Creation and Modification
The establishment of Bears Ears National Monument was welcomed by the majority of people, especially conservationists, though was opposed by other interests, and party because of this, the protected region was greatly reduced in December 2017 - there are now just two distinct areas: the Indian Creek
unit near Canyonlands NP and the larger Shash Jaa
unit, which contains Comb Ridge, upper Comb Wash and land around the Bears Ears Buttes. Threats to the general area include potash mining and oil/gas development in the northern section, uranium mining at various scattered locations, and extraction of tar deposits near White Canyon. More general problems are illegal off road vehicle use and looting of ancient artefacts, though these have always occurred and it is unclear how, if at all, creation of the national monument affected the situation. Bears Ears, or its replacements, has no visitor center and is likely to remain essentially undeveloped, with little visible sign of its presence. The following description relates to the initial, much larger preserve.
To the southwest is a detached section of the national monument, centered on Mancos Mesa
, a remote area of land cut by several canyons, separated from the rest of the preserve by Red Canyon and Red Rock Plateau. The most visited region is east of here and south of Highway 276 and 95; either side of Hwy 261 - this is Cedar Mesa, crossed by dozens of canyons that ultimately drain into the San Juan River - major drainages include Grand Gulch
, Slickhorn Canyon
and Johns Canyon
to the west, and numerous tributaries of Comb Wash
to the east. This wash runs down one side of Comb Ridge, an 80-mile long monocline, with a sheer west face and more gentle slopes to the east, containing many short ravines. All major drainages in this section of the national monument contain Ancestral Puebloan remains, and many months could be spent exploring them.
After crossing part of the Abajo foothills and the upper reaches of Cedar Mesa, US 95 continues northwest towards Lake Powell, past Natural Bridges National Monument
and all along White Canyon
, a long and sometimes deep drainage through light-colored Cedar Mesa sandstone. It has around a dozen major tributaries, and these are generally more narrow, containing lengthy slot sections, often flooded; there are many opportunities for technical canyoneering here, with relatively easy access from the highway. Beyond, to the north, is the much deeper, more remote and harder to reach Dark Canyon
system, a branched ravine that extends from the Colorado River to the high mountains, ideal terrain for extended backpacking trips. Further north are two other major Colorado tributaries, Bowdie Canyon
and Gypsum Canyon
, on the far side of which is the lower relief landscape of Beef Basin
, bordering Canyonlands National Park. Highway 211 to the park crosses the monument for 20 miles, most of which is along the wide canyon of Indian Creek
, giving access to some interesting tributaries including Lavender and Stevens canyons. The northernmost section of the national monument, formerly part of Canyon Rims Recreation Area, is a relatively narrow band of grassy flats, red cliffs, shallow canyons and rocky basins, extending to Gooseneck Bend beside the Colorado River, beneath Dead Horse Point
. The higher elevation section is quite easily reached by a gravel track across Hatch Point.
Areas formerly within the National Monument
- flat plains, red cliffs, eroded formations and branched ravines, east of the Colorado River and north of the Abajo Mountains
- a wooded plateau over 6,500 feet in elevation, split by many branched canyons, of which the largest is Grand Gulch. The plateau and the ravines contain thousands of ancient sites.
- lengthy escarpment, a monocline, extending from Kayenta in Arizona northwards to the Abajo Mountain foothills. The east side is cut by many short canyons containing Ancestral Puebloan remains. This region remains in the monument, part of the Shash Jaa unit.
- deep, remote canyon system with generally difficult access, extending from the Colorado River to the slopes of the Abajo Mountains, at over 8,000 feet elevation.
- cliff of Wingate sandstone adorned with hundreds of petroglyphs, easily viewed along Hwy 211, the paved road to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. This region remains in the monument, part of the Indian Canyons unit.
Valley of the Gods
- isolated, deep red spires and buttes of Cedar Mesa sandstone, similar to Monument Valley. Crossed by a good quality dirt road, popular for primitive camping.
- 45 mile-long drainage through pale-colored Cedar Mesa sandstone, forming some slot-sections, and fed by many narrow tributaries.