Blanding: The Gateway to Bears Ears
Mar 7, 2018
By: Chad Taylor
No one can shrink the awesomeness of Utah’s newest national monument
Much has been written/said/screamed about Bears Ears over the past handful of months. What you really need to know is that this area of Utah must be visited. The folks in the neighboring town of Blanding know this. They’ve been hiking/climbing/canyoneering in, and most importantly, conserving this area for years. Now they want to share it with the rest of us.
There has been much mystery surrounding what this monument is, why it’s named Bears Ears, etc. Much like Utah’s other amazing national/state parks and monuments this isn’t a place with one thing to see. It’s a place with a whole lot to do. Let us drop some knowledge:
Bears Ears is named for a couple of buttes that protrude from opposite ends of a towering mountain peak. These landmarks have been recognized by area natives for years, and have been given the same name by each of the groups: Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, Hoon'Naqvut. Translated to English: Bears Ears.
Bear Ears has been divided into two distinct regions...think of them like sub-monuments: Indian Creek and Shash Jaa. Here’s how we suggest you experience the area:
To call Blanding a hub-and-spoke for Southeastern Utah would be an understatement. It is located within 90 miles of 17 national, tribal, and state parks/monuments. Blanding is a classic Utah small town with big amenities. Plenty of convenient places to stay (we love Four Corners Inn and Canyonlands Lodge & Cabins) as well as some tasty places to dine at the beginning or end of your days of exploration (we’ve been well fed at Yaks Center Street Cafe and Homestead Steak House).
Drive the Indian Creek Scenic Byway
Head north on Hwy 191 for 35 miles
Turn left on Hwy 211 and enjoy the journey
12 miles in, you’ll arrive at Newspaper Rock –– one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs in the Southwest. The carvings you’ll see here were made by the Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo and Pueblo cultures approximately 2,000 years ago. Trust us, this is a newspaper you’ll actually want to try and read. If you’re into climbing (and know what you’re doing), keep going for a couple of miles and conquer Indian Creek –– one of the best climbing areas in Utah.
22 miles later, you’ll arrive at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Super scenic overlook and lots of good info in the visitor center. If you’re willing to go another 6.4 miles and you like taking pictures, head up to the Big Spring Canyon Overlook.
Explore Shash Jaa
From Blanding, head south on Hwy 191 for 3.9 miles
Turn right on Hwy 95
10.5 miles later you’ll arrive at a parking lot for Butler Wash Ruins –– cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans that represent the full range of living activities: habitation, ceremony, farming, hunting, storage, and tool-making. You’ll see four kivas (underground ceremonial chambers).
9 miles further on Hwy 95 is Mule Canyon Ruins. Multiple Ancestral Puebloan sites are located here. There is a super interesting ruin just minutes from the road, but we recommend taking the time to hike to House on Fire, one of the coolest ancient dwellings in Utah.
If you have 17.6 miles left in you, make the trek to Natural Bridges National Monument. Not only is it awesome and full of, you know, natural bridges, but when exiting the park you’ll get one of the clearest views of Bears Ears. Just make sure to courteously pull over to the right before you bust out the camera.
If you want to make it an even epic-er day, take the full loop by opting to take Hwy 261 south out of Natural Bridges to visit Moki Dugway, Muley Point scenic overlook and Valley of the Gods on the way back to Blanding.
Think of Blanding like an antonym. It’s an exciting, interesting, bright, lively place. If you want to hear what Bears Ears has to teach you, you have to stay close.
Need help with your exploration? Check out this list of guides and outfitters.