Bears Ears National Monument: Sand Island, Wolfman Panel and Monarch Cave

Bears Ears National Monument (info linked) is an area that I’d previously had little understanding about. From this site: “. Named for two tall buttes that resemble the top of a bear’s head, the creation of Bears Ears National Monument in 2016 made history as it honored five Native American tribes – Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, and the Uintah-Ouray Ute Tribe, who sought to have their traditional lands set aside for preservation and continued cultural, recreational and scientific use.”

From ” It includes thousands of ancient cliff dwellings, community centers, rock imagery, and artifacts … as one of his last acts of office, President Obama designated 1.35 million acres of southeastern Utah as the Bears Ears National monument.

  • Side note – I mentioned in my previous post, that we’d spent the night at Stone Lizard Lodge in Blanding, Utah. I also shared a photo of our adorable room. Here, I will share a couple photos of the breakfast set up. This is day 2 of a hot breakfast on this trip, when I’d fully expected to be waking up in a tent – so I felt like I’d won a big prize:

After breakfast, well rested and well fed, we headed to the Sand Island Panel (info linked) at the San Juan recreation area. (also linked) We got out and looked at the beautiful San Juan river at the boat launch, (and started pre-planning the next trip…). This area is well-marked, and well-maintained, and open year round. There are 23 campsites, $15 per site and each site can accommodate up to 8 people/2 cars. The campsites are first come first serve, and floating season for the San Juan river runs March-October. We had a vague idea of where the Sand Island Panel was located, and started in that direction. Only having seen 1 or 2 other cars out here for the past 3 days, we were very surprised to see a pick-up truck driving ahead of us in the direction of the panel.

Sand Island Petroglyphs

As we pulled up to the Petrogyph panel, (which is right beside the road) I immediately noticed that the license plate on the pick up truck, now parked, is from Tennessee – my home state. ( I swear every time we come out west, we see more people from the Southeast than anywhere else). I was excited to meet my fellow Tennesseans! I walked up to the first gentleman I saw, and said, “I noticed your Tennessee license plate! unless it’s a rental…” A 2nd gentleman was walking towards us and said, “does it look like a rental? We all had a good laugh at that – as his proud veteran status was displayed – a far cry from any rental we’d ever seen… . The 2 men were brothers, Bob and Tom Ethridge, and they were with their life-long friend, Tim Hacker. We chatted about where we’re from, and where we live now, and I could have chatted with them all day. * Side note – Tim Hacker has an art Gallery in Pangburn, Arkansas. He also has a website with his watercolor art (linked), and he is extremely talented!

L to R Bob, Shannon, Tom, and Tim

We chatted with them for a while, and we all agreed that we were the only other people any of us had seen in a few days! That’s when Bob invited us to be his new best friends for the day. This is evidently a “thing” and we were only too happy to accept the offer! He said we’d be best friends for the day, and when the day is over, the whole thing is erased and he’d forget all about us and find new best friends tomorrow. And the cycle would be repeated many times. We became immediate facebook friends, and true to his word – he posted about meeting us and told the whole world we were his new best friends for the day! And then sure enough, the following day, he met 3 new best friends at Arches National Park, and let us know that we’d been replaced. The following day – more replacements. All in good fun! I am still Facebook friends with both Bob and Tom, and they’re the kind of fun, personable, easy to talk to people who make friends everywhere they go. And besides – we all know that Bob would never be able to forget about Shannon and me – we are unforgettable!!! Bob, Tom, and Tim – we hope to get to meet up with you again when we all have more time!

From Sand Island, which had so many overlapping drawings it was hard to take them all in, we decided to look for some un-named ruins Shannon had marked on the map:

Although it was a beautiful area, with lots to see, we’d had enough searching after about an hour and a half. We left the un-named area and went back to the Butler wash dirt road, and headed for Wolfman Panel. (info linked). As it is the first hike you come to on Butler Wash Rd off of Hwy 163, it’s easy to spot. There are Cairns marking the trail once off of the dirt path, and there are a few narrow ledges to scale along on the way, but it’s not more than a mile from the trailhead.

Behold, the Wolfman.

Just beyond the Wolfman, is another impressive panel:

Is this why there are rumors about aliens in these parts?

And another one just beyond….

Honestly, I thought this was the wolfman until I looked it up. In my opinion they should call this one “Chicken man”.

Next, we headed to the Monarch cave trailhead. This was my favorite site yet.

Very well camouflaged, Monarch Cave ruin is in the middle of the photo

From the trailhead, it was a little over a mile.

One of the reasons that this was my favorite place, was because of the stunning views all around. The cave ruin juts out onto a ledge, and underneath is a pool of water. It appears that it may have been behind or beside a waterfall at some point

We didn’t hike down to the ice-covered pool because there was plenty to see where we were.
More Comb ridge “wildlife”. These cattle had GPS devices around their necks, and it was easy to see why this was necessary. MANY places to lose a cow in the nooks and crannies.

Important to note here, is that when we were leaving Monarch Cave, Shannon mentioned not feeling well. He never complains, so I took this to mean that he was probably feeling worse than he let on. I reached over and put my hand on his head and found that he was burning up. Instead of camping like we’d planned, we headed back over to the Stone Lizard Lodge so that he could get in a bed. When he agreed, I knew that he was truly un-well. After getting him situated in bed, and medicated with all that was available at the “Maverick adventure first stop ” gas station and convenience store (linked), I decided that based on his symptoms he probably had the flu. I decided this because I felt perfectly fine, and I’d had a flu shot and he hadn’t. After a good night’s rest, I got out to visit the trading post and whatever else I could find to entertain myself, and decided to grab a home covid test (2-pack!) just to see.

It’s positive

After sending Bob from Sand Island a facebook message letting them know they’d been exposed, we altered our plans to include an extended stay in the Stone Lizard Lodge. (Bob was very kind, and said they were all vaccinated and felt fine and were not very concerned about the exposure, which was minimal, given that their closest contact was in the photo above) Shannon kept apologizing for “ruining the trip” and I have insisted since that moment that nothing was ruined, and I was perfectly happy to pile up in the bed and read People magazine and watch movies! NO problemo!!! We camped out inside the Stone Lizard Lodge, with it’s comfortable bed and delicious breakfast for a couple more days, before we headed back towards Colorado (and our flight out of Denver). Some notable experiences there that I’ll tell you about next!

5 thoughts on “Bears Ears National Monument: Sand Island, Wolfman Panel and Monarch Cave

  1. How fun to go on another scavenger hunt to find more petroglyphs, even if some of them were inaccessible. I love that you made a new best friend for the day with Bob! He sounds like quite a character. Sorry to hear that Shannon tested positive for COVID and wasn’t feeling well. Good call on camping inside at the Stone Lizard Lodge as opposed to the campground!


  2. Michele – neither Bob, Tim or I ever felt ill after our meeting up with you and Shannon. We left y’all heading to Valley of the Gods, Moki Dugway and picnic lunched at Muley Point. After lunch we headed to Moab via Blanding. We actually drove by the Stone Lizard to see if it had changed since we last stayed there. Our next stop was also the Maverik in Blanding for some refreshments before driving to Moab. We almost had another encounter with you. After 2 weeks of skiing in Salt Lake City area we are all back home with our wives and planning new adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

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