A Bears Ears National Monument Primer

President Obama preserves 1.35 million acres in southern Utah

Just weeks after banning oil drilling in federally owned arctic waters, Obama designated two new national monuments, Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada and Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

The designations make Obama one of the most conservation-minded presidents in history with 29 new national monuments and 553 million acres protected. Bears Ears, in particular, is a victory for climbers, too.

Air Swedin (5.13R) at Indian Creek’s Battle of the Bulge Buttress | Photo submitted by MP user Jay Samuelson

Why it’s good for climbers: “This is a huge win for the climbing community, as the Bears Ears region is home to a substantial amount of world-class climbing, including internationally renowned Indian Creek, as well as Lockhart Basin, Arch/Texas Canyon, Comb Ridge, Valley of the Gods, and dozens of other developed and yet-to-be-discovered climbing opportunities. For years, this exceptional landscape has weathered impacts from resource extraction and irresponsible public use, especially the looting of Native American cultural sites. Now, permanently protected as a national monument, this area will be conserved for future generations to enjoy,” say our friends at The Access Fund.

The Access Fund’s advocacy work in the region included forging a partnership with the local Native American community, which led to the submission of this letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel expressing common conservation and access goals. A White House statement includes the creation of a commission set to ensure tribal knowledge informs the Monument’s management plan.

While the climbing community’s reception has been overwhelmingly positive, some have raised concerns about crowds, access, and anchor regulations.

Where it’s a mixed bag:  The topic of this land potentially gaining national monument status has been debated locally for years. Rock and Ice has a good synopsis here. One point of contention is “way of life”—or concern over the area’s small towns facing a potential Moabification.

Obama’s Full Bears Ears National Monument Proclamation here.

Bears Ears Basics

The 1.35 million-acre expanse, located within the triangle formed by the San Juan River, the Colorado River, and UT 191, is a climber’s (and general adventurer’s) dream.


The vast majority of established climbing is in the crack climbing Mecca of Indian Creek, and there are several lifetime’s worth of routes beyond. Summiting a desert tower to see one of the world’s most classic desert landscapes and discovering the true meaning of the term “splitter,” make this an essential stopover.

  • BENM’s Most Notable Climbing Areas: Indian Creek, Lockhart Basin, Arch/Texas Canyon, Comb Ridge, Valley of the Gods.
  • The Best of Indian Creek: Indian Creek’s Top 50 Classic Climbs

Annunaki (5.11+)


Yes, hiking! The area also holds some of the Southwest’s wildest ruins and petroglyphs. Every climber should do himself the favor of ticking one of these spots on a rest day. We ventured to Moon House Ruins, and it blew our minds with its abandoned-yesterday feel and dead-gorgeous red-rock views. More than one room we peeked in were littered with corn cobs and even a potsherd or two.

This is just one, easily-accessible example of the area’s off-the-charts cultural and historical treasures.

Inside Moonhouse Ruin’s largest structure | Photo: Caleb Joyce

Mountain Biking

We’ve met many climbers who have never (not even once!) been mounting biking. If there’s a place to fix that, it’s here. The riding is off-the-radar, considering Moab is just up the road, which gives the trails here an adventure-y feel. Our favorite ride of the trip was the Abajo Loop, with its grueling climb and rollicking decent where we saw more bear prints than tire tracks.

More switchbacks, more aspens on the Abajo Loop | Photo: Nick Wilder

Get There—Now

But back to the climbing. If you’ve never been to the Utah desert to climb, go now. Go see for yourself why this area is so special. Here’s our first-timer’s guide with beta on everything from camping to showering to beer (and, yes of course) classic routes.

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