UT 95 crosses the Colorado at Hite and the nearby overlook provided seemingly infinite views out cross the canyon lands that make up this portion of the plateau.
Once across the Colorado the road climbed deliberately up to the top of Cedar Mesa (I’m back!), and here, in the shadow of the Bears Ears, I found Natural Bridges NM. Given how empty the roads were I was surprised to find a very well built visitor center and a good number of people out exploring the monument. The main attraction is, of course, the natural bridges, of which there are three main ones that most people go to. I originally planned to do a ranger-recommend loop from Sipapu Bridge to Kachina Bridge and back, but on the descent down to Sipapu Bridge my knees felt worn out from previous days’ exertions and I abandoned to loop idea to instead drive to each bridge and do the corresponding out-and-back trail. The net total was still about 3 miles, so I didn’t feel that lazy.
Each of the three bridges was quite different than the others and I could not pick a favorite. Sipapu is grand and strong and imposing; it is perhaps the most picturesque of the three.
Kachina, who straddles not one, but two streams is the newbie of the bunch, but is completely captivating as you stand sheltered in its cooling shadow.
Finally, Owachomo is thin and delicate; ancient and wise. The dry slickrock beneath it tells of much older times.
Natural Bridges is surrounded by the very-newly-formed Bears Ears NM, so named for a pair of mesas that look like the ears of a bear rising up from behind the horizon.
This monument basically fills in the triangle formed by the Colorado and San Juan rivers and US 191. Back in December I was in this area and even then it wasn’t a National Monument! Returning after such a short time away to this newly protected place made me feel like I was somehow participating in an important part of conservation history. (NOTE: see below)
After Natural Bridges it was only 10 miles down UT 95 to Mule Canyon, which has a nice hike I had been looking forward to for a long time. The canyon was lush with life and the scent of sage and pine was intoxicating. The abundance of flowers along the damp creek bed made the late-afternoon stroll feel like paradise and at one point I passed a flowering Manzanita that was vibrating and humming with the busy work of a multitude of bees.
Also in Mule Canyon is the much-photographed House On Fire, a cliff dwelling who’s rock ceiling gives the appearance of flames billowing from the roof. When I arrived the light was just about perfect so I couldn’t help take a snap or two:
Camp for the night was only another 4-5 miles down the road at the base of Comb Ridge in the Comb Wash dispersed camping area. There were a lot of RV’s here, but I managed to find a nice spot beneath a grand old cottonwood tree. It was no accident that I chose to camp here, a mere 20 or so miles from where I was almost exactly four months ago. It was a good night for reflection.
Hite sucks. Does Ed Abbey appreciate the irony that Hite Marina, which marked the drowned town of Hite, is now itself dying because the waters of Lake Powell are too low?
Some people I met at Comb Wash spoke with surprisingly passionate intensity as they described how cool downtown Grand Junction is. Who knew!
As I mentioned above, the Bears Ears National Monument is super super new; it was basically the last thing Obama did while in office. His decision to set aside these lands for protection as a monument was based on a years-long campaign by local coalition that included a wide range of voices from outdoor enthusiasts to off-roaders to local tribal leaders and everyone in between. To get an idea of how much work the Obama administration did to understand all sides of the issue (because it was - and still is - somewhat divisive), consider that they sent people all the way from Washington to a packed town-hall meeting in Bluff, UT. Bluff is basically as far from Washington as you can get, so you know they cared about getting it right.
Unfortunately, there are some greedy punks in Utah (i.e., the governor) who want that land back in their greasy little hands so they can sell mineral rights to companies who would seek to rip apart the top of Cedar Mesa and the surrounding canyon lands. As such they petitioned President Trump to not only overturn the designation of Bears Ears, but also to shrink the size of the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument to a quarter of its current size. The governor is misleading Washington about the consensus that was built to establish Bears Ears and ignoring the voices coming from his own state.
On April 26th President Trump instructed the Secretary of the Interior to re-examine all national monuments formed since 1996 in a clear attempt to take Bears Ears and GSENM from the American People and put them in the hands of a few, specific interests.
Even if you’re not into the diversity of beauty and soul-filling power of these environments you should still be mad that the leadership in Utah is trying to take something from all of us to give it to a few people. This is not a Utah issue: these lands belong to you and now someone is trying to take them away from you.
If you want to do something about it here are some tips:
Call Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and tell him that you like having access to cool lands and that you want them protected. His number is (202) 208-7351.
Check out the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. They are very active in the politics of land preservation and are perhaps leading the charge to save these monuments.
Tell other people about this! Like I said above, this is an issue that affects all Americans. As I’ve said many times already the presence of wilderness is crucial to the survival of the American psyche. Don’t let these vicious, greedy punks ruin your soul.