The Bear’s Ears National Monument,
designated in December, 2016, comprises over 1.3 million acres of public lands in Southeastern Utah. Named for the twin Bear’s Ears buttes that sit roughly in the center of the monument, It includes a variety of beautiful places worthy of exploration: Valley of the Gods, Comb Ridge, Grand Gulch, Dark Canyon Wilderness, Lockhart Basin, to name a few!
I have traveled to the area and brought people on photography trips to the many times; after all, it’s only a 5 1/2 hour drive from Santa Fe! And I have learned a
lot about the geology, weather and human history of the area. The rock formations form a colossal layer cake with names like Entrada, Navajo, Kayenta, Morrison, Carmel, and each represents millions of years of accumulated sands and sediments from deserts, lakes, rivers and beaches. You truly begin to appreciate a sense of deep time as you silently wander through bright red, orange, purple, even blue formations and contemplate the artistry of time, wind and water.
As you wander through the rock gardens, you will most likely come across signs of people who lived here long ago. Petroglyphs that challenge you to decipher their meaning, dwellings perched high above canyon floors, and more recent roadbeds and ruins left by the people who moved into and through the area over the last 150 years.
I first visited the area in 1984, and was amazed by the red landscape…so red that the color was even reflected in the clouds! And, no one there. Talk about solitude. I pulled off a few miles on a dirt road and got out and wandered, the silence so profound I could hear my heart beating.
It had been a hot day in early July, and puffy cumulus clouds had fattened during the afternoon. I sat on a rounded pinnacle of smooth red slickrock and watched cloud shadows. The effect of the shifting light was fascinating. Instead of appearing to drift across the landscape, the patches of light randomly illuminated different sections of the complex of rock. Far away, a wall of white and buff would come into bright focus, then dim, replaced by a luminous pink ridge in the foreground.
A distant rumbling seemed to come from the rocks themselves. It echoed and faded, deepening my trance. But a few chilly raindrops finally caught my attention. Looking up, I saw the leading edge of a dark cloud overhead. Thoughts of lightning brought my brain into sharp focus–this was not a good place to be. I stood up and looked for the way I had come up. Everything appeared different from above, however. Closest was a dropoff of about 20 feet or so to a lower ledge. Another rumble of thunder, much closer–I needed to move quickly.
I finally found a narrow ledge that was a only few feet lower than where I stood. I jumped, with my arms in the air to counterbalance, and heard a slight static crackle from my fingertips.
I found shelter in a shallow cave midway down the rock. The cave was at the back of an open grotto with a sand floor. An old piñon grew straight up out of the sand. Behind it, the sandstone had been eroded by wind into smaller versions of the cave I was in. A brief shower soaked the rock and sand, and trickled down the strange formations. The sky eventually lightened, and I ventured out.
I heard before I saw the rushing water. All that had fallen on the rocks was being channeled down a narrow crevasse, and over a ledge to cascade into a deep pool. Warmed by the rock, the water was soothing, so I eased into the pool and let the cascade shower over me.
Gradually, the clouds broke, and the sun approached the horizon. Just as the last rays of sunset bathed the rocks around me in deep orange, a rainbow glowed beneath the departing cloud, then faded into twilight.