The juniper mesas and sunset-red canyons in this corner of southern Utah are so remote that even the governor says he has probably only seen them from the window of a plane. They are a paradise for hikers and campers, a revered retreat where generations of American Indian tribes have hunted, gathered ceremonial herbs and carved their stories onto the sandstone walls.
Today, the land known as Bears Ears — named for twin buttes that jut out over the horizon — has become something else altogether: a battleground in the fight over how much power Washington exerts over federally controlled Western landscapes.
At a moment when much of President Obama’s environmental agenda has been blocked by Congress and stalled in the courts, the president still has the power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create national monuments on federal lands with the stroke of a pen. A coalition of tribes, with support from conservation groups, is pushing for a new monument here in the red-rock deserts, arguing it would protect 1.9 million acres of culturally significant land from new mining and drilling and become a final major act of conservation for the administration.