|The most numerous and varied collections of ancient ruins in Utah are found in the southeast corner of the state, spread throughout a large, rather remote area of 30 by 25 miles (see map), consisting of a wooded plateau over 6,500 feet elevation, split by dozens of branched canyons through Cedar Mesa sandstone and including, to the east, part of the 110 mile long monocline of Comb Ridge. All is public land, managed by the BLM, and has no special protection other than around the largest drainage (Grand Gulch), which is designated a wilderness study area, formerly a primitive area; however, along with the San Rafael Swell, the region has been mentioned as a possible future national monument. Known generally as Grand Gulch or Cedar Mesa (the central plateau), this comparatively little known district is bordered by the San Juan River to the south, the foothills of the Abajo Mountains to the north and Red House Cliffs to the west. To the east, beyond Comb Ridge, the region merges with other, more scattered areas of ruins including Montezuma Creek and Hovenweep National Monument.
Hotels: The nearest towns with hotels are Blanding and Monticello along US 191.
The Canyons: Main roads through the area are US 163 across the south and UT 276/UT 95 in the north, linked by UT 276 which traverses the highest part of Cedar Mesa and crosses the upper end of Kane Gulch, a Grand Gulch tributary, next to which is a BLM ranger station that provides a focal point for visitors - nearby are a campground and several major trailheads. The mesa is quite lightly regulated, and free, vehicle-based camping is allowed anywhere along the side tracks branching off the paved routes, though reservations and permits are needed for any overnight stays down in the canyons, since although numerous ruins are within reach of a long or short day hike, many more remote places need at least one night camping. The canyons are somewhat popular just as a quiet, unspoilt backpacking destination, for people not especially interested in ancient ruins, yet are not particularly scenic - there are no very narrow sections as are found in the White Canyon system to the north, instead the ravines are rather wide, often quite overgrown and boulder-filled, enclosed by dull-colored rocks, either reddish or grey/white. The deepest and most spectacular section is the middle part of Grand Gulch, where the sheer sandstone cliffs reach up to 800 feet high.
The Ruins: Besides hundreds of ruins, mostly cliff dwellings, the Cedar Mesa region also has many petroglyphs and pictographs, all between 2,000 and 800 years old, from the Anasazi or Ancestral Pueblo culture; these peoples typically farmed and hunted on the mesa tops, while inhabiting the more sheltered confines of the canyons, where water was more easily acquired and conditions were cooler in the long summer months. Although all ruins will have been studied and recorded in recent times, the vast majority are unreconstructed and unprotected, and many still have visible artefacts on the surface, hence must be visited with care and responsibility. Fortunately most sites are far from main roads so need some determination to reach, and won't be seen by the casual visitor.
Locations: The greatest concentration of ruins is in Grand Gulch itself, or at least the upper four fifths of it (40 miles), plus several tributaries, principally Step Canyon, Sheiks Canyon and Bullet Canyon. Further south, the upper forks of Slickrock Canyon and Johns Canyon have many sites, all within reach of a day hike. North of UT 95, one of the most concentrated group of ruins is in the north and south forks of Mule Canyon, both easily accessed from the highway. South of UT 95 and east of UT 261 the canyons are a little harder to get to, requiring longer drives on unpaved roads, but contain equally good, well preserved ruins - major drainages are Fish Creek, Owl Creek, McCloud Canyon, Road Canyon (north and south) and Lime Canyon. The easternmost ruins in the Cedar Mesa area are found on the less steep east side of Comb Ridge, close to Butler Wash which like the good quality access track runs parallel to the monocline for over 20 miles. At least a dozen of the small canyons cutting into the ridge have ruins and petroglyphs towards the upper ends, each within reach of a hike of an hour or so. Besides all these backcountry locations are several developed, roadside sites such as the Sand Island pictograph panel a few miles west of Bluff, Mule Canyon mesa top ruins and Butler Wash ruins, these latter both along UT 95, either side of Comb Ridge.
||Hundreds of Anasazi ruins, pictographs and petroglyphs in the mesa and canyon country of southeast Utah, north of the San Juan River; reachable by dayhikes or backpacking trips
|Nearest city with hotels:
||37.524499, -109.895768 (Kane Gulch ranger station)
||Spring and fall are best; summers are hot, while winters can be cold and snowy
|Map - showing all canyons and the locations of major ruins in Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa and Comb Ridge
Bullet Canyon - popular day-hike destination with two main sites (Perfect Kiva, Jailhouse Ruin)
Comb Ridge and Butler Wash - petroglyphs, pictographs and ruins, reached by short hikes; many different sites
Lower Fish Creek - shallow canyon on the east side of Cedar Mesa; about ten ancient sites
Sheiks Canyon - Grand Gulch tributary; two major ruins, plus pictographs and lesser sites
Slickhorn Canyon - San Juan River tributary with four short upper forks, all containing ruins
South Fork of Mule Canyon - easily accessed ruins near UT 95; at least eight sites