Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society stumbled upon a geological colossus in a remote corner of Afghanistan: a natural stone arch spanning more than 200 feet across its base. Located at the central highlands of Afghanistan, the Hazarchishma Natural Bridge is more than 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet) above sea level, making it one of the highest large natural bridges in the world. It also ranks among the largest such structures known. "It's one of the most spectacular discoveries made in this region," said Joe Walston, Director of WCS’ Asia Program. "The arch is emblematic of the natural marvels that still await discovery in Afghanistan."
WCS Afghanistan staff Christopher Shank and Ayub Alavi came across the massive arch in the course of surveying the northern edge of the Bamyan plateau for wildlife (the landscape is home to ibex and urial wild sheep) and visiting local communities. Shortly after they returned to the Hazarchishma Natural Bridge (named after a nearby village) in February 2011 to take accurate measurements of the natural wonder. The total span of arch —the measurement by which natural bridges are ranked— is 210.6 feet in width, making it the 12th largest natural bridge in the world. This finding pushes Utah's Outlaw Arch in Dinosaur National Monument —smaller than Hazarchishma by more than four feet— to number 13 on the list.
Consisting of rock layers formed between the Jurassic Period (200-145 million years ago) and the more recent Eocene Epoch (55-34 million years ago), the Hazarchishma Natural Bridge was carved over millennia by the once flowing waters of the now dry Jawzari Canyon. "Afghanistan has taken great strides in initiating programs to preserve the country's most beautiful wild places as well as conserve its natural resources," said Peter Zahler, Deputy Director for the WCS Asia Program. "This marvel adds to the country's growing list of natural wonders and economic assets."