Zen On Dirt

Bears Ears

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Bears Ears National Monument has been in the news a lot. I followed its designation as a National Monument during the end of the Obama administration, I’ve followed this administration’s decision to reduce it’s size.

But really, I knew nothing about it. Aside from my general opinion of keeping public lands public, I didn’t really know what was so special about this huge chunk of land in central Utah. I never doubted that it was worth saving, I just didn’t really know why.

When it comes down to it, I didn’t even really know where it was.

San Juan river? Yeah, I hear people boat that. Dark Canyon? Sounds spooky. Grand Gulch? I’ve seen maps for that. 

I guess I can blame it on the fact that up until three years ago, I was pretty much a pure mountain biker. I rode to some remote places, but the Bears Ears area isn’t really a mountain bikey place, and with Moab so close, I never really got around to even looking at a map of the area. (But in the past three years, I’ve been trying my hardest to play catch-up to see lots of non-bike accessible places, so there is that, for what it’s worth.)

Leaving the South Rim of the Grand Canyon we had three days to get up to Moab. Should we go via Zion and do some stuff there? Bryce? Book it to Moab? How about this Bears Ears business?

In the spirit of visiting new places, we pointed towards Bluff and found ourselves a nice little campsite just west of town.


We got there just in time to see the Wolfman panel get bathed in golden evening light.


The sun was gone 10 minutes later. These were some of the most artistic petroglyphs I’ve ever seen. It’s pretty mind blowing (to me) to think of the time and talent that it took to make these. They were huge!


There were some smaller ruins nearby, complete with their own collection of pottery shards. Thinking about the history of these places makes me feel pretty small and insignificant.


One of the bonuses of driving a minivan instead of a truck is that there are plenty of roads that are inaccessible to us except by bike. In this case, a fat bike would have been pretty swell, but whatever, let the tire pressure down on the Redpoints and surf away.


Our goal was the River House ruins. Pretty deluxe accommodations.


I have no idea what’s going on here, but I love it.  

We kept riding further down the road, the rock panels littered with petroglyphs and pictographs. Some tiny, some amazingly elaborate.


I know very little about the history of the people who made this art, but I really like their hats.


Our end destination was the Butler Gulch panel which extended forever. Again, I loved the hats.

We pedaled back to the car, loaded bikes, and decided the day was still far too young to head back to the Scamp. So we went searching for a few more ruins in a canyon right by the road. There were several sites with amazingly well preserved kivas and other structures.


With daylight still, we went down to the pictographs adjacent to a BLM campground in the area.


I’ve heard that this is the only flute playing sheep that is known of. The wall was covered in endless little figures.

Moving on to get closer to Moab, we headed to Blanding, dropped the Scamp outside of town, and went to Natural Bridges National Monument to discover a neat eight mile loop that you could do on unmaintained  trail that would go by three of the big arches.


They all had names. I remember none of them.


Also, ruins.


And more art. I love the dozen or so handprints below the sheep.


One of the biggest arches in the world, I believe.


It took just 48 hours for me to see why this place was so special, and why it really is worth fighting for. And we never went more than a mile from a road!

It’s sort of crazy that I’d never been anywhere in this area before. Now, looking at maps of the canyons, it seems like there’s at least 10 lifetimes worth of stuff to explore. I guess that’s how you get people to care about a place. Words do something, pictures maybe do even more, but to actually see it with your own eyes, there’s nothing that can match that.


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