Southwest writer and Fort Lewis College professor Andrew Gulliford will give a presentation on his new book “Bear Ears, Landscape of Refuge and Resistance” at the Cortez Public Library on March 28 at 5:30 p.m.
The book, published by the University of Utah Press, is described as “an incisive exploration of the human and environmental history of Bears Ears National Monument and its vast cultural landscape.”
The 15-chapter nonfiction book includes 75 photos and 15 maps, and retails for $30 or less.
The monument was designated in 2016 by President Barack Obama, reduced by 85% by President Donald Trump one year later, then restored to its original boundaries by President Joseph Biden in 2022.
“Bears Ears National Monument continues to be a flash point of conflict between ranchers, miners, environmental groups, states’ rights advocates, and Native American activists,” according to the book release.
The release states that Gulliford synthesizes 11,000 years of the region’s history to illuminate what’s at stake in the conflict. The book distills the geography as a place of refuge and resistance for Native Americans who seek to preserve their ancestral homes, and for the descendants of Mormon families who arrived by wagon train in 1880. Gulliford describes how the national monument came about and its deep significance to the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Uintah and Ouray Utes and Zuni tribes.
“Gulliford’s engaging narrative explains prehistoric Pueblo villages and cliff dwellings, Navajo and Ute history, impacts of the Atomic Age, uranium mining, and the pot hunting and looting of Native graves that inspired the passage of the Antiquities Act over a century ago,” according to the book release.
Gulliford spoke to The Journal about his latest work Wednesday.
He has been researching the book for the last 20 years and frequently visits the Bears Ears area.
The creation of the national monument, and the controversy surrounding the act, moved Bears Ears from the fringe of public awareness to more front-and-center, he said.
In reference to the subtitle “Landscape of Refuge and Resistance,” Gulliford said it speaks to the area being relied on by Native Americans to keep away from the invading Spanish, then later to resist the U.S. Cavalry and boarding schools. The Mormons also resided within its canyons and mesas to avoid federal government restrictions on religion and grazing.
“For both groups, Bears Ears was remote enough not to be in the center of anything, but on the edge, and it became a place of resistance,” Gulliford said.
He adds that even today it continues to be a place of resistance as the State of Utah continues to challenge the monument’s validity and its formation under the Antiquities Act.
The book shows the cultural importance of Bears Ears for Native American tribes, which is the basis for co-management of the monument between the Bureau of Land Management and tribes.
The land and its people has faced many threats, whether from mining, over-recreation or looting of archaeological sites – and all in San Juan County.
“It is really has a deep human history,” Gulliford said. “11,000 years, and that county is big enough to embrace all sorts of things.”
He said early looting and vandalism of archaeological sites at Grand Gulch and Cedar Mesa within Bears Ears in the 1800s helped to spur the creation of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which protects the cultural resources today.
The story of uranium mining is also told, including about miner Charlie Steen who struck it rich in San Juan County, and opened the Atlas mill in Moab that continues to cleaned up today of radioactive soil.
The talk will include an overview of the Bears Ears area, its history and the legal issues becoming a monument. Gulliford will do some selected readings from the book, have a question-and-answer session, and sign copies.
Gulliford emphasizes recreating responsibility and with respect for cultural sites while exploring Bears Ears. Its monument designation and swirl of controversy has drawn attention and more visitors, but without the added infrastructure needed for effective management.
As a BLM monument, visitation and uses are less regulated than national parks.
“Can we manage (Bears Ears) as an outdoor museum, is it possible to leave things on the landscape, or will everything be taken?” Gulliford says.
He won’t divulge his favorite places at Bear Ears, offering encouragement instead.
“Be committed to exploration and the need for digital detox to get away from things and just have fun outdoors in a truly intact cultural landscape,” Gulliford said.
Steve Lekson, author of “A Study of Southwestern Archaeology,” commented that Gulliford’s book “is a significant contribution to a current controversy. It presents both (several, actually) sides of questions fairly, in my opinion. In the ongoing arguments over Bears Ears, Gulliford’s book will be a resource and a reference. It presents an excellent history of Bears Ears and surrounding southeastern Utah.”
Gulliford is a professor of history at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and an affiliated faculty member in the Environmental Studies Program.
Gulliford’s other books include “The Woolly West, Colorado’s Hidden History of Sheepscapes”; “America’s Country Schools”; “Sacred Objects and Sacred Places: Preserving Tribal Traditions”; and “Boomtown Blues: Colorado Oil Shale,” which won the Colorado Book Award.
For more information visit his website at andrewgulliford.com.