Archaeologists uneasy as Trump shrinks Bears Ears monument lands

PDF version A US government plan to slash protections for one of North America’s richest and best-preserved archaeological landscapes has prompted a wave of concern among researchers. On 4 December, US President Donald Trump announced that he had cut the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah from 547,000 hectares to 82,000. That removes protections for thousands of Native American cultural sites, some as many as 13,000 years old. The president’s action leaves the national monument, created last year by h

Source: Archaeologists uneasy as Trump shrinks Bears Ears monument lands

6 Things President Trump Got Wrong When Decimating America’s National Monuments – Center for American Progress

6 Things President Trump Got Wrong When Decimating America’s National Monuments By Jenny Rowland and Kate Kelly Posted on December 5, 2017, 1:20 pm President Trump signs the hat of Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, after signing a proclamation to shrink the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Salt Lake City, December 4, 2017. AP/Rick BowmerPresident Trump signs the hat of Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, after signing a procla

Source: 6 Things President Trump Got Wrong When Decimating America’s National Monuments – Center for American Progress

Recent Events…

It wasn’t a government “land grab.” It wasn’t Washington DC waltzing in and taking the land, forcing people from their homes.  The lands in question, Bears Ears National Monument (Ceder Mesa and the surrounding area) and the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument were already Federal Land. No state land was taken/stolen.  In the case of the GSENM, several SITLA (school trust lands owned by the state) parcels were traded to the Federal Government, by the State of Utah, in exchange for large blocks of valuable, resource-rich land outside the monument boundaries.  Again, NOTHING was stolen/taken/absconded with.

The establishment of the Monuments was done with the intention to protect and preserve areas possessing unique natural, and cultural qualities. What the monument status did was add layers of protection to sensitive, irreplaceable paleontological, and archaeological sites – fossil beds, dinosaur tracks, rock art, prehistoric burials, villages, ceremonial features and sacred landscapes.  Monument status would help in preserving pristine wildlife habitat, riparian areas, delicate desert vegetation systems and unbroken, spectacular viewscapes – if managed/funded adequately enough to do so.

I’ve spent years working and recreating in these places – hiking, camping, climbing, wandering, conducting archaeological survey and site documentation. I spent a season working as a BLM backcountry ranger at Kane Gulch.  I’ve seen what unrestricted development, unrestricted grazing, mining, drilling, ORV traffic and, yes, even unrestricted recreation (mountain biking, horseback riding, climbing route development, even foot travel) can do to these surprisingly delicate places.  They all leave a lasting footprint, some bigger than others.

Yes, National Monument status means more visitors. Kane Gulch Ranger Station, now in the middle of Bears Ears National Monument, saw a HUGE increase in visitors this year – over 13k just this spring alone.  The rangers speculate this was due not only to the new Monument designation but to the controversy brought on by Zinke’s recent visit and the rumors of eliminating or significantly downsizing the Monument.  They actually had visitors express a need to see it “before it was gone.”  Cedar Mesa had been seeing an increase in visitors every year beginning in 2006 when the BLM opened a new, brick and mortar visitor center/ranger station at the Kane Gulch trailhead. Prior to that, the “Ranger Station” consisted of an old, 20′ camp trailer.  The refrigerator served as the filing cabinet for backcountry permits and extra maps, and the oven housed the backstock of stickers and flyers.  Now, with unlimited virtual access to places like Moon House, Perfect Kiva and The Procession Panel, more and more people are physically seeking out these locations to post selfies and, well, I digress…

What is potentially at stake with Trump’s recent “downsizing/rescinding” of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments isn’t just the shrinking of Monument boundaries.  This action could open up archaeologically and paleontologically rich/sensitive areas to surface mining, oil and gas drilling, unrestricted vehicle impacts, real estate development, increased looting/pothunting.  The “new” Bears Ears National Monument would NOT include Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch or Fish & Owl Canyons.  Originally they were protected from development by their Primitive Area or Wilderness Study Area status. What their status would be after Trump’s “downsizing” is uncertain.  These places were included in the 2016 Monument boundary because of their sacredness to several Native American tribes. They were included for protection because of the irreplaceable archaeological treasures found therein. They were included to protect pristine wildlife habitat and riparian areas, ie. their “wilderness quality.”  That will all be in question, if Trump has his way.

I find hope in the fact that what Trump is trying to do is illegal. There are several organizations planning to file or have filed lawsuits to stop this, including a coalition of the Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni and the Hopi, Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes, suing on behalf of the Bears Ears, and the Wilderness Society, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of the Grand Staircase-Escalante.   Yvon Chouinard, owner of gear/apparel company Patagonia is planning a lawsuit on behalf of Bears Ears.

Right now, I’m in “wait and see” mode.  I’m hoping that someone with the power to do so will say that rescinding the Monuments is, indeed, illegal and can’t be done. Or, barring that, the lawsuits will tie the action up for years, until a new, stable administration that truly values our national heritage and Public Lands takes over.

“It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird…” Theodore Roosevelt.

The Best Budget Thru-Hiking Gear – Backpacker

The Best Budget Thru-Hiking GearThrifty options that get the job done. Scott Yorko Feb 3, 2017 258 SHARESThinking about your next thru hike? Plan and execute the hike of your dreams with Backpacker’s Thru Hiking 101 online course today!Sometimes, your dreams are just bigger than your budget. The good news: You don’t need expensive or top-of-the-line gear to hike a long trail. Get going with these strong budget picks.

Source: The Best Budget Thru-Hiking Gear – Backpacker

Trump aims attack at national monuments: 20 at risk |

Trump aims attack at national monuments: 20 at risk President Trump is ordering a “review” of about half of all national monuments designated since the beginning of 1996, a sweeping action that is intended to shrink boundaries and reduce protections. The executive order will put more than 20 national monuments in the crosshairs, ranging from rare wildlife habitat to Native American archaeological ruins, stretching from Maine to California to Pacific islands. Photo: California Coastal National Monument. C

Source: Trump aims attack at national monuments: 20 at risk |

Trump To Sign Executive Order That Could Shrink National Monuments : NPR

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order Wednesday that could end up shrinking — or even nullifying — some large federal national monuments on protected public lands, as established since the Clinton administration.The move is largely seen as a response by the new administration to two controversial, sweeping national monument designations made late in the Obama administration: the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah considered sacred to Native American tribes and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada near the Bundy Ranch, site of the 2014 armed standoff over cattle grazing on public land.

Source: Trump To Sign Executive Order That Could Shrink National Monuments : NPR

Is Instagram Ruining the Great Outdoors? | Outside Online

The great outdoors is all over social media. On Instagram, the hashtag #nature has been used more than 20 million times. Attach a geotag to your photo of last weekend’s campsite, and your followers can tramp to the exact same spot. Some nature lovers worry about the downside to this: Is Instagram funneling hordes of people to places that can’t handle this crush of admirers? Are those filtered, perfectly tinted pics sending a message that people can always go where they want, when they want, and how they wa

Source: Is Instagram Ruining the Great Outdoors? | Outside Online

The death of backpacking? (The death of backpacking?) — High Country News

Great essay in The High Country News.  I am not giving up.  An experience I recently had in the Grand Canyon gives me hope.  I took an extra layover day, at Indian Gardens, during my Tonto Tour in March.  I wanted a rest day to just relax, eat, borrow a book from the little “library” there and enjoy being in the canyon.  A young family was camping in the space next to me – three young kids and their parents.  No iPads, iPods, Gameboys, whining, complaining, boredom.  Those kids were having the time of their lives and clearly enjoyed backpacking.  I hope their parents continue immersing them in wilderness-time.  Those kids are our hope for the future of wild places.

The adrenalized relationship with the natural world is also an experience of human conquest – the peak-bagger’s pathology. Ironically, it’s not much different from the benighted mindset of corporate accountancy: How many cliffs base-jumped? How many extreme trails conquered? Faster, more. And always the adrenalin payoff Casimiro perceives – not dissimilar to the monetary payoff chased by capitalists.

Source: The death of backpacking? (The death of backpacking?) — High Country News

Grand Gulch In Bears Ears National Monument

Grand Gulch, part of the newly established Bears Ears National Monument, is a remote canyon system located south and west of Blanding, UT. Numerous sites dating from the Archaic period to PIII can be found here, as well as some of the finest examples of ancient rock art in the Southwest.

Backpacking in Lower Grand Gulch
Getting There

Located on State Route 261, the Kane Gulch Ranger Station is 4 miles south of US Hwy 95 at the upper entry point into Grand Gulch, visitors to the area need to stop by here and register with the ranger and pay the day use fee, or overnight fee if you are backpacking in the canyon. As the name implies, this is a non-developed, primitive recreation area. Access into the canyon is by foot travel, although horse/pack animal access is allowed in certain portions of the canyon. The trails in and out of the canyon can range from steep, slightly technical scrambles to long, flat sand washes with everything in between.

What You Can See

Besides the incredible scenery of the canyon itself, several archaeological sites including Jail House Ruin, Perfect Kiva and Junction Ruin, as well as dozens of granaries and rock art too numerous to count are all located in Grand Gulch, many within day-hiking range from the BLM Ranger station at Kane Gulch.

Surrounding Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa offers beautiful hiking, primitive car camping (in established sites) and opportunities to explore numerous mesa top sites.

Tips for Your Visit
Take only pictures

Transportation on Cedar Mesa can be an adventure in itself. The roads leading off of State route 261 consist of unimproved dirt roads, most requiring at least an all-wheel drive vehicle. Low clearance, 2-wheel drive cars may not get you where you want to go here. Keep in mind that the character of any one of the Cedar Mesa roads can change dramatically after one rain storm. Washouts, sandy areas and arroyo cutting are all part of the adventure.

Slick rock campsites – Leave No Trace

The ranger station has a good collection of books and maps for sale, focusing on the Grand Gulch/Cedar Mesa area. The rangers will also have information regarding which archaeological sites are open and accessible to the public. In addition, they have current water conditions and weather forecasts. Both are very important for anybody planning on venturing below the canyon rims. For more information on visiting archaeologically sensitive areas, check this link out.


Hera’s first backpacking trip

Ready to hit the trail

We rescued Hera, a cute Blue Heeler with not so cute issues, about 3 years ago.  Last summer, I decided that I’d like to try backpacking with her.  She’s a fearful dog so, while she is obedient 90% of the time, we always walk her on-leash.  Keeping her on a leash is our choice and not up for discussion.  That said, she’s very happy to carry a little backpack for day hikes.  She loves hiking!  I chose a 3-day hike to do that wouldn’t involve any technical/difficult scrambling or climbing, would have plenty of water and would be less popular with the masses – ie., not Lake Catherine.

For this adventure, I’d take my lightweight, 2-person tent (not enough room for myself and the dog in the Seedhouse).  She’s always done well in our big car-camping tent, so I didn’t forsee any problems.  Other than the bigger tent, and a bearproof canister for food, my kit would pretty much be the same that I always carry.  Hera would carry her little backpack, and in addition to the snacks she usually carries, she’d have a little, lightweight bedroll, some extra kibble and her collapsible food bowl.  We packed up, left details about our route and when we’d be home and headed out.  Once at the trailhead, I strapped her into her backpack, and me into mine and we started out.  Ten steps from the truck a loud clap of thunder announced that weather was over the ridge, and we might have some precipitation.  The trail wouldn’t take us anywhere exposed or up high, so I decided to continue on.  About 1/4 mile in, it started to hail – little, tiny hailstones.  I learned that Hera doesn’t like hail.

What is this devilry?

She actually managed to slip out of her backpack at one point, and just laid down in the trail.  We ducked under a large boulder and let the hail pass.  Once she was back into her pack, and it had quit hailing we continued on.


Lunchtime came and I chose a little meadow area, near a creek to stop and eat.  She wasn’t sure about eating out in a meadow.  The kibble was completely unappetizing so, I offered her a sausage snack.  That was apparently adequate trail food.  We kept going, passed through a fairly heavy rain squall, hiked up and out of a fog bank, and managed to make about 9 miles.  She was a trooper.  I chose a nice campsite, overlooking a meadow complete with a little trout stream, and some elk.

Elk watching

I got her dried off, set up the tent, hung the bear canister and we settled in for the evening.  I’m not sure she was having much fun.  From the look on her face, she was skeptical.  After dinner, we took a walk down to the creek where she saw her first free-swimming fish.  She was more than happy to crawl into the tent for the night.  I was quite pleased with the results of her first day out, and she didn’t snore at all.

Where is this place and when do we go home?

The next day we packed up for a day-hike.  No backpack for her! I carried my little summit pack with our food and my water.  We did a nice loop hike, exploring several large meadows and low ridge tops.  I don’t think she was much impressed with the scenery, but LOVED rolling in the fresh grass – we don’t have any at home.


Back to camp for our last evening.  Unfortunately, the mosquitoes discovered our location and took a special interest in Hera.  I sprayed my bandana with Ben’s and laid that across her while I ate dinner.  It seemed to help.

Tents are just big, soft-sided doghouses

We slept in, and after breakfast and one last walk down to our trout stream, packed up and started hiking out.  We had good weather for the return trip and made good time.  There were even several bovines near the trailhead for Hera’s entertainment.  She loves cows, it’s in her genes.  As much as I would have enjoyed watching her scatter them, I kept her on leash.

We got back to the truck, ditched our packs and headed home.  I did stop at a drive-thru for a burger and fries.  Hera loves drive-thrus.  She knows that those people mean food, and are somehow ok.  She’s never once tried to keep them at bay.

Ready for a cheeseburger