Photo gallery: Utah's Bears Ears region is a natural & cultural treasure

Bears Ears National Monument

Mason Cummings

Take a look at this photo gallery to get a sense of what makes this area so precious, and why we need to protect Utah's Bears Ears National Monument.

Bears Ears National Monument was virtually eliminated by the Trump administration in 2017, putting priceless archaeological sites in danger. Currently, the Department of the Interior is developing a plan that threatens this southern Utah landscape even more broadly. 

The movement to designate the monument in the first place was spearheaded by a coalition of Native American tribes seeking to ensure permanent protection for more than 100,000 priceless archaeological and cultural sites in the area. It was those tribes that petitioned President Obama to establish Bears Ears National Monument, and it is those tribes who are leading the fight to defend it today.

In addition to its cultural significance, Bears Ears is a hot-spot for outdoor recreation like hiking, camping, rock-climbing and backpacking, and a stunning wildland containing habitat for pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, black bears, peregrine falcons and other wildlife. 

Learn more: Why we can't let this special place be erased

Despite its irreplaceable value, Bears Ears is under attack—threatened by looting, vandalism and development. Some politicians in Utah claim to care about this remarkable landscape, but they have not followed through on comprehensive plans to protect it, or its physical chronicle of millions of years of natural and human history. 

Bears Ears' namesake is a pair of sandstone-fringed buttes jutting about 2,000 feet up from the mesa. Photo by Mason Cummings (TWS).

The Bears Ears buttes, viewed from the south. Photo by Tim Peterson.

In October 2015, tribal representatives petitioned President Obama to protect Bears Ears as a national monument. This was thought to be the first time Native tribes had ever joined forces to do this. Photo by Mason Cummings (TWS).

Among Bears Ears' cultural highlights is Newspaper Rock, a slab of sandstone is covered with recorded history in the form of etched petroglyphs thought to date back about 1,500 years.

Ancient Puebloan ruins. Photo by Mason Cummings (TWS).

Cedar Mesa, an expansive plateau dotted with canyons and sandstone pinnacles. Photo by Mason Cummings (TWS).

According to polling, 66 percent of Utah residents supported the creation of a national monument (only 20 percent opposed it). Photo by Tim D. Peterson. 

Bears Ears contains a number of cherished rock-climbing spots among other outdoor recreation spots. Photo by Mikey Schaefer, courtesy of Patagonia.

Among the popular rock-climbing spots is Indian Creek, leading from the northern end of Bears Ears to Canyonlands National Park. Photo by Jonathan Fox, flickr.

Wind Whistle Rock, in the northeast section of the Bears Ears region. Photo by Tim D. Peterson.

Along Comb Ridge, a 120-mile-long sandstone fold running through the southwest section of Bears Ears. Photo by Tim D. Peterson/LightHawk.

Rock formation near White Canyon in the western part of the Bears Ears region, an unusually rugged and untouched example of the region’s beauty. Photo by Mason Cummings (TWS).

Manti-La Sal National Forest covers a large portion of Bears Ears with Gambel oak, aspen, fir and pine woodland, which includes habitat for elk, black bear and more. Photo by John Buie, flickr.

A view of the Abajo Mountains within Manti-La Sal National Forest. Photo by Tim D. Peterson.

Hammond Canyon, also in Manti-La Sal National Forest. Photo by Tim D. Peterson.

Valley of the Gods, to the south of Cedar Mesa. This backcountry stretch is similar to the nearby (much larger) Monument Valley, and both are known for red sandstone buttes, pinnacles and cliffs. Photo by Mason Cummings (TWS).

Valley of the Gods’ scenery is so unusual and arresting that it has been used as a science-fiction backdrop for television. Photo by Mason Cummings (TWS).

Goosenecks State Park, south of Valley of the Gods at Bears Ears’ southern edge, is renowned for its stunning view of the San Juan River winding through the desert below. Photo by Rick Bergstrom, flickr.

Bears Ears is as susceptible to human-caused damage as it is spectacular. National monument status would helps ensure the area is protected. Photo by Mason Cummings (TWS).