Schultheis: “Deep in Bears Ears Country”

Schultheis: “Deep in Bears Ears Country”

On Dec. 4, 2017, newly elected President Donald Trump decided to shrink the Bears Ears region of southern Utah, downsizing by 85 percent (or more than a million acres) a monument sacred to the Zuni, Hopi and other Pueblo tribes, who migrated to its canyons and mesas in the late 13th century.

In January 2018, regional Telluride local Amy Irvine, a sixth-generation Utahn and award-winning author, wrote an Op Ed piece for The Salt Lake Tribune on Bears Ears, saying “If only the oaths of public office were taken as Hippocratic — as vows to do no harm…” (For more on what Irvine had to say, go here.)

And now another award-winning author and local legend, Rob Schultheis, weighs in the subject in Alta Magazine just as recent (January 12) news announced that a federal judge is allowing the state of Utah and San Juan, Garfield and Kane counties to intervene in a series of lawsuits challenging President Trump’s orders on the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Schultheis’ ode to Bears Ears appeared in Alta Magazine on January 8, 2019, his eloquence matched by the breathtaking images of his friend, photographer Gordon Wiltsie.

Read on to learn more about Bears Ears, a close-by place of solitude and great beauty, near and dear to the hearts of many Telluride locals.

A sandstone tower in the Valley of the Gods, with Cedar Mesa in the background. President Trump’s executive order removed both areas from the Bears Ears National Monument. Image courtesy Gordon Wiltie for Alta.

Spring 1973: My first glimpse of the Bears Ears country was a revelation.

Every square foot of earth has its own compulsive magic, Lawrence Durrell once wrote.

Here in the lost dry canyon country of Southern Utah was the absolute living proof, with enough square footage to reach the vanishing point of the western horizon, as far as the eye could see, extending even beyond the eye’s imagination.

My friend and I had just driven up the switchbacks out of Paradox Valley in the corner of southwestern Colorado, and we were gazing across into Utah. Well, the road map said it was Utah, but that was clearly wrong. This country before us didn’t belong to the 20th century, the Industrial Age, the Beehive State … it lay in a kind of Altered State, the zone the experts relegate to dreams, hallucinations and visions.

We had reached a kind of frontier in space and time, and we were gazing down into the very bedrock of North America, a petrified world of towers, domes, minarets, mazes, abysses, with mountains like the Abajos, La Sals and Henrys rearing up here and there, and roan cliffs topped by bone-white mesas without names…

Over the following decades, my friends and I spend months, whole seasons, lost years’ worth of timeless time roaming the Cedar Mesa/Bears Ears country, from Navajo Mountain and the San Juan River in the south, to the Abajo Mountains and Indian Creek to the north, and west to the Escalante canyons…

Continue reading here.

More about Rob Schultheis:

Rob Schultheis has written about the wild American West (“Hidden West” and “Fool’s Gold”), wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (Night Letters” and “Waging Peace” and the cutting edge of extreme sports (“Bone Games”). Schultheis is also a prolific painter, who is based in Telluride, Colorado.

More about Alta Magazine:

The Journal of Alta California combines William R. Hearst III’s passions for publishing and the arts into a new publication that is a paean to California. Alta is a vibrant print and online magazine that also will hold a series of events bringing together the best thinkers on California and current issues.

Alta provides a fresh, smart take on the issues, culture, personalities, politics, lifestyle, culture and history of California, featuring some of the state’s best writers, photographers and illustrators. The magazine’s website,, provides a daily guide to the best writing about the state from Alta and other sources.

Alta is a celebration and examination of all things about California and its environs: the lifestyle, the history, the people, the environment, the arts, the culture, the politics.

“Many people have wondered why there is not a literate magazine counterpoint to the New Yorker from a Western point of view,” said Hearst, whose family has had a legendary place in California journalism for more than 130 years. “Alta will fill that gap. Alta will provide literate, interesting coverage of the Golden State, from San Diego and Los Angeles in the Southland to Silicon Valley and San Francisco and the rugged redwood forests of the northern part of the state.”

Drawing on inspiration from magazines such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, Alta is  smart, witty, literary, informative and newsy. Alta is a multimedia entity: a quarterly magazine, a daily website and social media, and a regular series of events featuring talks by interesting people. Above all, Alta treasures great journalism, great storytelling and beautiful images.

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