Wednesday, 05 July 2017 14:08

Bears Ears National Monument Featured

Written by  Michael Holland
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What?  I thought to myself.  Wait, what?  I eyed my phone’s screen for the second time in a matter of seconds.  I carefully read the news flash: President Obama has created the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.  Talk and rumors became reality.  President Obama created the second largest monument in the lower 48 at over 1.3 million acres.  The largest national monument, Grand Staircase Escalante Monument, is also located in Utah and a very close neighbor.   Utah’s public lands grew considerably with the President’s signature.  Utahans felt overjoyed, right?  Not exactly.

Bears Ears National Monument

 As you read this outstanding edition of Toyota Cruisers and Trucks Magazine, numerous questions pop in your head.  What is the Bears Ears National Monument?  Where is it? Why are people upset?  Why are people ecstatic?  I hope that I can answer these questions and entice you to pack your Toyota and journey to this magical, albeit controversial, land.  As you read this outstanding edition of Toyota Cruisers and Trucks Magazine, numerous questions pop in your head.  What is the Bears Ears National Monument?  Where is it? Why are people upset?  Why are people ecstatic?  I hope that I can answer these questions and entice you to pack your Toyota and journey to this magical, albeit controversial, land.  
The Bears Ears National Monument (BENM) covers a vast amount of Utah wilderness. The protected land begins around the town of Moab, Utah, and continues south to the river gorge of the San Juan River. The monument lands span mostly high desert divide by a few small mountain ranges.  The land was home to an estimated 100,000 people roughly one thousand years ago. The Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) built stunning rock shelters and storage granaries, which have survived to this day in the dry, southwest climate.  Their images appear on the sandstone walls in the forms of pictographs (painted) and petroglyphs (pecked) with images that your imagination can’t comprehend.    The land allows the visitor to feel like he or she has “discovered”something special.   Former Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Ranger, Fred Blackburn, coined the name, “the outdoor museum.”   This museum has no visitor center, no entrance fee, and no scenic overlook.  Each visitor becomes the adventurer and discoverer.

Bears Ears National Monument

After crossing the clear stream, Louise, Lilly, and I eased down the Arch Canyon Road in our 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser (TLC).  Our heads swiveledin search of ruins and rock art tucked along the stunning red rock walls.  Unfortunately, I also had to keep my eyes open for road hazards such as rocks and boulders.  “Look, there’s one!” Lilly shouted from the backseat.  She had spotted an ancient dwelling some 800+years old. Our first “museum” exhibit.  It sat back in a small depression on the sandstone walls adjacent to the stream.  Stunning.  Our minds tried to grasp and comprehend how something so simple, mud and rock, lasted so long.  The ruin door was open, as if someone just exited to scoop water from the stream.  How do I explain 800+ years to my 6-year old daughter?  I tried, unsuccessfully.  We continued onward.  After crossing the clear stream, Louise, Lilly, and I eased down the Arch Canyon Road in our 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser (TLC).  Our heads swiveledin search of ruins and rock art tucked along the stunning red rock walls.  Unfortunately, I also had to keep my eyes open for road hazards such as rocks and boulders.  “Look, there’s one!” Lilly shouted from the backseat.  She had spotted an ancient dwelling some 800+years old. Our first “museum” exhibit.  It sat back in a small depression on the sandstone walls adjacent to the stream.  Stunning.  Our minds tried to grasp and comprehend how something so simple, mud and rock, lasted so long.  The ruin door was open, as if someone just exited to scoop water from the stream.  How do I explain 800+ years to my 6-year old daughter?  I tried, unsuccessfully.  We continued onward.  

The ruins and granaries all over the BENM beckon for the visitor to explore and discover.  The rangers at the Kane Gulch ranger station can share information about some ruins; however, they keep other information top secret.  If, when ask about a ruin or granary, they return a puzzled, what are you talking about look, they know something.  But, here’s the thing.  You, the visitor, gets to “discover” the many sites and secrets.  All you need is a trusty Toyota and some hiking shoes.

Bears Ears National Monument

We stepped out of our TLC to hike to the alcove in the distance.  “What?  What are those?”  Louise asked.  She’s the ever-inquisitive wife, mother, and observer.  The rock art appeared in the form of petroglyphs--painted figures.  I cautiously stepped closer for a better look.  I hypothesized: “Those look like little feet...baby feet.  We remained mesmerized and speechless.  Slowly we made our way around the alcove, keeping our eyes open for the “goods of canyon country.”  The goods were everywhere!  Ruins and rock art dated back at least 800 years.  The small stream trickling echoed off the sandstone walls, and we all realized one major reason the Anasazi choose this place to reside--water.  Water in the desert always proves to be valuable, a precious resource--for 800 years in this case. We stepped out of our TLC to hike to the alcove in the distance.  “What?  What are those?”  Louise asked.  She’s the ever-inquisitive wife, mother, and observer.  The rock art appeared in the form of petroglyphs--painted figures.  I cautiously stepped closer for a better look.  I hypothesized: “Those look like little feet...baby feet.  We remained mesmerized and speechless.  Slowly we made our way around the alcove, keeping our eyes open for the “goods of canyon country.”  The goods were everywhere!  Ruins and rock art dated back at least 800 years.  The small stream trickling echoed off the sandstone walls, and we all realized one major reason the Anasazi choose this place to reside--water.  Water in the desert always proves to be valuable, a precious resource--for 800 years in this case. 

Bears Ears National Monument

Bears Ears National Monument

The word resource remains the key word when it comes to BENM.  People express different opinions on how to manage and use the resource--the land.  For years, Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service have managed the monument land.  Both identities continue to manage the land today.  However, things could be changing.  The BENM is creating a management plan with multiple agencies other to manage and protect this enormous swath of land.  Many in Utah, including Governor Herbert and other state politicians, advocated for President Trump to rescind the national monument status.  Better, yet, they argued to return the land to state control.   Others view the archaeological sites and the land on which they sit as  American treasures that need increased protection.   And, others argue that the monument status entices more people to visit and, therefore, actually causes more damage to the land and the archeological treasures it holds.  How can any agency protect 1.3 million acres?  Yes, a land area that is bigger than two states--Rhode Island and Delaware.    But, if you have traveled in this country, you know it’s magical and truly a unique place in the US or the world for that matter.  If you haven’t, you should!

The following morning, we packed and retreated out of Arch Canyon.  The Anasazi vacated the area around the year 1300.  Simply disappeared.  We can explore the ruins they built; the rock art they painted and pecked; the pottery they fabricated; and the sandals they wove.  We decided to head toward cooler weather by gaining elevation and, therefore, temperatures decreases atop Cedar Mesa (The Mesa).  This large plateau is comprised of Juniper and Pinyon Pine Trees but not one Cedar tree.  The Mormon Pioneers, as part of the infamous Hole in the Rock Expedition, named the mesa on their journey through the area before settling Bluff, Utah.  On this day, a thousand feet higher in elevation, we delighted in the cooler temperatures.  The following morning, we packed and retreated out of Arch Canyon.  The Anasazi vacated the area around the year 1300.  Simply disappeared.  We can explore the ruins they built; the rock art they painted and pecked; the pottery they fabricated; and the sandals they wove.  We decided to head toward cooler weather by gaining elevation and, therefore, temperatures decreases atop Cedar Mesa (The Mesa).  This large plateau is comprised of Juniper and Pinyon Pine Trees but not one Cedar tree.  The Mormon Pioneers, as part of the infamous Hole in the Rock Expedition, named the mesa on their journey through the area before settling Bluff, Utah.  On this day, a thousand feet higher in elevation, we delighted in the cooler temperatures.  

Bears Ears National Monument

In the TLC, we rolled down the dirt road to the head of Owl Canyon.  The Mesa has many dirt two-tracks to traverse and explore.  However, don’t expect to see much out of your windows other then Juniper and Pinyon trees.  Archaeologists believe that the Mesa 800 years ago was somewhat clear (i.e., treeless).   Anasazi used the trees for fires and building materials. This is also one theory on their demise; they depleted a all the natural resources.  We pulled into the dirt lot, grabbed a few snacks from the back of the TLC, and hiked down canyon.  Crossing on slick rock, a canyon opened in front of us.  Louise and Lilly cautiously made their way down the slick rock and over the boulders.  It was a trail, kind of...more like a natural watercourse that hikers now use. I noticed the alcove forming on my right.  Was there something in there?  Had to be!  Sure enough, the ruins came into view.  “Look dad!”  Lilly shouted out as she pointed to the exquisite ruins tucked back into the alcove.  An ideal setting.  The ruins would be protected from above by the slick rock roof when it rained; and then, the water would flow down the watercourse we had just hiked and pool up at the bottom.  Ingenious!

They knew what they were doing.  We once again stared in awe of the structures and their conditions.  Eight hundred plus years old?  We couldn’t believe it!   They knew what they were doing.  We once again stared in awe of the structures and their conditions.  Eight hundred plus years old?  We couldn’t believe it!  

The roads within Cedar Mesa cause one major friction point in the BENM.  People want vehicle access.But, how does that access look?    Side roads and off-chute trails traverse everywhere on the Mesa.  Navajo woodcutters, who have permits, come from Monument Valley and create many side roads into the forest to cut and gather their wood.  People follow; and soon, another “road” forms.  ATV tracks crisscross everywhere. These small, agile machines can motor anywhere.  And, their drivers do.  How can this access be managed?  What to do?

When the Grand Escalante Staircase Monument was formed in 1996, roads and access were closed.  For example, the Paria River Road was closed in 2009.  Was it devastating?  Depends on who you ask?  Obviously, when a road that you used for years is closed, you question the decision.  You get upset.  As a result, counties of Utah and off road organizations started to site and defend their argument to keep roads open. Accordingly law RS 2477 basically allows the traveler to use roads to access public lands.

Bears Ears National Monument

Laws and access issues weren’t present in our minds as we drove over to Shiek’s Canyon to find a campsite.  We dodged grazing cows as the TLC snaked its way through the Juniper and Pinyon trees on the rollercoaster of a “road.”  A gorgeous, green meadow came into view as well as a nice patch of slick rock. We practiced low-impact camping and pitched camp on a pleasant, level spot on the slick rock. I deployed the RTT.  Lilly and I played with her sticker book as Louise prepared dinner.  We like the simple joys of camping in canyon country.  Laws and access issues weren’t present in our minds as we drove over to Shiek’s Canyon to find a campsite.  We dodged grazing cows as the TLC snaked its way through the Juniper and Pinyon trees on the rollercoaster of a “road.”  A gorgeous, green meadow came into view as well as a nice patch of slick rock. We practiced low-impact camping and pitched camp on a pleasant, level spot on the slick rock. I deployed the RTT.  Lilly and I played with her sticker book as Louise prepared dinner.  We like the simple joys of camping in canyon country.

The following morning, Louise and Lilly snoozed, so I decided to stroll down Shiek’s Canyon to see what I could “discover.”  Within 15 minutes, I stared at another marvelous ruin.  I sipped my coffee and viewed the site from a distance to inspect the ruins closer.  I titled my head upward, to look at the ceiling of the ruin.  To my surprise, the reeds used to lash the stout, 800-year-old Juniper beams together remained attached. “You gotta be kidding me.” I said quietly, out loud.  I didn’t touch them. I just marveled.  Some Native American, 800 years ago, wrapped Yucca fibers to these beams to make a home.  His or her workmanship lay on full display in front of me.  I sauntered back to camp bewildered.

Bears Ears National Monument - Toyota Land Cruiser Magazine

Louise and I packed the TLC, while Lilly played with her sticker book.  We made our way back onto Highway 261, the main artery of Cedar Mesa.  The Bears Ears buttes came directly into view.  The buttes seemed to be looking at us.  Calling us.  Calling us to explore.  We turned the TLC onto another dirt road, heading north.  The BENM is enormous, and we were set now to explore the northern section.  The Bears Ears buttes “greeted” us, as we drove behind them.  The other side...A vast land with names such as Beef Basin, Elk Ridge, Salt Creek Canon, Dark Canyon, and Lockhart Basin.  But, that’s another story.  Louise and I packed the TLC, while Lilly played with her sticker book.  We made our way back onto Highway 261, the main artery of Cedar Mesa.  The Bears Ears buttes came directly into view.  The buttes seemed to be looking at us.  Calling us.  Calling us to explore.  We turned the TLC onto another dirt road, heading north.  The BENM is enormous, and we were set now to explore the northern section.  The Bears Ears buttes “greeted” us, as we drove behind them.  The other side...A vast land with names such as Beef Basin, Elk Ridge, Salt Creek Canon, Dark Canyon, and Lockhart Basin.  But, that’s another story.

Set your political opinion aside, just for a moment, and make a journey to southeastern corner of Utah.  Drive a dirt two track and stop at one of the many canyon heads.  Lace up your hiking shoes; pack your binoculars, snacks, and water; and venture into this “outdoor museum.” Your “discovery” will be its own story.  Your adventure awaits.

Update:On April 26, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to identify monuments that can be resized or rescinded.  Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is now tasked with reviewing monuments created in the last two decades, close to 30, and determine which of those monuments (lands) should remain, change, or be removed.  More to come.... Update:On April 26, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to identify monuments that can be resized or rescinded.  Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is now tasked with reviewing monuments created in the last two decades, close to 30, and determine which of those monuments (lands) should remain, change, or be removed.  More to come.... 


Bears Ears National Monument Trip Planner 


The BENM is enormous and remote. You can drive the entire monument in two long days.However, traveling the monument you will mostly drive on dirt and sandy roads.  You will need a four-wheel drive vehicle for comfort and safe travel.  High clearance would be a bonus.


Savor this country.  Slow down, look around...You will be amazed at what you “discover.”

*Carry extra water and gas. *Carry extra water and gas. 


*Carry an emergency beacon.


*Carry extra supplies such as food, first aid kit, tools, etc.

 
Weather


*Visit in the Fall and Spring to experience pleasant, comfortable temperatures. 


*Summers will be hot in the lower, desert areas of the monument, while higher elevations such as Elk Ridge and Bears Ears will be cooler, but snow free.


Camping 


*There are no specific campgrounds with services.  Dispersed camping is the name of the game while visiting the monument.  Try to camp in sites that have already been established or do your best to practice low-impact camping techniques.

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    Additional Info

    • latitude: 37.6300
    • longitude: -109.86
    Last modified on Monday, 07 August 2017 12:32

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