Thursday, December 29, 2016

Bears Ears National Monument

President Obama declared Bears Ears a National Monument yesterday! As someone who has hiked in this area and who cares about protecting valuable cultural and historical resources for future generations, I'm thrilled this finally happened.
Bears Ears Buttes, as seen from Natural Bridges National Monument (where I camped last month.) The newly established Bears Ears National Monument surrounds the existing Natural Bridges National Monument.
Bears Ears National Monument includes a wealth of American Indian cultural sites and thousands of years of human history. It’s like an outdoor museum, inviting exploration and wonder, but also has been hit hard by vandalism and looting and part of it was even sold off earlier this year. That's why protecting it now as a national monument is such a big deal (read the eloquent presidential proclamation here and see the map of the area here).

Many people have been pushing for Bears Ears to be made a National Monument including a coalition of tribes who have sacred sites here and trace their ancestral homes here. One thing that is unique about this National Monument designation is that American Indian tribes petitioned the President to create the Monument and that it includes establishment of a Bears Ears Commission made up of tribal members that help to manage the area for the future.
Sign at Natural Bridges about the significance of the butte.
Last month, I visited Comb Ridge (part of the area that is within the new monument) with an member of a local archeology group who has been visiting this area for many years. We hiked up to an Ancestral Puebloan site and petroglyph panel and she pointed out a lot of things I hadn't noticed when I'd visited here before. She says that since she started coming here, she has noticed a big impact- there are fewer and fewer pottery sherds for example.
Ancestral Puebloan site on Comb Ridge that we visited in November of 2016. This site is now protected!
Sherds like this one used to be more abundant. Sherds contain a wealth of information about the lives of the people who lived here- including when they were here, the history of trade, and even what they ate and drank. Loosing these artifacts robs these places of pieces of their history.
Corn was farmed by the people who lived here. It's amazing to see this after hundreds of years. I hope future generations also get a chance to hold pieces of the past like this.
The establishment of Bears Ears as a national monument has been controversial due to arguments about development of mineral rights and also resistance to federal lands (read more about that here). It is possible that the Antiquities Act of 1906 will be challenged in the coming years. So be sure to stay current on this issue and make your voice heard.
Climbing up Comb Ridge, now part of Bears Ears National Mounument.
No trails here, so you're free to explore.
View from the top of Comb Ridge.
Want to see more photos from this area?

In 2015, Jan and I spent a few weeks traveling around Comb Ridge, Valley of the Gods, and Cedar Mesa, all areas that are now protected now as part of Bears Ears National Monument. 

Read Jan’s trip report too.
Ending this with paintbrush, which was still blooming in November.


  1. I'm always a bit surprised about controversy of National Monuments I guess because I usually gain while others vested for a different reason feel like they loose. This one seems to be quite controversial. I had no idea until I started seeing lots of outcry yesterday. So for now, it's time to celebrate and keep promoting the good and speaking up when we need to.

    1. It's alarming that some news stories say the Antiquities Act itself may be under attack in the next administration. That would put all national monuments at risk. Definitely need to stay current and be active in promoting and supporting public land.

      I wonder if it's also because the opponents are so vocal. Sometimes I don't think us quiet, independent hikers like to get involved or like to get organized.

      I think a lot of people take our public lands for granted. I know I didn't know the difference between a national monument and a national park until recently, and didn't understand the process of how places become wilderness. A lot of visitors to state parks didn't know the difference between a state park and federal parks. It's really up to us to help educate people so we can protect these places that we all enjoy so much, so that they can stay open and safe for all to enjoy in the future.