Bears Ears Monument: Day Three

Fishmouth Cave
Fishmouth Cave

“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.

Fishmouth ruins
Ruins along the trail to Fishmouth Cave.

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.

Petroglyphs
The panel of petroglyphs.

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.

Long way downThe 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.

Hike down
The two dots down there on the rock are Brad and Mary, who led the way down.

 

 

 

 

Bears Ears Monument: Day Two

First bridge
Sipapu Natural Bridge

April 21, 2017

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the Natural Bridges National Monument.

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.

LadderSipapu, 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.

Second bridge
Kachina Bridge

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.

Maybe next time.

Third bridge
Owachomo Bridge behind me.

 

 

Bears Ears Monument — at least for now

Bears Ears
The Bears Ears National Monument takes its name from these buttes.

“They just want to tear it up with their ATVs” was the quick response I got from two people when I asked them why locals in Southeastern Utah opposed the declaration of a national monument there.

But both went on to discuss more complicated opposition to the Bears Ears National Monument, declared into being by President Obama at the end of his term – and now threatened by the new president.

Lizard

“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.

But in the 1990s, the “secrets of Cedar Mesa were still closely guarded by a small number of cognoscenti.” You had to know someone to find them – or stumble upon them as Roberts did Moon House, which he wrote about in his earlier book, “In Search of the Old Ones: Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest.”

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?

Give me a little federal overreach any day.

Cactus flower

Bear Ears Monument: Day One

Red roof
Mule Canyon ruins: House on Fire or House with Flaming Roof. Saw it both ways.

April 20, 2017

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.

MuseumFirst 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.

Kiva
Inside the kiva

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.

Don's rig
Don built his camper and pulls it with a VW Bug

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.

Madcap Scheme for 2018?

Don
Don at breakfast