be changed to Utah National Park and then Bryce Canyon National Park.  

While they’re all winners in NPCA’s eyes, here are the arches voted out of the Arch Madness competition.

Landscape Arch (Arches National Park)

Longer than a football field yet only 11 feet thick at its center, this impressive formation defies gravity. Or at least it mostly does; a massive, 60-foot-long slab fell away from its underside in 1991. Boom!

Sipapu Bridge (Natural Bridges National Monument)

The largest and most spectacular of the three natural bridges in the park site named after them, Sipapu Bridge is 220 feet high — that’s taller than 30 Shaquille O’Neals.  

Roosevelt Arch (Yellowstone National Park)

One of two man-made contenders, this triumphal arch made of columnar basalt famously bears a phrase from the 1872 legislation that established Yellowstone: “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Who can argue with that?  

Gateway Arch (Gateway Arch National Park)

With its redesignation in 2018 as a national park, Gateway Arch has been on a roll — but can this steel arch steal victory from the geologic formations in the field?

Delicate Arch (Arches National Park)

The famous arch that Edward Abbey called “a weird, lovely, fantastic object” is surely a tournament favorite. Millions of visitors — not to mention Utah license plates — can’t be wrong. But is it ripe for an upset?

Mesa Arch (Canyonlands National Park)

Is there a more famous national park photo op than the sunrise as viewed from Mesa Arch? The formation itself is modest in size, but this canyon country icon is ready to take on all comers.

Thanks to all who voted!

About the author

  • Todd Christopher Senior Managing Director, Digital & Editorial Strategy

    Todd guides NPCA's content strategy and leads the team that produces our website, magazine and podcast. He is also the author of The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids.