This article was created in partnership with the San Juan County Economic Development and Visitor Services, Utah. Images by Emily Sierra Photography.
Bears Ears National Monument
This monument may be young, but she has a very old soul. Evidence of ancient civilizations is scattered throughout Bears Ears National Monument, and with little effort visitors can appreciate these sites. When we walked toward House on Fire, the rock above the structure literally seemed to mushroom out in a ball of fire over the stone structure below. The early morning light ignited the opposing canyon wall, making the house appear to be on fire.
Down the road, we wandered amongst structures built in rock alcoves and towers that remain peering down over Mule Canyon. The structures at Cave Towers felt immaculately preserved given their age (dated to the 13th century!). Near and far we looked upon different structures, even some that seemed impossibly placed in the canyon below. We only saw a couple of other people at these sites, making us feel like early explorers.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Hiking to the largest natural bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument, Sipapu, was an adventure on its own! I hiked down a cliff including rock scrambling and shuffling down ladders, until I was standing dizzy under the incredible natural wonder. I walked down the wash toward one of the “younger” bridges, Kachina, when I stumbled upon a wall literally covered in mud handprints. My initial thought was, “this isn’t marked on the map”. This isn’t uncommon though, and I love that there are so many ancient sights tucked away around Blanding. Again, I just had a great sense of discovery in this area. Before the sun set, I had to take in the views at the third bridge, Owachomo. I loved seeing all three bridges at different stages of erosion in relation to one another.
Glen Canyon Recreation Area
One could spend a lifetime exploring Utah’s canyons, and those near Hite boast incredible light, shapes and even natural arches that are only accessible by rope and harness. I met with a guide from Hite Outpost and to get acquainted with the area. After a lung-bursting scramble to the top of the canyon, we were ready for the first of four rappels to return to the creek below. It was definitely a bit nerve-racking to step over the edge in this canyon, but so exciting! Some sections we used our hands and feet to shimmy between canyon walls and even rappelled through an arch at one point! This adventure was not for the faint of heart, but very cool! Did I mention how many people were out there? Zero. I like to think that the canyon gave us a private tour that day.
Back in Blanding
Hunkering down at night in the Stone Lizard Lodge was the best rest after a day adventuring. Not to mention, they had one of the best breakfast spreads I’ve seen at a hotel! One of the guests remarked, “it’s an expensive breakfast, but it comes with a free room.” Green chili pastries, homemade cinnamon rolls, and fresh local coffee made me happy beyond belief. This hotel is a prime example of locally-owned, quality hospitality that you can find traveling in this region of Utah.
My introduction to the area started at Edge of Cedars State Park, and it is still sticking with me. There is a great amount of helpful information, and the pottery exhibit is unreal! I have never seen such a large or more impressive collection of Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pottery. Historic ruins are just out the back door, and visitors have the chance to descend into a traditional kiva. This is a fascinating and informative place to start your discovery of Blanding and Southeast Utah.