A Trail Runner’s Paean to Bears Ears

Ultrarunner Bryon Powell spends nine days exploring the monument under siege

The sun is still hidden below Owl Canyon’s south rim, and the cool October-night air lingers in the canyon bottom. I exit a hairpin bend and find myself facing a canyon wall.

Dead ahead of me is a bright speck in the midst of broad shadow, the telltale sign of a rock window. “Nevills Arch?” I think. “No. Couldn’t be. Not yet.”

Nowhere on my maps, nor in my guidebook, is there mention of a rock window here. From the looks of it, this window is likely “open” only for a short time each day, while the light angles just so.

Nine days into my run across Bear Ears National Monument, I’ve only grown fonder of these daily discoveries, these surprise gifts that sparkle across the monument as densely as stars in the high desert sky.

Two months earlier, I limped from spring into summer overworked and overstressed. I desperately needed to rekindle my spirit. It just so happened that I had a brand-spanking-new national monument to explore in San Juan County, Utah, where I live. Bears Ears. You may have heard of it.

You may also know that Bears Ears National Monument has been under attack by Utah’s politicians since last December, when then-president Barack Obama declared its 1.35 million acres—which comprise one of the most culturally and spiritually significant landscapes for five Native American nations in the Southwest—a national monument, as explicitly authorized by the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Soon after coming to power, however, President Donald Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke put Bears Ears and numerous other national monuments in their crosshairs.

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