Earlier this month to wrap up our Utah road trip we spent several days camping up on Cedar Mesa and hiking into various canyons to look for Ancestral Puebloan ruins. I would guess that most or all of these ruins have been discovered (and pillaged) by now, but it is still great fun to hike through these canyons and try to spot them yourself.
The Cedar Mesa Plateau has one of the highest concentration of Ancestral Puebloan ruins in the Four Corners, with sites scattered up and down every canyon. The Ancestral Puebloans (also sometimes referred to by the outdated term “Anasazi”) lived in the Four Corners region roughly one thousand years ago, though evidence of their predecessors dates all the way back to 6500 B.C. By about 1300 A.D. the region was abandoned.
Most of these ruin sites are located under natural alcoves on high ledges, oftentimes with difficult access points that provided defensive protection. The Ancestral Puebloans farmed corn on the canyon floors or up on the rims, and even today you can still find little dried corn cobs in many of the ruins. Most of the pottery has been stolen by pothunters by now, but you can still find small potsherds and sharp rock blades around some of the more remote ruins.
More photos below!
The photos above are just a few out of many more ruin sites on Cedar Mesa (see more photos here), most of which require hiking in rugged canyon terrain to visit. But this is part of the allure of Cedar Mesa — not only are the canyons themselves spectacular, but nowhere else can you see so many ancient ruins, petroglyphs, and pictographs in their natural wilderness setting.
Today Cedar Mesa is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) but incredibly has no permanent protective designation! The ruins face continual danger of vandalism, robbery, and degradation by careless visitors, while the mesa itself is under threat by fracking operations which could turn parts of the area into industrial drilling fields. If there is any place in Utah — or the entire West for that matter — that would qualify for monument designation under the Antiquities Act, this would be it! Seems like a no-brainer to me, but earlier this year some no-brain Republican legislators in Utah passed a bill not only opposing additional protections for Cedar Mesa, but declaring livestock grazing and energy extraction as the “highest and best use” for the area! It would be laughable but it’s no laughing matter. Let’s hope that this unique and precious region will soon receive the conservation protection it deserves.
You can read more about this issue at the following links: