Jay Meehan: Love song to the Bears Ears
October 20, 2015
Although the "Bears Ears" buttes aren’t spectacular in the same manner of many southern Utah topographical features, I’ve always found them to be as "huggable" a sandstone formation as you’re likely to come across. They radiate warmth, especially when they call out to you from far across that magic landscape.
So when these eroded remnants of the older Jurassic Wingate formation became the focal point of a coalition of five-sovereign tribal nations petitioning the Obama Administration for a collaboratively managed 1.9 million acre national monument, it jerked me out of my recent doldrums.
It also pleased me on many levels. Not the least being the coefficient of annoyance it would layer upon many of my friends from the "right." Speaking of which, members of the visiting coalition also dropped off copies of the proposal with Utah Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.
These are the two usual suspects who have been busy for what seems like geological eons fashioning a Public Lands Initiative dealing with management of this and other lands in the southeastern portion of the state. When you totally ignore tribal input on such matters, it obviously burns a lot of daylight.
What the coalition of Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni hopes to accomplish is to prod the administration into invoking the Antiquities Act of 1906 in order to create the monument, thereby staving off developmental desecration on lands directly related to their respective creation myths.
The "footprint" for the proposed monument also made evident that many of the sacred spaces contained therein are also holy to my "head-banded slick-rock" tribe’s spiritual rebirth.
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The southern section of the Manti-LaSal National Forest with the laccolithic Abajo Mountains and the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area are within the proposed boundaries, as are Natural Bridges National Monument, Cedar Mesa, Owl Canyon, and, down those legendary switchbacks, the Valley of the Gods.
Then there’s Grand Gulch, Buckhorn Canyon, Red House Cliffs, Nokai Dome, and Moqui Canyon. The "arrowhead" of Wilson Mesa is included as the western edge, mostly following the Colorado River down from Canyonlands National Park to its confluence with the San Juan River, skirts, for the most part, the Glen Canyon National Recreation area.
Following the San Juan River eastward far enough to include Comb Ridge, the boundary line heads due north past White Mesa while sort of paralleling Hwy 191 up to the Shaffer Basin country west of Moab.
That leaves us with those two adorable "little" adjacent mesas situated right in the middle of it all and topping out roughly at about 9,000-feet — those quite-special land features that lend their collective name to both the Inter-Tribal Coalition and the proposed National Monument. That would be the Bears Ears.
Just to the east of Natural Bridges and positioned by the Creators-in-question about a half-dozen miles up Elk Ridge Road (actually, I believe the buttes preceded the byway), the Bears Ears, respectively, abide. Of course, when you’re trekking between them, they regain much of the respect that words such as "cute" and "adorable" tend to erode.
The Arch Canyon Overlook reposes up the road a piece and, if you squint just right you might see the canyon mouth way over yonder past Cathedral Arch and Angel Arch to near where Hwy 95 busts on through Comb Ridge. Myself, however, these days squinting seldom accomplishes much more than imprinting wrinkles to facial memory.
What we’re talking about with the Bears Ears National Monument proposal is the protection of more than 100,000 locales that are sacred to even more tribes than those involved in the Coalition. It’s about archeology and culture and the ongoing destruction and looting of sacred sites by the ignorant and greedy among us.
A most interesting aspect of the proposal is the collaborative management of both the Feds and the Tribes. There could even be an epiphany or two on both sides as the arrangement, if it comes to be, plays out. That would follow public and "stakeholder" involvement, of course, and there are many in power both locally and nationally that aren’t necessarily smitten with this idea.
Those of us who have long put boots on the ground within these boundaries, however, are feeling the love and sending it along to the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and those who actively support their efforts. Wow! Can you imagine? It’s about healing us all!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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