The essay below was written for Bikepacking Roots’ Bears Ears Loops Landscape and Route Guidebook to provide bikepackers with one perspective about how the landscape in its entirety is sacred to Indigenous groups. The designation of Bears Ears National Monument marked the first time in history that a National Monument was created in response to the voices and advocacy of the Indigenous groups who call the landscape home. Leaders from the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe formed the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition in 2015 to represent a consortium of tribes unified in protecting and promoting the cultural, archeological, scientific, historical and natural resources of the Bears Ears region. Just 11 months later, the Trump administration reduced the Monument’s size by ~85%. And in a direct affront to the request of the Intertribal Coalition, the southern unit of the reduced Monument was named the Shásh Jaa’ Unit (using the Diné name for Bears Ears). The Coalition had insisted upon the use of the English “Bears Ears” name for the Monument rather than in any one tribe’s language in solidarity and unity.
Bikepacking Roots is releasing the long-awaited Bears Ears Loops bikepacking route network – 700 miles of riding options through the high deserts and subalpine wilds of central and southeastern Utah. Their goal with these routes are to empower riders to confidently and safely immerse themselves in the remarkable but intimidating landscape, develop an informed sense of place, and experience some of all that is at risk to be lost if the Bears Ears region is not protected.
I’m not at all accustomed to talking about my love for backcountry mountain biking within the confines of a stale hotel ballroom. In a past lifetime as a geologist, I gave plenty of ballroom presentations about glacial erosion, cosmogenic radionuclides, and Arctic climate change – it’s easy to get academics to connect to your words in such a bland setting. But how do a couple of mountain bikers get an audience of equestrians to connect with a shared passion for the backcountry from within the confines of a suburban cube?