Crack open Google Earth and zoom in over the American southwest and you’ll see a remarkable brown smear over the four corners region. This is red-rock country–primordial, sanguine clay-stained soil–where wind and water have steadily burnished mother earth’s soft patina into goblin-like hoodoos and neck-craning arches. It’s also the confluence of nowhere and American politics, where this past winter, state’s rights rammed head-on with National Monument status. This is Bears Ears.
If you’re late to this party, (or out of the country … or simply can’t keep up with our ever-changing political currents) here’s the CliffsNotes. This past December then President Obama penned 1.3 million acres of this staggeringly barren land as a National Monument, protecting 18 wilderness study areas and miles of pre-western archeological sites from looting and energy development. Ink still wet on the page, Utah’s Governor signed a resolution crying federal overreach, urging the new administration to trump the decree.
This tripped a cascade of outdoor industry revolts; Patagonia, and then Arc’Teryx announced they would boycott of the outdoor industry trade show juggernaut, Outdoor Retailer, held bi-annually in Utah. Eventually OR itself decided it was time to pull the plug on Utah, citing Governor Herbert “has a different perspective on protections of public lands…and it’s bad for our business…”
Heeding the call of the feril, we were already plotting a route across this brick-stain on the map. The political kerfuffle only added to our curiosity. So we racked the bikes and punched the coordinates due south and proceeded onward to pedal-about into the Colorado Plateau.
Below is a photo essay of what we found hiding between the folds of Bears Ears: ruins, rivers, desert towers…history, man … rich and wild. For more on the story, surf on over to www.xpdtn3.club.
Steve Graepel is a member of XPDTN3, a collective of adventurers, photographers, storytellers, and bike-industry insiders who push the boundaries of what can be done on 3-day bike adventures. Visit xpdtn3.club to enjoy their stories, photos, videos and access support information – like food, lodging and GPX tracks – to help you plan your next adventure. Where will you ride next weekend?
Wind and water. Give it enough time and it’s pretty amazing what the pair can do: Hoodoos, spires … arches … pretty much all of southeast Utah. And while Monument Valley to the south gets all the press … the smaller and lesser known, Valley of the Gods is still pretty damn spectacular. And not being on Navajo lands, the 17 mile road is easy to explore.
Moon House ruins; hosting visitors for for 800+ years. Cedar Mesa is the kind of place you can really get your chakra on. And I’m not alone in that line of thinking. The entire area is said to host more prehistoric antiquities than anywhere else in North America.
This spring, the desert runway brings pedal pushers and red rock towers. Drop bars and flat pedals…yeah, we know. It breaks all the rules. Determined to save weight, pedal, paddle, and hike around, we opted for flats. Valley of the Gods road don’t mind.
“An exemplary example of entrenched river meanderings.” Rivers don’t instinctively meander at the bottom of a canyon. They meander slowly … over flat land. It takes a special kind of something something to put one 1000’ below the deck. That special sauce was the Colorado Plateau uplift, pushing up the river’s source. The Goosenecks were there long before the uplift. Flowing over terra no-so-firma, it simply cut down through the desert stone.
We still maintain this was a gravel ride…we just needed more float. Sure, we could have ridden the 15 miles directly up the Moki Dugway, but where’s the fun in that. You miss all the fun that is Mexican Hat–the only opportunity to resupply on beer–and miss the opportunity to hike the bikes up out the Honaker trail. Of course, no one takes you seriously until you officially fly the freak flag.
The San Juan flows in a perfect café au lait color palette below the Mendenhall claim. Sifting gold from silt proved more effort than rewards. The operation folded shortly after, but the old cabin ruins can still be explored.
Nothing beats a lap dance from your bike in a kiddie pool. We brought two rafts to the San Juan. Dave, here, is in a brand new, bright yellow little number imported directly from Germany. Hot, right? Then there was my boat … red, old, flaccid … like floating in a reject from a traveling carny road show. I had to stop and fill my boat up no less than two times. Be more like Dave.
His bike stripped down, Dave is on on rep 20 of 1500 of the bike dumbbell set. The Honaker Trail was carved out of the canyon’s vertical wall at the turn of the century as the only supply route to hoist sluiced gold out of the river basin. Rumor has it a pack mule fell off the trail to its death within a week. So sure, muscling our bikes up the Honaker seemed like the right idea.
Turns on turns on turns; the short but mighty Moki Dugway literally folds up Cedar Mesa’s wall. It’s also the only way to Mexican Hat from the rim and gets way more traffic than you would prefer for an exposed dirt road. Keep an eye out for overzealous campers.