I know, I know, I also think it’s funny that I just posted about moving to Washington, but this post is about Bears Ears. I should be out exploring my new home instead of my old one, but as most people from Utah will tell you—sometimes you can’t resist the call of the desert.
If Bears Ears sounds familiar to you it’s because it has made national news because Utah Governor Gary Herbert has asked the Trump Administration to rescind its national monument status, granted by President Obama under the Antiquities Act of 1906, despite Native American and public outcry in order to auction off land to oil and gas interests in the private sector.
A little history: Bears Ears is an incredibly sacred site for five Native American tribes—the Navajo Nation, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation and Pueblo of Zuni tribes all claim ancestral ties to this area. Within Bears Ears there are more than 100,000 protected archeological sites and it paints an extremely vivid portrait of prehistoric human life dating back roughly 13,000 years. Even today, you can still find pieces of pottery, maize, arrowheads and other pieces of literal history among the ruins and within the monument.
So, with the future protection and accessibility of Bears Ears hanging in the balance as it becomes the spotlight fight between executive branches and their conservationist agencies, Bears Ears overtook Glacier National Park as my number one site to see before climate change and a lack of environmental protection permanently altered this glorious monument.
We camped off of Cigarette Springs Road (kind of an odd name for a place where people camp and hike, right?) where the road dead ends into a nice spot that overlooks a small canyon. If you’re feeling crazy and want to explore, inside of a ridge to the right of the campsite, there’s a tiny spring that drains into a metal tub, that I assume somebody hauled in once upon time, which makes for a very refreshing—and cold—dip.
We decided to hike to the House on Fire ruins in the South Fork of Mule Canyon, about 30 miles from our campsite. The hike is ridiculously easy and only 4.5 miles round trip. The cons, like most of the cool trails, they’re usually crowded. We had the unfortunate luck of being right behind a pretty hostile photography group, who had set up an entire row of cameras in front of the ruins, refused to move and were throwing all kinds of dirty looks at us for making noise. It was kind of a bummer to be honest, we came to enjoy the ruins, not just take photos of them, and it sucked that we felt like we couldn’t get close to the ruins or look inside of them. PSA: Don’t be rude and passive aggressive when visiting public lands. They’re public for a reason after all, so it’s pretty rude to block off parts of the lands so only you can use it.
Phew, ok, rant over. On to happier things.
Luckily, we were able to hit a few other spots nearby. I’m pretty sure it was Fishmouth Cave, although I didn’t see any signs. Frankly, we just saw a road leading to a cave and followed it. I do know that the coordinates are 37.428004, -109.628542 off of Butler Wash Road. We didn’t do the entire hike, probably about 1.5 or 2 miles total. But we found two different ruins, as well as a quick, steep climb over some slick rock to what I assume is Fishmouth Cave. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish the hike up into the cave, but I’d imagine the views would be amazing.
Then we made a quick pitstop to the Sand Island petroglyphs. These are extremely accessible and we only had to walk about 100 feet from the parking area to get to the petroglyphs. They continue on for a while, but we were tired and decided to take a quick look and head back. Unfortunately, along with ancient petroglyphs, there’s also some graffiti that has happened over the years. Graffiti aside, it still offers an incredible look into the lives of ancient people. We found what we thought was a map of the Colorado River along with where one could find game herds and other wildlife.
We took the scenic route home via the Muley Point Overlook in Mexican Hat, which is definitely worth the stop. You have to drive through Valley of the Gods to get there—which is a breathtaking drive in itself. On a clear day, Muley Point offers views of Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks, Four Corners and Monument Valley.
And finally, completing the loop back to the campsite, we took the infamous Moki Dugway road. And, holy shit, is it scary. For those who don’t know, it’s three miles of extremely wind-ey, two-way, unpaved road with no guardrails going up the literal cliff side of Cedar Mesa. Just let that sink in. But, if heights and impending death around every corner don’t scare you, then you’ll be impressed by the views of Valley of the Gods.
To round out the trip, on the way out we stopped by the Hite Crossing Bridge to catch those last glimpses of the desert and the Colorado River—because, who can resist that last chance to press your toes in red sand?
If you’re interested in learning more about the efforts to save Bears Ears, make sure to check out the links below:
*Moki Dugway photo found here