My friend Polly goes out to Bears Ears a few times a year as a ritual. For her, it’s a time to decompress and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of town, and to explore an area rich in archaeological sites and fantastic natural beauty. When she invited me to go out with her this weekend I hopped on the opportunity. With all the work I’ve been doing to get ready for my trip, I was looking forward to the chance to decompress myself, and Bears Ears was a place I had never gotten the chance to explore myself. So I packed a bag and lots of food (we’d be car camping and day hiking), hopped in her car, and headed south out of Moab.
We started driving down the road on the East side of Comb Ridge, spent a full day and a morning exploring the many canyons of the comb. We ran into a friend of mine, Jojo, who works as an archaeologist out of Mancos, Colorado and has spent much professional and personal time exploring this area. She wished us luck and told us she was going to be in the area for the weekend, working as an archaeological representative for the BLM for a documentary on climbing towers in Bears Ears. A pleasant and unexpected run in with her, then we got to hiking.
Our second day brought us into the Valley of the Gods, where we saw something that made us both shake our heads and just laugh. Two tour vans from Farmington, NM were stopped on the side of the road and deposited about 20 people across the middle of the road where they stood taking pictures of some rock climbers way making their way down a huge tower in the center of the valley. I was tempted to take a photo of them taking photos of these climbers, feeling that their fascination with (of all the things they could be fascinated with in this place) the climbers on the wall was pretty laughable. We drove around the tower, and who did we run into but none other than Jojo? Those climbers were the ones being filmed for the documentary that she was working for through the BLM, and one of the filmmakers made sure to come over and introduce himself and shake our hands. He drove over to the other side of the tower to meet the climbers as they made their way to the valley floor, and Jojo stood with us on the road for another 20-30 minutes answering all of our questions about archaeology and some of the things that we had seen so far and would see later that day and the next day. Her passion for archaeology and people in general is contagious and her extensive knowledge about the greater Bears Ears area is evident from the moment you start talking to her. Hugs and jokes about running into each other in the middle of nowhere again, then we were off, now towards Road Canyon.
A night of camping in Road Canyon, and a momentarily unbelievable moon rise over Sleeping Ute Mountain, and the next day, our last of our car camping weekend, we went to Mule Canyon and spent all day hiking in and above the canyon to find the many structures there and revel in the beauty of the huge ponderosas, red maple, and cool mountain/canyon weather.
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. I got to see some new places, learned a ton about archaeology from Jojo, and spent a considerable amount of time speculating about the meaning of rock art and the methods used to create such impressive ancient structures, and how I might be able to learn from them. It was also a great refresher from being in town now for the last few months, mostly working from home on my laptop getting ready for my next big trip. Most importantly, it gives me the opportunity to share these amazing photos, and to share the following information that the BLM provides to all of those travelling in areas with sensitive archaeological artifacts. Please click each photo and read through each page, then go back over the photos from our hikes and consider how valuable and fragile the artifacts of our native american history are and how you can actively protect them when visiting these areas. Perhaps the best way to enjoy them is through these photographs, and not by going there yourself. More than any other place I’ve ever been, the greater Bears Ears area is one that makes me feel like I should never go back there. Not because I don’t wish to explore it and learn more from that experience, but out of an appreciation for the wildness of that place and my wish to keep it wild. Seeing these places is a magical experience, but one that inevitably impacts the landscape and encourages other travelers to go there themselves and compound the overall impact.