Trip Reports: Backpacking In Grand Gulch, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah - May 2017

At the end of May we spent three days hiking through the upper portion of Grand Gulch, in Cedar Mesa, Utah. This was the third time I’ve backpacked in Grand Gulch, but the first since the area was designated as part of Bears Ears National Monument by President Obama in 2016. Nothing has changed as far as I can tell – just the same amazing canyon scenery and fascinating archeological history to be found around nearly every bend.

Bears Ears National Monument, Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch, ruin, photo

Split Level Ruins

Ancestral Puebloan ruins in Grand Gulch.

We hiked from Kane Gulch to Bullet Canyon, and were fortunate to score a last minute shuttle ride from some friendly folks from the Colorado Mountain Club from Colorado Springs, which saved us much road walking (or hitchhiking)!

Bears Ears National Monument, Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch, ruin, photo

Ancestral Puebloan ruins overlook the canyon bottom where corn and other vegetables were grown approximately 1000-700 years ago.

During our walk through Grand Gulch we saw more than a dozen significant Ancenstral Puebloan ruin sites, and surely passed by many more hidden from view. Many of the ruins are located under deep alcove overhangs, or on high inaccessible ledges.

Bears Ears National Monument, Bullet Canyon, Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch, tent, photo

Dusk at our slickrock campsite.

One of the joys of backpacking on the Colorado Plateau is finding big slickrock campsites like this one, where you can stretch out on the clean rock. Plus, camping on rock is the ultimate leave-no-trace place to hang around!

Bears Ears National Monument, Bullet Canyon, Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch, kiva, ruin, photo

Inner Kiva

This Ancestral Puebloan kiva was discovered intact in the 1890s, but by the 1970s the roof was starting to collapse. Restoration efforts were undertaken to reinforce the roof so now visitors can go down inside.

Bears Ears National Monument, Bullet Canyon, Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch, kiva, ruin, stars, Milky Way, galaxy, photo

Cosmic Kiva

An Ancestral Puebloan kiva with a view of the Milky Way.

This trip was the second time I've backpacked this route, and also my second attempt at shooting night photos at this special kiva (see my earlier photos here). This time I woke up in the middle of the night and hiked up here to catch the Milky Way above the kiva on this moonless night.

As I’ve written about previously, with its abundant historic and scenic riches, there is absolutely no doubt that Cedar Mesa deserved the national monument designation and protections that President Obama granted it. Let’s hope it remains that way, and is not rescinded or reduced out of petty political spite.

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