Bears Ears

Kathy and Kirk got ready for their 3-day, 20+-mile back-packing trek down Kane Canyon and up Bullet Canyon in the Cedar Mesa region of Utah, which is now part of the Bears Ears National Monument. Most of the Bears Ears area was either BLM land or National Forest before becoming the newest National Monument, with an area about the same size as the state of Delaware.

We moved Kirk’s car to the Bullet trailhead so they would have a vehicle waiting when they finished their hike. The weather forecast was predicting sunny days and the plan was to meet up again at the end of the hike, so we had a couple of days to explore the area ourselves.

Natural Bridges National Monument was nearby and is now surrounded by Bears Ears, a monument within a monument. We hiked to the three natural bridges and ruins in the park. The difference between a natural bridge and an arch is that a natural bridge is created by a river eroding the rock to form a bridge, while an arch if formed by rock walls fracturing due to weather erosion. Now you know.

That afternoon we drove out to Muley Point, which is now also part of Bears Ears, to meet up with Lou and Nancy, who were enroute to their home in Colorado from the Overland Expo show in Flagstaff. Muley Point sits up on a high plateau overlooking the San Juan River gorge and Monument Valley in the distance.

We had a great night catching up while the wind howled outside across the plateau. The next day they headed for home while Pam and I watched a storm rolling north towards us.

We left Muley Point before the rains made the only exit road impassable. We drove north, in rain and sleet, past the Bullet Canyon trailhead and two back-packers who were apparently hiking the 7 miles back to Kane for their car. We picked them up and dropped them at the Ranger Station and their car.

We continued north until we were out of the rain and back at Natural Bridges NM again. In a case of instant Karma, when I asked the ranger if they had any camping spots left, she said no, but the man behind me said he had a spot and was leaving early so we could have it – pre-paid. Gotta like it.

While it continued to rain over the Cedar Mesa area, the sky broke over Natural Bridges for a gorgeous evening. Pam and I did a walk around the campground area and found a solar cell field. Surprisingly, this small field was the world’s largest solar array when it was first installed back in the ‘80s, providing the electrical power to the park.

The next day Pam and I hiked Mule Canyon, exploring the ruins that can be found in just about every canyon in this area. The first ruins we came upon are known as “house on fire” ruins due to the rock flame coloring above the ruins.

Further down the canyon was another ruin tucked under the overhang of the sandstone wall.

The wind began to blow colder and clouds rolled in as we made our way to the Bullet Canyon trailhead. A ranger at Natural Bridge confirmed what we now knew, weather prediction in the area further than you could see was poor. I hiked down in to meet up with Kirk and Kathy on their way out. Pam decided to guard the warm Roamer.

Not far into the canyon you come to the watchtower ruins that stand as a sentinel to the canyon.

After a few miles, the canyon closes in and two awesome sandstone chutes need to be traversed to get further down the canyon. What a blast to hike down these chutes. One can easily see that with a little more water the sandstone becomes very slick, and the route becomes impassable. Even dry, it would be awkward hiking up them with a pack.

The first chute looks like a cliff until you get closer.

This is a view looking back up the chute, where the first ledge is about 3 feet tall where the water falls.

The second chute was just as interesting.

I ran into Kirk and Kathy just after the chutes and we retraced my path out of the canyon. Just prior to leaving the canyon, the light rain turned to big fluffy white snowflakes. We all jumped in the warm Roamer, had some hot home-made chicken soup and watched the outside slowly turning white at the trailhead.

Because Kirk and Kathy were tent camping, we decided to drive out of the weather again to find a more suitable campsite for them. As it turned out the weather system was larger than we thought, and the snow began coming down hard.

We ended up in a Blanding, UT parking lot for the night, the closest town in the area. The next morning it was still snowing when we woke so we all headed south towards Arizona and home.

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