We’ve already ridden more than 375 miles on our bikes, but now it’s time to stretch our legs in a different way.
We had our breakfast at the Farmhouse Café with the same Macedonian waiter who waited on us for lunch the day before. Like all help around the United States’ national parks, it’s fun to spot the nametags of where all the serving staff, desk clerks, housekeeping and store clerks are from. We had a wonderful spinner of tales from a Southern state at the Ferris Store. We had a very attentive young woman from South Africa for our server that night at the Theodore Restaurant in the Rough Rider Hotel (celebrating Kathy’s birthday).
It’s this hotel and the nearby Ferris Store that got this place up and running. That’s when Harold Schafer – the man who brought us Mr. Bubbles — bought these two places in 1962 and started putting together the village that helps support the national park, bringing the good times out to the Badlands, aways from much else.
Now we are four, with Don flown in from Cincinnati. We drove the truck on the 36-mile loop that goes through the southern portion of park. Saw bison, wild horse and many, many prairie dogs.
We stopped at Jones Creek trail head and had a nice picnic out of the back of the truck before our three-mile hike. We were warned by a trekker coming off the trail to watch out for ticks, which he was shredding from his back. We made it through with no bloodsuckers that needed to be glad to get out of our skins.
We didn’t go to the “rootin, shootin” Medora Western Musical, see an impersonator tell Theodore Roosevelt’s story here or eat at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue restaurant. We didn’t stop at some of the old cabins and other structures that were here when TR made this his way of growing up and then putting it back together after his wife and mother died on the same day.
It’s the kind of remote (where did this landscape come from?) setting that makes a human admit he needs to make it on the land by himself without too much help from the dry, uneven earth around him.
But it is beautiful, and I hope the faux TRs don’t give it away.
“PRESENT opportunities for our guests to be educated and inspired through interpretive programs, museums and attractions that focus on the Old West, our patriotic heritage and the life of Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands.”
I hope you took my advice back in October when I recommended 10 places you should visit before they died. If you wanted to see Bears Ears and Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monuments without oil rigs, you should have left for Utah last night.
A man who thinks wilderness is the long grass beside a golf fairway on Monday signed orders to slice these two areas into five separate areas and reduce their size by 85 and 46 percent respectively.
Lawsuits have already been filed to challenge this largest ever reversal on protecting national lands, and it is in the courts that the best – or the worst – outcome will be determined from today’s assault on the Antiquities Act of 1906, which brought our country’s national monuments into existence.
If the slicer gets his way, then you better make plans to get to the other national monuments that were on the original gift list for the oil, gas and mining industries.
Head to Arizona and stay awhile in the Grand Canyon-Parshant National Monument. Words on its website are calling you: “solitude, isolate, expansive landscape, natural and cultural history, undeveloped landscape, journey into the wild.”
On to California, perhaps on the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of storied Route 66, which is in the Mojave Trails National Monument along with Native American trading routes and World War II training camps.
Six of the monuments on the original slice list were in California, so plan on a long visit there. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is fighting to make sure two of these monuments remain intact since the 2,650-mile path from Canada to Mexico passes through them. Better grab your pack and make the 30-mile trek on the trail through the desert, forest and mountains of the Sand to Snow National Monument.
You’ll need more time for the 87 miles of the PCT through the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, and you’ll probably see more people because it serves as an escape valve for nearby Los Angeles County – reason enough to protect as much as possible to give these city folks room for healthful outdoor activities.
Urban and agriculture growth has taken over most of the grassland that once covered California’s Central Valley. The Carrizo Plain National Monument protects what’s left and should remain untouched to continue doing so.
Yuki, Nomlaki, Patwin, Pomo, Huchnom, Wappo, Lake Miwok and Wintum. Those are the peoples who thrived for 11,000 years in what is now California. The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument website says the 330,780 acres under protection are “dense with cultural sites.” If Secretary of the Interior Zinke and his boss get to continue their giveway this monument would inevitably leave some of these sites vulnerable.
Stinkee Zinke (that had to be his schoolyard name) said he saw no need to destroy the following national monuments, but there is one good thing you can say about the former Navy SEAL: He follows orders. Gut the national lands other have preserved, orders the slicer-in-chief, and Stinkee guts them. If the Big Cheeto gets his way on Bears Ears and Escalante, nothing is safe.
So add this to your itinerary: Plan a paddle in Washington state in the Hanford Reach National Monument – 33 miles on the last undammed stretch of the Columbia River. It’s home to migratory birds, spring wildflowers, butterflies and elk. The Monument is across the river from the off-limits Hanford Site, which produced the plutonium for the atomic bombs dropped in WWII. Let’s hope this quote on the Monument website holds true: “Born of fire and ice and flood over millions of years, preserved through the war and conflict of half a century, now protected forever.”
Last stop is in Montana at the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, which, the website says, has “remained largely unchanged in the nearly 200 years since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled through it on their epic journey.” Future generations of paddlers and wanderers should have the chance to see the White Cliffs and surrounding lands these early Americans wrote about.
The emphasis in the Trump order and Zinke’s comments has been on local control, allowing state and local officials more say on land owned by all Americans. The lands will be opened to private extraction industries such as timber or oil and gas interests, which is most obvious in the “review” for five marine National Monuments — Marianas Trench, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Pacific Remote Islands, Papahanaumokuakea and Rose Atoll. Trump’s order entitled this section “Implementing An America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” and gives the rubber stamp to the Department of Commerce (in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior).
Anyone who thought national monuments had a chance of staying intact under the Trump administration can put that notion to rest.
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke’s report to Trump finally came out of hiding thanks to the Washington Post. Submitted in late August but kept secret until leaked in mid-September, the memorandum recommends shrinkage or management changes to seven national monuments on land and three at sea. The management changes would reduce restrictions on grazing, logging, coal mining and commercial fishing.
There is only one good outcome from Zinke’s continuing effort to turn the Interior Department into a real-estate agent for special interests: A bucket list in reverse.
Lovers of the wilds, pack your bags and visit the national monuments on Trump’s list before they die.
In his interim report on Bears Ears, Zinke called for shrinking the monument’s area and separating out those “that have significant objects to be protected.” Given that there are archeological sites and fascinating rock formations in all nooks, crannies and canyons of Bears Ears, Zinke’s flawed idea would appear on a map as strands of spaghetti, missing “significant objects” that need the protection of the full area now designated as national monument.
You’ll be close to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, also in Utah and another Zinke-wrap target. Designated in 1996, it’s the largest national monument in the United States. That could change soon, so hurry to check out rock art and granaries from the ancient Anasazi and Fremont cultures as well as fossils from the end of the dinosaur era.
Then head west to Nevada for the Gold Butte National Monument, designated late in President Obama’s term, which was sure to make it a prime target of the man who has promised to erase all things Obama whether it makes any sense or not. Right now there’s lots of rock art and the ghost town that gives the place its name.
Hikers on the 38 miles through the monument in Oregon and California should brush up on geology: To the south are the Siskiyou Mountains, 425 million years old if a day; to the north, the younger, volcanic Cascade Range. This variety in geologic features is the basis for a wide range of habitat in the monument, including lots of trees Zinke would like to see cut down.
The Katahdin Wood and Waters in Maine is another place where Zinke would like “active timber management.” The area didn’t meet the 100,000 minimum acreage called for in Trump’s executive order seeking the monument review. But the governor of Maine, an early supporter of Trump, wanted its designation rescinded. There’s no Zinke shrinkage recommended, but commercial logging could be in the offing.
The emphasis in the Trump order and Zinke’s comments has been on local control, allowing state and local officials more say on land owned by all Americans. Even opponents of the monuments concede that transferring more control of Americans’ legacy makes it more likely that the lands could be opened to private extraction industries such as timber or oil and gas interests. Which means that the Trump and Zinke charade is mainly a way of transferring national monuments to the control of multinational corporations under the false pretense of “more local control.”
“Walk up any of these canyons and you’ll find ruins,” said Brad, a helicopter pilot from Hamilton, MT.
I met him and his wife, Mary, on the hike to a panel of ancient petroglyphs in the Butler Wash complex. I had been directed to the area by – who else? – Steve the tourist information cognoscenti. There were five ruins on the map Steve had given me, all along a sandy, hilly and curvy road that passed trails leading to the sites.
I had started the morning by saying goodbye to Jerry and Cathlet (I may have that spelling wrong), who had camped beside me the night before at the trailhead to Fishmouth Cave. Climbers and rock-art aficionados, they had moved from the East Coast within the past year. From talking with them in the evening, it appeared they were making good progress on visiting all the West had to offer in Ancient Puebloan remains.
My morning started with the hike up to the cave and a visit to the ruins along the way. We have lived in our home in Seattle for almost 40 years, and during that time we have had the chimney “tuck-pointed” at least twice because of crumbling mortar. Yet here were walls that had withstood perhaps a thousand years with the mud mortar still intact. But then it doesn’t rain nearly as much here and the rock overhangs afford ample protection from the elements.
Of the five sites indicated on the map Steve gave me, I figured I had time to visit two of them before my visit to Bears Ears ended later in the day. After Fishmouth Cave, I chose the “Procession Petroglyph Panel” as my next hike.
The trail there was longer and steeper and mostly out on open rock, a surface I’m not used to. You can’t follow footsteps from previous hikers or a trail carved into the earth. Fortunately, cairns marked the way up, and I had Brad and Mary to follow down a different route.
I wondered if the petroglyphs represented a hunt for the deer pictured. The line of human figures could be in a procession, as the name of the place suggests, but they could also represent a line of people waiting for the deer to be herded toward them for the kill. Probably some wise archeologist has an explanation of what the drawings mean, but it’s also fun to use your own imagination to decipher what the long ago artist had in mind.
The lunch spot was at the top of Comb Ridge above the petroglyphs with a view over the entire Bears Ears area. The sun shone, my Honey Crisp apple savored and Brad and Mary’s black lab ate the core, eliminating the need to pit the sticky remains in my pack.
Brad’s route down gave my creaky knees a challenge, but I’m glad I followed them for a new experience in hiking, scrambling over boulders, scoping out the route between bigger rock formations and then inching my way down the biggest expanse of rock to rejoin the marked trail.
Driving out to the highway that would take me out of Bears Ears, I passed the trailhead to the “Double Stack Ruin.” I had already forgone Cold Springs Cave and Monarch Cave. Until I get back, I’ll be working to protect them from Interior Secretary Finke Zinke and his boss who thinks an outdoor adventure is leaving a gated community.
Save the Bears Ears National Monument for all Americans to enjoy.
The bridges are now within the Bears Ears National Monument, which President Trump says he is going to get rid of. We can only hope the Natural Bridges proclamation made more than 100 years ago by a Republican president is safe from the actions of a fat New Yorker who couldn’t bait a hook, pitch a tent or cook over a fire.
I set out for the Natural Bridges on my second day in the Bears Ears. Such geological features have always fascinated me, and the allure was too much to resist.
Arriving at the National Parks building around noon, I got my hiking choices from the ranger. An 8.6-mile loop trail takes you under all three of the bridges, or I could drive the loop road and hike down and back at each. Starting the loop at noon seemed a bit of a time cramp so I took the drive-and-walk option.
Sipapu, the first bridge on the loop, is 220 feet high and spans 268 feet. The bridge itself is 31 feet wide and 53 feet thick. The route down has three staircases and three ladders made of logs and branches.
Sipapu means “place of emergence,” according to the monument brochure, from the Hopi belief that this is where their people emerged into the world. It’s the highest and greatest in span, the brochure says, and I found it the most impressive. This is the middle child of the three bridges.
The youngest is the Kachina Bridge, with an opening much smaller but still “under construction” with White Canyon floods chipping away at its base. The 93-foot thickness and 44-foot width give it a more muscular look. But that, combined with the smaller opening, diminishes its loftiness, which is only 10 feet less than Sipapu.
Last on the loop is Owachomo, the oldest of the three. Water no longer flows under the bridge, but frost and moisture may be weakening it. As the brochure says, “It may have a fatal crack, or it may stand for centuries.”
Between Sipapu and Kachina, there is a viewpoint that looks across the canyon at the Horse Collar Ruins. Bring your binoculars, the trail sign warns. I brought mine and could see the features that distinguish this set of ruins: both a round and a square kiva, which could indicate settlement by two different groups of Ancient Puebloan peoples.
I could see the trail leading up to and through the ruins and wished then that I had walked the loop trail through the canyon.
“Mostly people there just want to be left alone,” said Jason, who is married to my niece and has lived in Utah most of his life. “The lure of increased tourism won’t entice them to be favorable to the monument. They don’t want more people, more traffic – even if it means more business and more money for their community.”
Being left alone could mean being left to practice the Mormon religion as it used to be, which would include polygamy – or maybe just to run all-terrain vehicles through the pinon and juniper trees.
It’s also true, Jason pointed out, that Utah has a long history of conflict with the federal government, which once sent troops to invade the territory.
Steve, who was manning the tourist-information booth when I stopped in Blanding, Utah, added to that observation.
“Utah was one of the first in the West to apply for statehood, but the last of those to be admitted to the Union,” he said. “Utah probably had more population than California, which got in way before Utah.”
Land was taken from the Utah territory and added to other states being admitted while Utah waited.
The federal government also demanded legal changes before Utah could come in, namely the outlawing of polygamy by the Mormon church.
“And I can say that because I’m one of them,” Steve said without clarifying just exactly what he was one of.
Steve said he thought Bears Ears should remain a monument but be reduced in size.
“Locals think it a huge federal overreach – it’s bigger than Delaware!”
He said most of it was protected already, either in National Forest, by the Bureau of Land Management or as one-mile squares of state ownership. On a map, he circled what area he thought should have been given additional protection.
Later he drew around even smaller areas that he thought would have been enough. He also pointed to the three chunks of land that encompass the Bears Ears National Monument.
“They left out the uranium area there, which separated a piece of the monument off to the west. And the northern part of the monument could just have easily been protected by expanding Canyonlands National Park, which is already as big as 12 states.”
Steve said he thinks the Congress should restrict the amount of acreage a president could put into a monument.
Efforts to restrict the federal government is nothing new in this part of the world. An obituary that ran at the top of page one of the April 13-19, 2017, edition of the Moab Sun News made that clear:
“In Utah and other Western states, (Ray Tibbetts) was known as a leading figure of the Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement that sought state control over public lands and land management decisions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.”
Tibbetts, who died April 4, 2017, at age 84, was a local businessman and Grand County commissioner. Rudy Herndon wrote in the obituary that Tibbetts testified before congressional committees, opposing what he saw as federal encroachment on the sovereign rights of state and local governments to manage roads and public lands within their jurisdiction.
(But in what seems a contradiction to his general philosophy, Tibbetts helped identify places he thought should be included in Canyonlands when it was created in 1964.)
Ron Steele, a former Grand County commissioner quoted in the obituary, said Tibbetts remained active in land-use issues after his retirement – and that included giving a federal official this advice on Bears Ears: If you really want to protect the land, don’t advertise it as wilderness.
There’s an echo of that sentiment in “The Lost World of the Old Ones” by David Roberts. He explored the Bears Ears area in 1993 and stumbled on two magnificent Ancestral Puebloan ruins now known as Moon House and the Citadel.
Roberts says he bears some responsibility for bringing these gems to the attention of hundreds of people today, and he bemoans the abuse some of the visitors wreak upon the fragile buildings, crawling through crumbling openings, sitting on deteriorating surfaces.
But Roberts points out that very few secrets, even in the wilds, are safe in the age of the Internet. Google a site, find a trail to it. Unless the BLM limits the number of permits issued to the site, as the agency does for Moon House now (20 a day).
Are there wilderness areas that would have been more wild if never designated as such? We’ll never know.
Are there unadvertised wild areas that remain truly wild and mostly unvisited? If so, let me know. I’d like to visit and I can keep a secret.
Given that we do live in an age where wild can’t be kept secret, these areas need all the protection we can give them.
Steve said the Bears Ears area had little potential for oil and gas, that it was mostly used for grazing cattle. If Bears Ears should end up in Utah’s control, the state would be more likely to sell it, Steve mentioned in passing,
That’s the real danger: That the land passes from federal protection to state control to private ownership that might like to test the notion that there is little potential for oil, gas and mineral development.
Would an old pile of mud bricks and clay mortar stand in the way of a Koch brothers’ oil field? Would they welcome the public to enjoy the desert and explore the past?
Every tourist-information office should have a man like Steve, who was working the desk at the Blanding, Utah, building when I stopped on my way to the new Bear Ears Monument in the southeast part of the state.
I had borrowed a guidebook from my niece in Salt Lake City, bought three maps at the REI store there, purchased another one at a bookstore in Moab and visited the monument website, such as it is.
But everything I did in my two days there came from Steve’s suggestions.
First off, he said, you need to stop at the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding, which I did. A great introduction to the Anasazi and Ancient Pueblo cultures and archeology. Many of the artifacts found in the region have been collected there and are well displayed. Explanations of how materials where used for building and weaving are clear and fascinating. Speculation on what happened to these people after about 1300 A.D. covers a wide range of explanations. The one I like best is that they did not suffer some awful disaster or fail as a culture but that they migrated and the Native Americans farther south are descendants.
The museum is built next to an ancient ruin, complete with a kiva – an underground ceremonial chamber – with access via ladder. Truly a museum display that puts you in the middle of the subject studied.
I skipped the dinosaur museum in town and headed for Mule Canyon instead. Two trails there with the southern one leading to the House with Flaming Roof. Hiked into it and waited with Don, another hiker, hoping that the setting sun would cast light farther into the cliff overhanging the ruins. That, we hoped, would bring out the red in the rock above the ruins. The photo in the tourist-information building is stunning, and my picture (above) doesn’t measure up to it.
Don was shooting with much better equipment than I was with my Sony and has spent his life working in photography. Looking forward to seeing what he came up with.
We camped next to each other that night, me in the back of the Ram and him in his teardrop trailer that be built himself. Nice thing about this Bureau of Land Management tract is that camping is free and pretty much wherever you can find a spot. Just bring your own water, don’t burn the place down and pick up after yourself.
Slept in Friday morning and chatted over breakfast with Don. Both of us from Midwest farming communities. Both lovers of mountains, photography and camping. Both canoeing enthusiasts, and that led to talk of a Glen Canyon paddle.