Rainbow Bridge
Administrative History
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Managing For The Future: Rainbow Bridge National Monument into the 21st Century

Since 1910, when President Taft designated the 160 acres surrounding Rainbow Bridge a national monument, controversy surrounded the new monument. Who "discovered" Rainbow Bridge first, the history of human activity at the bridge, the relative significance of the bridge to Anglos and Native Americans, and the protected status of the bridge in the face of development were some of the issues that drove Park Service management decisions. Managing the monument after 1993 was no less contentious and perhaps even more so. Despite the fact that the Park Service had an operational agreement with the Navajo Nation and a new General Management Plan that defined the interpretive goals for the monument, the Park Service faced new pressures from different corners and was still faced with the intensifying demands of expanding visitation and resource protection. This chapter describes the life of the monument after 1993 and the attempts of the Park Service and others to ensure both the protection of Rainbow Bridge and its varied interpretive status. Controversy was still the watchword of the early 21st century at Rainbow Bridge. This chapter details the Park Service response to that reality and its attempts to resolve conflict while still engaging in effective management of the monument.

One of the more important byproducts of the GMP process was the creation of the Native American Consultation Committee. In 1993, the Park Service proposed a meeting with representatives from the Native American groups that had contemporary, cultural, or religious affiliations with Rainbow Bridge. The purpose of the meeting was to create a planning and consultation committee that would utilize Native American input in the application of interpretive goals for the monument. The Park Service invited ten Native American groups to the initial meeting. Five of the ten responded and three groups sent representatives to the October 27 meeting. Staff from Glen Canyon NRA met with representatives from the San Juan Southern Paiute, Kaibab Paiute, and the Navajo Nation. The Hopi Tribe and the White Mesa Ute Council could not attend the meeting but asked to be part of the finalized planning process. The meeting participants worked toward two goals: to create a Native American Consultation Committee (NACC) and to generate, via NACC, a Memorandum of Agreement to address those issues that affect Native American concerns over natural and cultural resources at Rainbow Bridge NM. What emerged from this action was another management milestone for the Park Service. [354]

After subsequent meetings of the NACC, the Park Service, the Utah State Historic Preservation Office, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation entered into a Programmatic Agreement with the five original tribes on the Committee as well as. The Agreement made the NACC an official entity for the Park Service to engage in terms of advice and interpretation. The Park Service took the role of Native American tribes seriously with respect to administering the monument. To that end, the Programmatic Agreement (PA) included stipulations for the Park Service to consult NACC on a variety of issues: interpretation programs, trail maintenance, construction of wayside exhibits, interpreter training, revegetation, visitor traffic control, and measures to reduce resource degradation. The agreement also authorized unrestricted and non-permitted access to Rainbow Bridge for members of signatory tribes who wished to conduct traditional ceremonies. The agreement also stipulated that the Park Service would consider periodically closing the monument at the request of any signatory tribe provided the reasons for the closure were compelling and the closure could be legally justified. [355]

The PA, like the GMP, stipulated that an NPS interpreter would be present on every tour boat that visited Rainbow Bridge. [356] This specific requirement was intended to augment public education regarding the multifaceted nature of the bridge and monument. While the PA did not compel the Park Service to prohibit direct public access to the bridge, it did stipulate that the Park Service would discourage physical visitor contact with the bridge. This was to be accomplished via terminating the trail improvements (normally providing access all the way to Rainbow Bridge) at a wayside exhibit and viewing area 250 feet northwest of the bridge. The construction of a low rock wall where the trail to the bridge left the viewing area would further discourage visitor trail access; the trail itself remained intact. At no point did the PA advocate preventing the public from approaching the bridge. It did make Native American concerns over the sacred nature of the bridge a part of the management philosophy at the monument. Interestingly, the Programmatic Agreement was conceived and executed months before Protectors of the Rainbow occupied the monument. It was no wonder that the Navajo Nation did not endorse the actions of the Protectors—the Nation already had what it wanted in terms of access in the form of the PA. The Agreement was, essentially, a statement of respect codified in document. It acknowledged the importance of the bridge to Native American groups and the equal importance of consulting those groups about decisions that would affect the bridge. This was the kind of pluralism the tribes and the Park Service had always desired but had been so difficult to attain. The PA was free from the pressures of litigation or distrust. As a result of the Agreement, Native Americans had an official voice in the management of a national monument that was significant to both Indians and non-Indians. [357]

While the Park Service was negotiating the completion of the Programmatic Agreement, it was also working toward implementation of part of the GMP, placing signs at Rainbow Bridge that met each of its interpretive goals. Only the sign dedicated to educating visitors about the sacred nature of Rainbow Bridge met with resistance and controversy. In pursuit of the spirit of the PA, Superintendent Joe Alston notified the signatory tribes regarding new signs for Rainbow Bridge. Installed in May 1995, the initial sign read:

American Indians consider Rainbow Bridge
a sacred religious site.
Please respect these long-standing beliefs.
Please do not approach or walk under Rainbow Bridge.

Alan S. Downer, director of the Historic Preservation Department for the Navajo Nation, noted the obvious deficiency of the sign. Downer pointed out to Alston that the bridge was not a sacred religious site to all American Indians. Downer suggested that the sign specify the Navajo Nation as considering the bridge sacred, because the Navajos were the Native American group with the closest proximity to the monument. This would have necessarily excluded other tribes, especially the non-Navajo signatories to the PA, from the educational process so critical to the new management philosophy at Rainbow Bridge. After soliciting the opinions of the other PA tribes, the Park Service developed and installed a new sign by July 1995. The revised sign read:

Neighboring American Indian tribes believe
Rainbow Bridge is a sacred, religious site.
Please respect these long-standing beliefs.
Please do not approach or walk under Rainbow Bridge.

In August 1995, based on the perception that the Park Service would never allow Native Americans unrestricted and/or private access to the bridge, the Protectors of the Rainbow took control of the monument and spent four days engaged in cleansing ceremonies. The Park Service response typified the best intentions of its new management philosophy as expressed in the GMP and the Programmatic Agreement. NPS contacted the Navajo Nation to determine the degree of tribal support enjoyed by the Protectors of the Rainbow. NPS staff even met with the Protectors to negotiate a non-violent resolution to the situation. The decision to diffuse the situation by acceding to the Protectors' demands ensured the support and cooperation of the PA signatory tribes. It also evidenced the renewed commitment of the Park Service to fulfilling its intended mission at Rainbow Bridge—the protection of sensitive natural and cultural resources at almost any expense.

It was also in 1995 that climbers, via the Bear Lodge Multiple Use Association, sued the National Park Service over the its decision to ban climbing at Devils Tower during the month of June. The Park Service at Devils Tower made prioritization of Shoshone religious beliefs its overt intent in the climbing ban. Climbers argued that this violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. When the Park Service modified its policy to a voluntary ban, asking climbers to self-select not to climb during June, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Park Service policy did not violate the First Amendment. The Park Service knew that at Rainbow Bridge there was no policy in effect that prohibited public access to the bridge during normal use periods. Barring revegetation activities on the trail or a natural disaster, the public could approach, walk under, and otherwise make physical contact with Rainbow Bridge. While Park Service interpreters discouraged such activity, they did not attempt to prevent it. On the heels of the Devils Tower suit, in May 1996, came President Clinton's Executive Order 13007, the Indian Sacred Sites proclamation. The order was very clear in its purpose:

"Section 1. Accommodation of Sacred Sites. (a) In managing Federal lands, each executive branch agency with statutory or administrative responsibility for the management of Federal lands shall, to the extent practicable, permitted by law, and not clearly inconsistent with essential agency functions, (1) accommodate access to and ceremonial use of Indian sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners and (2) avoid adversely affecting the physical integrity of such sacred sites. [358]

Effectively, the actions of the Park Service at Rainbow Bridge over the previous four years had been codified in a presidential mandate. But the specter of the Devils Tower suit still loomed over the Park Service. Superintendent Joe Alston knew that it was only a matter of time before somebody decided the policy of "discouragement" was tantamount to establishment and thereby violated the First Amendment. Even the High Country News, in May 1997, speculated that "if anyone does sue at Rainbow Bridge, it's likely to be an unassuming nonprofit [group] of rock-arch lovers, the Natural Arch and Bridge Society." [359]

To avoid an inevitable lawsuit, the Park Service raised the issue of signage at the 1997 meeting of the Native American Consultation Committee. After a lengthy discussion the Committee decided that new signs needed to be placed at the bridge to make the voluntary nature of access restriction more clear. [360] The new signs read:

To Native American tribes/nations,
Rainbow Bridge is a sacred religious site.
In respect of these long-standing beliefs,
we request your voluntary compliance
in not approaching or walking under
Rainbow Bridge.

These signs were still in place as of January 2001. The High Country News was more than a little bit prescient in its prediction of a lawsuit. In 1997 Stan Jones was a board member for the Natural Arch and Bridge Society and chairman of the Society's Rainbow Bridge Committee. In that year Jones began archiving data, in the form of press clippings and correspondence, regarding the "illegal"activities of the National Park Service at Rainbow Bridge NM. The Society was becoming annoyed at what it perceived were illegal restrictions on their access to the bridge and its environs. But tensions cooled in 1998 when the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the voluntary ban on climbing at Devils Tower, initiated by the Park Service as a modification to outright prohibition, did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Park Service personnel were elated at the outcome. They felt that they had bridged the gap between Anglo and Native American needs and had come out ahead. Even the Court recognized the delicate line that the Park Service had to walk, noting that the Devils Tower policy was "a policy that has been carefully crafted to balance the competing needs of individuals using Devils Tower National Monument while, at the same time, obeying the edicts of the Constitution." [361]

With a temporary reprieve from the threat of litigation, the Park Service at Rainbow Bridge turned its attention to another matter. After a 1973 article in Empire Magazine that detailed Jim Mike's role in the Cummings/Douglass expedition to Rainbow Bridge, an unknown person removed the only commemorative plaque from the canyon wall near the bridge and threw it into Lake Powell. That happened in late 1975. The original plaque, placed in Bridge Canyon in 1927, only commemorated Nasja Begay's role in "discovering" the bridge. In 1974 the Park Service took Jim Mike to the bridge for a ceremony that recognized him for his role as one of the guides to the 1909 expedition. It was not until the early 1980s that a small plaque was placed in Bridge Canyon which gave Jim Mike equal credit for helping Cummings and Douglass find the bridge. The new plaque, smaller than the one commemorating Nasja Begay, was placed on the canyon wall directly beneath Nasja Begay's plaque.

This situation had never sat well with Mike's relatives. But Park Service decisions were beyond the scope of Native American input throughout the 1970s. In the mid-1980s, private individuals raised $6,000.00 to commission a bronze plaque of equal size to Begay's that recognized Jim Mike. In July 1984, his daughter Pochief Mike, granddaughter Mary Jane Yazzie, and various other dignitaries traveled again to Rainbow Bridge to unveil the new plaque and pay homage to Jim Mike. The plaque was presented by Mary Jane Yazzie and Pochief Mike but for some unknown reason was never hung in Bridge Canyon. In interviews conducted by Glen Canyon NRA's Interpretation division in 1997, no Park Service personnel even knew the larger plaque existed. It appeared that the Park Service had originally planned to create a large exhibit that incorporated the larger plaque at the Rainbow Bridge trail near the courtesy docks. Somehow that exhibit never came to be. When the Programmatic Agreement was signed, the issue of Jim Mike's plaque was raised once again. In the 1995 and 1996 annual NACC meeting, committee members indicated that as part of the effort to reduce foot traffic to the bridge, replicas of the plaques commemorating Nasja Begay and Jim Mike should be placed at the viewing area, thereby mitigating the need to trek up-canyon to see the original plaques. It was during those meetings that Park Service personnel realized that a plaque was missing. [362]

Park Service researchers began looking for information on the origin of the Nasja plaque. In that process, Park Ranger Glenn Gossard remembered seeing a crate in the basement of the Carl Hayden Visitor Center at Glen Canyon Dam. Something about the crate's marking made Gossard think it had something to do with Jim Mike. The crate, in fact, contained the very plaque unveiled by Yazzie twelve years prior. Mary Jane Yazzie petitioned the NACC at its 1997 annual meeting to mount the Jim Mike plaque somewhere in the monument. The Committee decided that the most appropriate place was next to Nasja Begay's plaque, which hung on the canyon wall near the bridge. Replicas of the two plaques were commissioned to be hung at the courtesy docks. In July 1997 the smaller Jim Mike plaque was removed and the divot in the canyon wall was filled to resemble natural rock. The larger plaque was mounted next to the Nasja Begay plaque. On September 30, 1997 members of Jim Mike's family, representatives of the Navajo Nation, and Park Service staff members took a tour boat to Rainbow Bridge where yet another ceremony was held to commemorate Jim Mike for his contribution to the 1909 "discovery"expedition. The Park Service presented the smaller plaque to Mary Jane Yazzie. [363]

The life of the monument after the Fall of 1997 was fairly uneventful. The NACC continued to meet and review issues related to the natural and cultural resources at Rainbow Bridge. The 1998 meeting included discussion of raising the height of the rock wall at the viewing area in Bridge Canyon to further discourage people from approaching the bridge. By the time of the 1998 meeting the Park Service had installed replicas of the Nasja Begay and Jim Mike plaques at the wayside exhibits near the docks. John Ritenour, Resource Management Division Chief at Glen Canyon NRA, reported that the process of removing tamarisk from the monument was underway and would continue in the immediate Bridge Canyon area. Between 1998 and 2000, the monument was being managed well by the combined and cooperative efforts of the Park Service and the Native American Consultation Committee. Even the issues related to Devils Tower subsided once the Park Service received a favorable ruling on the voluntary nature of the climbing ban at the Wyoming monument. This definitely put the Park Service at ease at Glen Canyon and Rainbow Bridge.

In addition to handling the daily tasks of management at Rainbow Bridge, the Park Service was interested in how well it was performing its mission at the bridge. Toward this goal, NPS conducted a visitor survey in various units of the park system, including Rainbow Bridge. The data generated from visitor response survey cards was tabulated and analyzed by the University of Idaho Cooperative Park Studies Unit. In light of the severe criticism they were receiving from pro-access interests, the results of surveys conducted in 1998 and 1999 were more favorable than the Park Service anticipated. While certain sectors of the survey, such as the rating for restroom odor, fell between 1998 and 1999, overall satisfaction with the Park Service's job rose from 92 percent in 1998 to 93 percent in 1999. These figures represented all those respondents who replied that the Park Service was doing either "very good" or "good" at maintaining and interpreting Rainbow Bridge. The survey measured numerous categories of performance: quality of exhibits; walkways, trails, and roads; restrooms; on-site Park Service employee quality; and, the ranger programs. Visitors also evaluated recreational opportunities for the survey. Those categories included outdoor, sightseeing, and educational opportunities offered at the monument. Visitors were also asked to provide additional comments about their opinion of the "special significance"of the park as well as any miscellaneous comments. In the statistical portion of the survey, the Park Service performed well. Between both years the categories that Park Service personnel fared best in those categories that involved personal contact: on-site service and ranger programs. The Park Service also relished the fact that in both years studied, only one comment appeared that disparaged the Park Service for discouraging access to Rainbow Bridge beyond the viewing area. The Park Service interpreted these figures as a validation of their mission at Rainbow Bridge. Fewer people were coming into physical contact with the bridge than in years prior; however, their satisfaction with the experience was still reasonably high. These survey results contributed to the general sense of ease among Park Service personnel at Rainbow Bridge. Unfortunately that state of ease was not to last. [364]

There was a growing interest in seeing Rainbow Bridge managed in a way that did not include Native American issues in the interpretation. This concern was most vehemently voiced by members of the Natural Arch and Bridge Society (NABS). Stan Jones, author of the most popular maps of Lake Powell, came to Glen Canyon in the mid 1960s and has lived in Page, Arizona ever since. Jones has long been the voice of the NABS in Glen Canyon and has always let the Park Service know when the Society thought cultural approaches to interpreting Rainbow Bridge were getting a little too sensitive. As mentioned previously, Jones began documenting the Park Service's "illegal" policies at Rainbow Bridge in 1997. This documentation took the form of a large private collection of newspaper clippings, personal and professional correspondence, and commentaries related to the supposed illegal policies of preventing physical access to Rainbow Bridge via foot trails. Jones contended in a letter included with his collection that the Park Service was supporting Native American religion through the use of federal funds to promote a Native American interpretation of Rainbow Bridge. He claimed that the Park Service was guilty of violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by proselytizing Navajo religion at the bridge and compelling the public, via tour boat revenues, to pay for it. Jones believed it was unethical and illegal to compel visitors to see Rainbow Bridge from one dominant perspective and then not allow them to view the bridge up close for themselves. The NABS had always been offended by Park Service policies which discouraged visitors from approaching or walking under the bridge. Since conflict and controversy have always colored the life of Rainbow Bridge NM, Park Service personnel knew what was coming next.

While Park Service personnel were unsure of whether or not Jones or the NABS intended to sue the Park Service all along, Jones did provide his archival collection of Park Service activity documentation to the Mountain States Legal Foundation in late 1999. Regardless of a possible lawsuit, the Interpretation Division at Glen Canyon NRA decided in 1999 to begin developing a Comprehensive Interpretive Plan (CIP) that would guide the monument's interpretation for the next ten years. This effort was undertaken in response to various concerns over the way Rainbow Bridge was being interpreted. The CIP was only in a nascent phase by July 2000; however, it did promise to be a more balanced approach to interpreting the bridge beyond its spiritual connection to Native Americans. The Park Service had walked a fine line up to the 21st century, trying to balance environmental, archeological, and cultural concerns at the bridge. The process of making policy at Rainbow Bridge was more broad based and complex than at any time in the monument's history. Concerns such as those expressed by the NABS were never dismissed out of hand. After all, the NABS represented a constituency of the paying public and their concerns were as valid as those of Navajos and Europeans. But for the NABS the issue was more than just about paying for access. Groups such as the NABS represent the view that national parks and monuments are traditional cultural properties which are as important to American citizens as sacred sites are to Native Americans. Non-secular perceptions of sites such as Rainbow Bridge hold as much validity to the philosophical underpinnings of the national park system as religious perceptions do to affiliated Native American groups. The CIP was the Park Service's attempt to once again gauge what the public wanted and needed at Rainbow Bridge and to develop an interpretive plan that responded to those concerns. The CIP was an internal planning process that solicited input from identified interest groups and stakeholders. [365]

On March 3, 2000 the Natural Arch and Bridge Society filed suit in U.S. District Court against Joe Alston as Superintendent of Glen Canyon NRA and Robert G. Stanton as Director of the National Park Service. The suit was inevitable according to many Park Service personnel. The situation at Rainbow Bridge, which involved a progressively greater degree of Native American input at the decision making level, was bound to incite response from someone. The NABS employed the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) to represent them in the suit. The suit claimed that Park Service policies prevented visitors from approaching the bridge, which is the central attraction at the monument, unless those visitors were Native Americans or engaging in Native American religious ceremonies. The suit stipulated that these preventative policies violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as well as the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Park Service had seen this all before at Devils Tower in the Bear Lodge case. Specifically, the MSLF claimed that the GMP and its Interpretive Prospectus were part of a calculated effort to preclude visitor access to the bridge in favor of Native American access. In addition to the argument that Native American religious viewpoints formed a part of the policy making process at the bridge, the suit claimed that constructing a rock wall to define the boundaries of the viewing area served as an artificial barrier to visitors that desired to approach the bridge. [366]

The crux of the suit, in terms of plausible violation of the Establishment Clause, was in part 26 of the Statement of Facts:

Fares for the [NPS sanctioned] tour boats include fees to cover the costs of providing interpreters. Thus, in order to access Rainbow Bridge the majority of the 300,000 visitors who visit the Monument each year are required to listen to federal employees proselytize regarding Native American religion and are required to pay for that proselytization. Individual members of NABS have taken the official boat tour and been exposed to the interpretive speeches given on the boats. These NABS members are directly affected by and object to these speeches as well as to the use of any portion of the tour fees or other Park Service revenues, including but not limited to those derived from federal taxes, to pay for the interpretive program. [367]

NABS argued that it was the direct allocation of funds to interpreting Rainbow Bridge as a sacred site that violated the Establishment Clause. Whether or not the program of interpretation constituted endorsement of a Native American religion was the contested part of the claim. NABS also indicted NPS because of the Park Service response to the Protectors of the Rainbow seizure in 1995. NABS argued that the decision to "allow" Navajos to conduct rituals was tantamount to supporting a religion. The fact that the Park Service did not allow public access during those four days compounded the problem and undermined the Park Service's position. Other parties to the suit made claims that upon approaching the bridge from the south side, on the old Rainbow Lodge trail, they were compelled by a park ranger to leave their position near the bridge and told to regroup at the viewing area. Evelyn Johnson, a member of this group of hikers, claimed she was told to move away from the bridge and back to the viewing area because her group's presence under the bridge encouraged other visitors to follow suit. Another plaintiff in the suit, Earl DeWaal, claimed that in 1999 he was threatened by a park ranger with citation and/or arrest if he attempted to use the trail from the viewing area to approach Rainbow Bridge. DeWaal claimed that the express reason for preventing his access to the bridge was to avoid desecration of the site and protect Native American religious values.

Park Service personnel had been trying to work within the parameters of Interior policy throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The Native American Relationships Policy (NARP), issued in 1982 by the Department of the Interior, was a clear agency statement about the future of the relationship between Native Americans and the National Park Service. With regard to interpretation, the NARP clearly stated, "the Park Service will seek to involve concerned Native Americans to the maximum extent possible in the development of General Management Plans and in interpretive programs which speak to their group history and prehistory." [368] The NARP went on to stipulate that in pursuit of greater Native American involvement in interpretation, Park Service efforts might "include the developing of signs and exhibits; the recounting of stories which figure in an interpretive exhibit; the appropriate display or non-display of cultural objects; the proper identification and protection of significant sites; and concerns of the contemporary Native American community." [369] The Park Service at Glen Canyon and Rainbow Bridge was doing more than simply ad hoc consultation of Native Americans or blindly generating policy designed to infringe on the Constitution. It was, in fact, following federally approved mandates to facilitate greater Native American involvement in the management and interpretation of a national monument which sat on ground that had been a part of various Native American's aboriginal homelands for hundreds of years. These claims were still in litigation as of June 2001.

The issues that plagued many parts of the national park system were not avoided at Rainbow Bridge. For all its beauty, grandeur, and amazing scientific and cultural resources, the bridge was and still is the object of controversy and conflict. From the debate over who first "discovered" Rainbow Bridge to the conflict over how it should be interpreted, the Park Service fulfilled its management responsibilities admirably at Rainbow Bridge. The comforting fact has always been that visitors continue to praise the Park Service for their efforts at managing the monument in a way that promotes resource protection over commercial profit. With visitation expected to reach or exceed 200,000 people in 2001, the goals at Rainbow Bridge remain the same.

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Last Updated: 07-Feb-2003