Thursday, December 29, 2016

In the Shadow of the Bears Ears

Dear Grandkids and Great-Grandkids:

When you crest Cedar Mesa via the Moki Dugway. the only way to go is straight ahead, toward the Bears Ears.  They’re the top o’ the world in this part of southern Utah.

Some day you will come this way.  There’s a good chance it will still be worth the trip when you come.  This is so because yesterday, President Obama designated a new national monument, named for the Bears Ears, which stand roughly at the center of the million-acre monument.

All the usual bad guys — the pols, the land-raping miners and drillers, the off-road vandals, the gun-toting anti-feds — fought the thing tooth and nail.  The new regime will try to undo this but I’m guessing they’ll fail.

I hope so, because you and the generations that follow have a right to explore its wonders, if you choose  (and I hope you will), or just to know it’s there, part of the nearest thing we’ve got to real wilderness.  The coalition of Native Americans, environmental activists and natural scientists who urged Obama to create the monument cited its unequaled scenic beauty; its ancient ruins, petroglyphs and artifacts; its historical significance; and its sacred sites in the religions of the tribes. All of this, of course, is magnificent beyond words, But there is more . . .

The road west from Bluff Takes you up and over Comb Ridge (See recent post, “The Auctioning of Paradise”) and then down into Valley of the Gods.  You enter, and you never want to leave.  Once while photographing the hen and rooster rock formations we saw a deer approaching, unafraid.  Saxon, who usually chased such creatures, perhaps as smitten by the magic of the place as we were, invited it to play.  It stared curiously, as if considering the idea, but then wandered away.

You exit Valley of the Gods onto Utah 261 and turn north toward the sheer cliff face of Cedar Mesa.  You travel — slowly and carefully — from the valley floor to the top of the Mesa via the Dugway, an unpaved series of tight switchbacks originally built for hauling ore from a mine on the mesa to a refinery near Mexican Hat. Atop the mesa, you can choose any of a dozen jeep tracks and dirt roads into a wonderland of pinon forest, wildlife, cliff-dweller ruins and ancient artifacts.  Or you can stay on the main road to Natural Bridges National Monument.  The jeep track to the Bears Ears veers right off the road to Natural Bridges. The first time we went there the campground was full so we went to the overflow camping area at the intersection of Highways 261 and 95. There we had our first taste of Navajo fry bread courtesy of friendly camping neighbors.

To the east, a dirt road runs between 95 and 163, parallel to Comb Ridge. It takes you into Butler Wash where we camped in a copse of cottonwoods and used a brand-new GPS to find our very own Anasazi outbuilding, a granary built into the cliffside. Previous explorers had made a flat rock into an altar for the display of potsherds, arrowheads and other items protected by the same Antiquities Act that allowed the President to create the new Bears Ears monument.  Years later, when my metal replacement hip had healed, we came back here to test it on a slickrock hike, and heal our souls, as well,  at the foot of Comb Ridge.

North of here, in the high country overlooking Canyonlands National Park, is Sandy’s last campsite. Sandy, a spaniel, was old and ailing when we camped on a ledge beneath Antelope Rock, overlooking a wild and beautiful canyon ablaze with fall wildflowers.  In this part of the new monument is Windwhistle Campground, where on a crisp morning we first heard the haunting sounds of an expert Navajo flute player, a direct heir to Kokopelli.  Here we first learned to walk like Spiderman up sheer slopes of slickrock.  Here we made our famous breakfast slumgullion for half a dozen fellow hikers.  Or, come to think, was that the campsite in the  Abajos?  That was the day when Saxon “helped” a team of cowboys round up their cattle to take them to lower elevations before winter set in.

We’ve trod these canyons and forests, these mountains and mesas, these byways and trails, first with Sandy, then with Saxon, now with Brandi, each, in his own time, the perfect trail and camping companion.  All of these places, all of these memories, are part of the new national monument, under a new umbrella of protection from those who would profit by abusing it, by stealing from it.

A new regime is determined to take it away from you.  Don’t let them.  Come, drive the Moki, walk the mesa top, camp in the shadow of the Bears Ears. hear the flute in the whistle of the wind, ponder the message of the rock art, look for the deer in the shadow of the rock spires . . . This is your legacy, if you can keep it.

The Grandgeezer  

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