In Search of the Past

Last week I spent three days exploring the canyons and deserts of Cedar Mesa and I have to say that once again I was taken back by both the beauty and incredible history of the place. For those not familiar with the mesa it is an area in Southeastern Utah which was once home to many Ancestral Puebloan people. It is believed that they inhabited the area from around A.D. 200-700 and then again around A.D. 1050. The canyons and mesa tops are painted with the history of these people and their legacy can be found in the ruins and rock art sites that dot the landscape.

This trip my plan was to visit a few places I have seen before, a few of the many places that I have yet to see in this vast expanse of desert, and at the same time search a few canyons for a particular ruin that yet eludes me. The trip started with what I planned as a quick jaunt to Hobbs Wash Ruins and it was almost just that, a quick jaunt down to the ruins. Of course after I made it easily to the first ruins and made a few images…

One of the ruins in Hobbs Wash that hides beneath a small desert alcove.

Another shot of Hobbs Wash Ruin, showcasing the nice pattern on the alcove roof above.

A closeup of the doorway to the first ruin in Hobbs Wash.

I decided that it would be a good idea to continue down the canyon and search for a couple of other ruins that I had noticed marked on my map. Bad idea. The further down the canyon I went the more heavily clogged with brush and undergrowth it became. At one point I was literally crawling on my hands and knees to get through the densely packed trees. Then came beaver pond after beaver pond, which were quite deep and made difficult obstacles to overcome. Eventually, thirsty and beaten down by the brush, the canyon won and I turned around without finding any other ruins.

Once I was back at the truck and rehydrated I decided to head up the Moki Dugway onto the top of Cedar Mesa. I explored a couple more canyons and then headed down a rough dirt road to Mule Canyon Towers. This is a site where there are the ruins of several towers that overlook the head of Mule Canyon. After carefully navigating my way over slickrock and sand along the road I made it Mule Towers just as the sun was about to fade under the horizon line.

A ruined tower stands guard as day turns to night at the head of Mule Canyon.

I set up camp just below Mule Canyon Towers along the road and had a great evening cooking dinner over the campfire, reflecting on the people that once called these canyons home.

The morning dawned clear and cold so I headed toward Upper Mule Canyon to try my hand at a shot that I had tried years before with limited success. The ruin is fairly famous and is named House On Fire due to the way the textured rock above the ruin illuminate when the light strikes it just right, giving the impression of flames shooting from the roof of the stone building.

This time I managed to arrive at the right time and the light was great so I hung around and shot quite a few images…

The classic view of House On Fire Ruins. When the light reflects into this alcove it makes the textured ceiling above these ruins appear like flames erupting from the roof of these ancient structures.

A slightly different take on House On Fire Ruin, with a very nice soft morning light reflecting into the alcove, creating surreal colors.

After leaving House On Fire Ruins I made my way to another canyon where I was hoping to stumble across my hidden ruins. It was still fairly early in the morning so the walk into the mouth of the canyon was pretty easy. And soon enough, without too much difficulty, I located three separate ruins on the canyon wall above me. I scrambled up some talus and was able to explore the ruins up close. Since these ruins aren’t super hidden there were very few potshards found but there was some old corn strewn about. I spent about an hour here shooting some images since the alcove where these ruins were was still protected from the harsh midday sun.

A small ruin sits protected in a small alcove high above a remote canyon floor in Southeastern Utah.

A nice ruin found beneath a small alcove high up on the wall of a remote Utah Canyon.

By the time the midday sun washed out this ruin I was already on my way across the hot desert toward my truck. And soon after I was headed down the road toward Butler Wash, an area on the eastern edge of Comb Ridge which marks the eastern boundary of Cedar Mesa. This area is a mecca for Ancestral Puebloan ruins.

After fueling up on some Ramon Noodles I started my hike by heading into Fish Mouth Canyon Ruins. On the way in I found a small trail heading north so I decided to follow it and explore a couple of small canyons along Butler Wash, unfortunately I still didn’t find my hidden ruin.

None the less, on I did find several ruins along the way to Fish Mouth Cave. I did shoot a couple images but with the sun high above me the shots were all washed out. None the less, the hike into Fish Mouth Cave was nice and I’ll have to come back to Fish Mouth under better light.

When I arrived back at my truck it was almost dark so I figured I needed find a place to camp, luckily there are abundant sites along Butler Wash Road so it didn’t take too long before I was building a fire and eating dinner under the desert stars.

The next morning once again dawned cold and clear. Since I knew I wanted to get on the road back to Durango pretty early I opted to do the short hike into Monarch Cave Ruins before hitting the road. The hike in passed several small ruin sites. The cave itself is pretty impressive, it looks a bit like a castle built in a large alcove with a nice pool a hundred feet beneath it. I believe that some people call this site Hidden Pool Ruins.

This large ruin sits beneath a nice pattern in the ceiling that is being accentuated by the soft morning light.

Another interesting feature of this ruin was the metate that sits as though it was just used yesterday.

This metate sits in the alcove as though it was just used yesterday.

After a nice stay at Monarch Cave Ruins I headed back to the truck and made the drive back to Durango. It was a great trip despite the fact that I didn’t find the ruin I was looking for. And besides, it gives me a great reason to go exploring some more canyons on the next trip.

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