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Comb Ridge Project

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

As the pandemic wanes, early, unformed ideas for a Bears Ears project are stirring in the small creative corner of my brain. Will my brain's Creative Center speak with the Practical Center to get something done?

My book, Cliff Dwellers of Cedar Mesa, was meant to show politicians, land managers, and policy makers what would be lost if the area was not protected as a National Monument. Most of the photos in the book were from Cedar Mesa because it harbored the greatest density of attractive archaeologic sites in the region.

The book may have done its job. President Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument in 2016. Encompassing 1.3 million acres, it included Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge, Cottonwood Wash, the Dark Canyon Plateau, Indian Creek as well as a section bordering Glen Canyon.

Monarch site in Comb Ridge — one of the sites still within Bears Ears National Monument after the original boundaries were shrunk 85% by President Trump. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

A follow-up book (with Bears Ears as part of the title) was planned, but an unprecedented proclamation by President Trump in 2017 reduced the size of the new monument by fully 85% and the Monument's future was in doubt. Surprisingly, none of Cedar Mesa—the archaeological crown jewel of the region—was included within the new boundaries. For those who cared about the Monument, and especially Cedar Mesa, it was the worst possible outcome—all the publicity, none of the protection. Lawsuits were immediately filed to undo the decision, but a decision is still pending.

Because of uncertainly of the Monument's status, the follow-up book was put on hold and we all waited as the lawsuits made their way through the courts. Meanwhile, I focused my hiking and photography on those areas within the modified Monument that seemed secure—namely Comb Ridge, Cottonwood Wash, and Indian Creek. One day, I figured, these photos may be used for an updated version of the book.

In 2021, Deb Halland, a Native American, was appointed by President Biden to be the Secretary of the Interior. Both Biden and Halland have publicly expressed their intent to re-establish the Monument's original borders and secure their permanence. The Monument's future now seems more secure, but what that future will look like—exactly—is still unclear,.

The pandemic put a halt to travel and for the first time in decades, I did not visit the Bears Ears region. However, I did have a lot of time to think about what to do with my photos.

River site, a multi-room site in Comb Ridge near the San Juan River. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

I thought a photo book on the archaeology found in Comb Ridge might be interesting. It seems to be a permanent part of the Monument, it is close to a town, and it is frequently visited. A book of black and white photography perhaps. Maybe even QR codes to link to videos with more detail on the site and/or messages about how to visit the sites.

Later, perhaps I could do similar projects on Cedar Mesa, or perhaps other parts of the Monument. Maybe all these pieces would eventually come together as a unified book. I am not sure.

But my first project will likely be a Blurb self-published book. From there, it is a short step to do an E-book. I would also like to experiment with the QR code idea. My upcoming trip to the Bears Ears will give me the opportunity to do more video of sites and may help bring form to my formless ideas. I'll be sure to let you know.


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