Long before Bears Ears became a National Monument, or a polarizing topic of discussion, it was a sacred site. Housing more than 100,000 archaeological sites, the land is rich in history, culture, and unique artifacts. I traveled through the land named after the “Woman who Became a Bear.” Legend says a maiden who lived with her brothers was tricked into marrying Coyote. Her marriage changed her. Coyote taught her his tricks of thievery, mischief and violence. Tricks that got him killed. The maiden blamed her brother for the death and used Coyote’s tricks to turn into a bear and ruthlessly murder the people of the canyon. She would return home to her brothers after each battle, unharmed, and in her maiden form. As her rage strengthened and her violence grew more gruesome, the brothers hid their youngest in the dwelling. Shortly thereafter, the maiden killed all the rest of her siblings. In a long fight, the youngest brother prevailed over “Changing Bear Maiden” and her severed head became the bears ears we see today.
The land is flat and dry with small washes and canyons that dot the landscape and house ancient ruins and artifacts. Natives lived here for thousands of years, and as I toured and hiked through the landscape, the historical significance began to sink in. I hiked the short distance in to Butler Wash, an Anasazi hike, crested the small hill and saw the remains of ancient site from the 1200s. The Mesa Verde style community was cut into the side of a canyon housing willows. It was setup perfectly in an easily defend-able and resourceful location. There were storage areas, sleeping alcoves and kivas encompassing the quarters. I walked around the bedrock and descended a 20-foot slab to stand right in front of the ruins. It was a look into the past and a former way of life. A look at how simple life had once been. The largest struggles being food, water and shelter. After walking the ruins, my time at the ancient site was done. I left the site and walked over a small arch just as the sun shone through. The place was magic.
It was time to explore the land of “Changing Bear Maiden” further. I drove Highway 235, stopping at each small archaeological site to investigate. Then my trip down Moki Dugway (dangerous road) and into the Valley of the Gods began. Sandstone structures, carved 250 million years ago dotted the route, providing perspective into how small an insignificant I was in the land of giants. Pinnacles rose from the valley in all directions, some stretching feet, others stretching miles. The valley swallowed me up as the sun sunk toward the horizon. The last rays of the day lit up the spires and shone through the holes and jagged edges of the geological marvels. The light was fading, and it was time to move on from these ancient lands.