The Bears Ears And Beyond

The Ancient History of the Four Corners, USA

Rock Art etchings at Newspaper Rock.

I asked the question, “If you were to tell a visitor to this area where they could view Ancient American dwellings and rock art, what would you say?” The answer came quickly, “Pick any canyon and just start walking.” That was the response I received when speaking to an official at the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding, Utah. I suspected this was true, but I still sought confirmation. I've spent quite a bit of time in southeastern Utah shooting photos and video, and doing research, and I've yet to find that the “just start walking” statement was incorrect.

Ancient condos at Hovenweep National Monument.

Southeastern Utah and the Four Corners area that includes sections of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, is filled with ruins, artifacts, and rock art from an era where as recently as 800 years ago there were up to 200,000 people residing in the region. Researchers have identified that the inhabitants lived in the region until 1,200 A.D., when they either left, were driven out, or killed, when the more recent Shoshonean tribes of Native Americans entered the area, in particular the Utes and Navajos. Experts say that this was part of the Chaco culture that settled northwestern New Mexico and expanded into Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. They were known for their more elaborate structures, and I was quite astounded at the difference between these homes and the more simplified pit-houses I had often explored in western Utah.

House on Fire
Flames appear to rise from the top of this 1,000 year old structure.

Very recently this area of southeastern Utah, some of which is becoming known as the Bears Ears National Monument, has drawn strong interest. I'll leave the political discussion out of this post, and just suggest that this is a great place for outdoor exploration for anyone who cares for, and will treat the land, and it's history, with care and respect. The Bears Ears National Monument and the surrounding terrain of southeastern Utah covers a large area.

The Bears Ears formations for which the monument is named are shown in this photo below.

Bear's Ears
Bear's Ears formations in southeastern Utah.

With your own research you can identify locations that you'd like to visit, but here's an alphabetical list of some common places/attractions to put on your bucket list:

  • Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum
  • Goosenecks of the San Juan River
  • Hovenweep National Monument
  • Monument Valley (Tribal Park)
  • Moki Dugway
  • Muley Point
  • Natural Bridges National Monument
  • Valley of the Gods

Mountain biking on the rough rock in a back canyon of southeastern Utah.

Hidden between these destinations are many canyons and plateaus that await your discovery. Prepare well for your exploration with good maps (cell service is not always available), plenty of food, fuel, and water, and keep a good eye out for weather as extreme conditions can turn this back-country into a great challenge. No matter what time of year it is, bring along the right clothing and keep a small emergency bag and first aid kit on hand, as you may be far from a medical facility, or emergency assistance.