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Mountains of Stone

Winds of Change

 Cedar Mesa-Grand Gulch Archaic Anasazi Ruins
O. Ned Eddins

Mule Canyon          Beef Basin

                                                         Southern Utah

The earliest known inhabitants of the Cedar Mesa Plateau were Archaic hunter-gatherer cultures. The seasonal movements of these Archaic cultures utilized open campsites under natural shelters. Recent research indicates Archaic Indians were moving through Cedar Mesa's Grand Gulch from 6500  B.C. to  1500 B.C.. The Green Mask petroglyph in Grand Gulch's Sheik Canyon is attributed to the archaic period. The best example of Archaic rock art is Barrier Canyon (2000 to 4000 B.C.), in the Maze district of Canyonlands National Park.

From the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans) Basketmaker II period through the Pueblo period there was repeated occupation and abandonment of the Cedar Mesa-Grand Gulch area. Archeology studies suggest the Cedar Mesa Plateau was abandoned from 400 to 650 A.D. and reoccupied between 650 to 725 A.D.. During this later period, evidence of pit structures and slab-lined dwellings are found in close proximity with villages of multiple dwellings in the craggy canyons.

                                                             Cedar Mesa

The Cedar Mesa Plateau is home to one of the largest concentration of Anasazi ruins in the four corners areas of the southwest. Located in southeastern Utah, the four hundred square mile (475,000 acres) Cedar Mesa Plateau is bounded by the Arch canyons on the north, Comb Wash on the east, Grand Gulch on the west, and the Valley of Gods and the San Juan River on the south.

The only paved road on the Cedar Mesa Plateau is Utah State Hwy. 261 which runs north and south from Hwy 95 to Mexican Hat. A narrow paved-graveled road, Moki Dugway, drops eleven hundred feet in three miles as it goes off of the Cedar Mesa Plateau into the Valley of the Gods.

                                                            Moki Dugway

Utah State Highway 261 basically splits Cedar Mesa Grand Gulch terrain in half. The Cedar Mesa canyons east of SH 261 - Fish Creek, Owl, Mule, Arch, and Road canyons - drain into Comb Wash.

                                                             Comb Wash

To the south of Road Canyon, Lime Canyon drains into the Valley of the Gods and from there into the San Juan River. 

                                                       Valley of the Gods

Visiting the Cedar Mesa ruins is a rare and special the decedents of the Anasazi these sites are sacred and should be treated as such.  No one should touch, crawl in, or remove any thing...take only a picture-leave only a footprint...and a deep respect for the struggles of a culture long gone.

That said, one of my pet peeves is people that want no one to know about these sites except a select group of friends. Sadly, this includes the BLM. Poorly maintained slick rock-dirt roads, few marked trailheads, and poor maintained cairned trails, indicates the BLM has little interest, except to charge a fee, in making these sites available to the public. There are reports of rangers at Kane Wash being reluctant to provide directions to some sites. These sites are on public land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and should be open to everyone.

This does not mean cutting off-road vehicle trails, taking artifacts, or damaging the ruins in any way should not be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Policing the Cedar Mesa area is impossible. Restricting access is not the solution. Many of the well-known Cedar Mesa sites are hard to find and difficult to reach...internet comments suggest many visitors never find the ruin they seek. The vast majority of present day visitors to the Cedar Mesa sites are acutely aware of  the sites historical and cultural significance, as well as, the environmental impact of visitors. Being naive, my belief is if people spend the time and money to experience a few of these sites in the spectacular canyon settings, they would protect the sites. If the visitors are respectful, do not touch or crawl in the ruins, damage can be kept to a minimum.

The main argument against giving directions to the well known Cedar Mesa Anasazi sites is to protect them from pot and artifact hunters. Protecting well known sites from pot hunters is ridiculous, pot hunters and archeologists took anything of value from these sites long ago. For an interesting account of archeologists read Waldo Wilcox's comments on the archeologists in Range Creek in National Geographic and the Denver Post....these comments are well worth reading.

I spent two weeks in September camped just off of the Government Trail Road which is one of the major access roads on the Cedar Mesa Plateau, the Government Trail Road is not marked, but the road is directly across from Cigarette Springs Road. There are three signed roads off of SH 261, Snow Flat Road, Bullet Canyon, and Cigarette Springs Road. Once on these rough poorly-maintained rocky roads, finding the trailhead to the ruin is the problem.

With GPS locations and travel distances from SH 261 for every site I planned to visit, the "thrill of discovery" was not finding an artifact but finding a cairn marked trail to the ruin. Having the ruin's GPS locations was of little value in the deep narrow canyons. A Garmin 12 channel GPS unit could not acquire enough satellites to produce a reading in many canyon locations.

A permit is required to visit the Cedar Mesa-Grand Gulch ruins. An additional special permit is required for the Moon House ruin. The permit is obtained from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. The station is located on Hwy 261 about four miles south of Highway 95. In addition to the day permit, the Monticello Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management requires group permits for Cedar Mesa and the Grand Gulch Primitive area from March 1 to November 30 with advanced reservation from March 1 to June 15 and September 15 to November 1.

East of Highway 261: 

Snow Flat Road (CR 237) is 6.1 miles from Kane Gulch Ranger Station. Snow Flat Road runs between McCloyd-Road Canyon and Owl Canyon. McCloyd Canyon joins Road Canyon below the Citadel. 8.2 miles down the Snow Flat Road is an unmarked parking area....N37 24 51.1  W109 47 43.7  For the most part the Snow Flat Road follows the 1880 Mormon trail (Hole-in-the-Rock Trail) to Comb Wash.

                                                            McCloyd Canyon

Moon House:

                                                            Moon House Ruins

The Moon House ruins is one of the largest ruins on Cedar Mesa. The Moon House ruin shows two different periods of occupation on the same site.

                                                              Moon House

Cigarette Springs Road:

The Cigarette Springs Road is 9.75 miles south of the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. After turning off of SH 261, the road goes between Road  and Lime canyons.

                                                                Road Canyon

From SH 261, it is about 3.75 miles to the trail head turnoff ...N37 23 39.4  W109 52 55.2... for the Fallen Roof Ruin.  At the end of the turnoff is some large fire pits. In the trees to the right is a Trail Sign.

Fallen Roof (Three Room Ruins):

                                                         Road Canyon Hoodoo

About two miles from the Road Canyon trailhead, the canyon widens with a shallow canyon coming in from the north. At this juncture is a large hoodoo with two large boulders on the canyon rim above it. A few hundred yards beyond the Hoodoo is The Fallen Roof ruin. The ruins is just below the canyon rim facing south...basically all of the Cedar Mesa canyon ruins face south or east to take advantage of the warmth of the morning sun.

                                                Fallen Roof (Three Room) Ruins

                                                               Fallen Roof

Seven Kiva:

The Seven Kiva site can be reached by continuing down Road Canyon, but it is easier to go back to Cigarette Springs Road. Another 2.5 miles down the Cigarette Springs Road is a road on the left to the Road Canyon rim...N37 22' 55.2" W109 50' 37". A cairned trail goes to the Seven Kiva Ruins. From this parking area, a cairned trail follows the Road Canyon rim east to the Citadel.


                                                              Kiva Roof

Note: The streambed appears to be water, but it is rock and sand.


Another approach to the Citadel is to continue down the Cigarette Springs Road to where the road crosses a wash. There is room to park your vehicle by a large boulder on the left side of the road. Go down the wash a ways then leave the wash and go up on the ridge to the left. Watch for a cairned trail to the Citadel. Overlooking the Citadel, a cairned trail is about a hundred yards back on the Road Canyon side from which you can work your way around to the Citadel bridge.

                                                                  The Citadel

The pile of rocks in the center of the walkway appears to be part of a defensive wall.

                                                           Citadel Ruins

                                                              Citadel - East Ruin

West of SH 261: Grand Gulch Primitive Area

Kane Wash, Todie, Sheik, Bullet, and Polly canyons drain into the fifty-four mile long Grand Gulch with John and Slickhorn canyon draining into the San Juan River.  Numerous side canyon radiate out from these major canyons containing Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans) ruins and rock art.

A sign-marked Bullet Canyon Road is 7 miles from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. From the Bullet Canyon trailhead continue of the road to the right for 1.4  miles...N37 27' 3.4" W109 57' 13.6".  The road to the left ends at Sheik Canyon Trailhead. There is a cairned trail on the left side of the wash.

Sheik Canyon:

                                                             Yellow House Ruins

These fibrous ties are probably seven to eight hundred years old...amazing.

Mule Canyon Ruins:

Nine miles east of the SH 261- Hy. 95 junction, the BLM has restored a Mule Canyon Anasazi village. Just east of the ruins turnoff is the road (on left) to the trailhead for the House of Fire Ruin. In little over a mile the road is wide enough to park along the side. Go up the wash on the left to reach the House of Fire.

                                                                House of Fire

The Cave Tower ruins are just beyond the turnoff for House of Fire on the right side of Hy. 95. The Cave Tower ruins consist of several ruins on the rim and in the canyon.

                                         Mule Canyon below Cave Tower Ruins

                                                             Cave Tower Area

                                                            Cave Tower Ruins

Above the Mule Canyon entrance into Comb Wash are several Anasazi Ruins.

                                                      Mule Canyon - Comb Wash

The green cottonwood trees in the mouth of Mule Canyon provide excellent camping spots.

                                                Mule Canyon Ruins Ledge

This ledge is about 100 feet above the canyon floor.

                                                    Mule Canyon Ruins

Archeologist suggest the Cedar Mesa canyon ruins sheltered and protected the Anasazi as they farmed the surrounding mesa top. However, ruins under cliff overhangs high above the canyon floor suggest the dwellings were built as defensive structures more than as a farming community. With no water on the mesa top, except small catch basins after a rain or snow storm, farming would be severely rained for two days while I was there, and a few days later, the catch basins were dry.

Occasional springs and canyon wall seeps may have provide some water within the canyons of Cedar Mesa-Grand Gulch area. A midden (garbage refuge) at Turkey Pen ruins in Grand Gulch showed some turkey droppings contained corn...originally corn was obtained through the Toltec from Mesoamerica . Several ruins, i.e. Road and Slickhorn canyon sites, have corn cobs, but these are the exception, not the rule. For the most part, the Anasazi of the Cedar Mesa Plateau moved with the season gather pinyon nuts, cactus, and other edible plants to supplement a diet of lizards, bugs, mice, rabbits, squirrels, etc., along with an occasional deer or mountain sheep. With water non-existent on the mesa top, except after a rain or snow storm, and the canyon floors subject to flash floods, it is more logical to suggest the Indians of the Cedar Mesa Plateau survived primarily as hunter-gatherers, not farmers on Cedar Mesa.

Beef Basin:

The possibility the Cedar Mesa Anasazi traded for corn with the Anasazi of Beef Basin cannot be discounted. Beef Basin is northeast of the Cedar Mesa Plateau and south of Canyonlands National Park. Near the Abajo Mountains (Blue Mountains), Beef Basin contains many Anasazi Ruins.

                                                               Beef Basin

                                                              Farm House Ruin

Water is the key to living in semi-arid areas, and from the ruins pictured, getting enough water to drink would be a time consuming problem, let alone to irrigate crops. According to Craig Childs, House of Rain, lack of water or too much water are the leading causes of death in a semi-arid land...these deep twisting canyons were primarily cut by rushing water.

                                                      Flash Flood - Google Images

This pine tree in Sheik Canyon symbolizes just how hard it is for plants or animals to survive on the Cedar Mesa Plateau.

The Anasazi abandoned the Cedar Mesa Plateau approximately eight hundred years ago, leaving archeologists to speculate on the Cedar Mesa Anasazi culture and the sudden departure of the Cedar Mesa-Grand Gulch Anasazi.

The Cedar Mesa article was written by O. Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming. Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.

Citation: Eddins, Ned. (article name) Afton, Wyoming. 2002.

Related Articles: Paleo-Indians     Meso-American Indians     Barrier Canyon     Anasazi    Mesa Verde      Hovenweep       Monument Valley      Fremont Indians    Petroglyphs       Fremont Indians     Rock Art      Hovenweep    Monument Valley

References: - Waldo Wilcox - Waldo Wilcox