Running Through History
Immense mesas punctuated by sandstone buttes and the occasional arch rising into the sky: This is Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. To some the desert environment may appear harsh and unwelcoming—a place to pass through on the way to the Grand Canyon or Moab—but that is why lacing up and exploring the area by foot is the key to unlocking the magic of its rugged canyons, winding waterways, countless petroglyphs and ancestral ruins.
However, much of this undeveloped, precious wilderness could be lost. Currently, the national monument status of Bears Ears (and 26 other culturally significant and wild lands established under the Antiquities Act of 1906) is being reviewed by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Ultrarunner Luke Nelson ran through the park last fall. After his experience, he became an advocate for preserving the area’s culture and national monument status. In May, he joined sports nutrition company GU Energy and the local Four Corners School to help educate others about the land’s history, its unique qualities and his connection with the area.
“As the distractions of daily life are lost in the miles, the natural world opens its secrets. It is in that space where I found my place and connection to Bears Ears,” Nelson says.
What You Need To Know
With tens of thousands of archaeological sights, and miles upon miles of trails, the 1.35 million acres of Bears Ears National Monument can infiltrate your psyche, like the area’s red sand does the fabric of your clothes. As a national monument, Bears Ears—named after two area buttes that look like their namesake—lacks a comprehensive trail-management plan and ever-present rangers like those of nearby national parks such as Arches or the Grand Canyon. Some of those aspects may come with time, but for now the uncrowded remoteness is part of the allure of Bears Ears.
When running area trails, come prepared with plenty of water and a map—and let someone know where you’re headed. Also double-check trail markings, as many of these routes have been traveled for more than one thousand years, with some of the ancient markings still intact. In fact, Bears Ears is home to tens of thousands of archaeological sights (like the petroglyphs, left) connected by canyons, waterways and trails.