Note: On December 4, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to redraw Bears Ears National Monument. The proposal introduces two new units in this area named, north to south, Indian Creek and Shash Jaa.
A pair of towering buttes — so scenic, so distinctive that in each of the Native American languages of the region, these twins were named the same: Hoon'Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or in English: Bears Ears. They are surrounded by incredible scenery from Dark Canyon Wilderness and Beef Basin to the west, Comb Ridge on the east, the Grand Gulch Plateau and Cedar Mesa to the south and Indian Creek/Canyonlands National Park to the north.
Shash Jaa National Monument covers 129,980 acres of red rock that encompasses fascinating geologic features, juniper forests, cultural, historic and prehistoric legacy that includes an abundance of early human and Native American historical artifacts left behind by early Clovis people, then later Ancestral Puebloans, Fremont culture and others. Perhaps of greatest modern interest are the remnants of incredible cliff dwellings, some in remarkably good condition even after hundreds of years of vacancy.
Things to See
The Bears Ears formation is most commonly appreciated from afar as they are set back in rising topography of the Manti-La Sal National Forest and the road leading closest to them, Elk Ridge Road, is not suitable for most vehicles. The best place to see the iconic view of the Bears Ears is from State Route 261 traveling north towards Highway 95.
Cliff dwellings within Shash Jaa are the most popular sites in the area. Built with stone and adobe mortar into the sides of mesas, mountains and caves, these structures were used as protection as well as to store grains and seeds for later use. This area is collectively part of the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway.
The larger Four Corners region offers a well-preserved window into the past and an accessible anthropology experience for all. Hiking to cliff dwellings puts one in the footsteps of past lives. Your mind will wonder at just how the Pueblo people built these structures high on cliffs and what their day-to-day life was like. Plus, the drives and hikes to each of these dwellings will take you to remote, stunning terrain that’s not your typical “bucket list” spot, but is totally worth the trip and time.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, "[Shash Jaa] includes two tiny satellite units that protect Doll House and Moon House ruins. Located in Dark Canyon and Cedar Mesa respectively, these famous sites were already subject to access restrictions prior to the national monument designation." Visitors should note that both Doll House and Moon House are difficult to reach and that extensive planning, preparedness and prior permit from the BLM are required to visit.