Several names have been given to the bridges over the years. Sipapu (Seé-pa-pu) has had at least two other names—President and Augusta—but these were later changed. Cliff dwellings and rock art in the area reminded William Douglass, the leader of the 1908 government survey, of the Hopi culture he had studied extensively in Arizona. Charged with finding "appropriate Indian names" for the bridges, he chose Sipapu, meaning "place of emergence."
Cedar Mesa, a million acre plateau encompassing the monument and surrounding area, is composed of nearly horizontal sedimentary rock layers. During the Permian Period, wind blown sands from the north and west were deposited here as dunes. Later sediments buried these dunes and with time, pressure and moisture, they became "petrified" sand, or sandstone. Today geologists label this layer the Cedar Mesa Sandstone.
Buried, then tilted and uplifted, the sandstone was slowly exposed by meandering streams which carried away the overlying sediments. These streams helped carve Sipapu and the other bridges.
Sipapu is one of the largest natural bridges in the world.