Cedar Mesa Antiquity

Cedar Mesa, Utah, ruins, Ancestral Puebloan
Hotel of the Ancients : Prints Available

Dawn at an Ancestral Puebloan ruin perched high on the rim of a Cedar Mesa canyon in Utah. *Please note that I did not enter or disturb these well-preserved ruins; the internal lighting effect was from a flashlight that I carefully placed on the window sills.

Cedar Mesa, Citadel, Utah, ruins, Ancestral Puebloan
Sunrise House : Prints Available

Sunrise light illuminates an Ancestral Puebloan ruin with an expansive view on Cedar Mesa, Utah.

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 The Ancestral Puebloans (also sometimes referred to by the outdated term “Anasazi”) lived in the Four Corners region roughly one thousand years ago, though evidence of their predecessors dates all the way back to 6500 B.C. By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!

Cedar Mesa, Citadel, Utah, ruins, Ancestral Puebloan

A narrow sandstone ridge served as a defensive entrance for the ruins perched on the isolated sandstone peninsula (behind the photo). The defensive nature of this site is evident in several ruined walls at the narrowest points on this ridge.

Cedar Mesa, Mule Canyon, Utah, ruins, Ancestral Puebloan
House on Fire : Prints Available

The famous ‘House of Fire’ ruin in Road Canyon. The bridge orange color is from an intense ‘bounce light’ reflecting from the sun-bathed surrounding sandstone.

Cedar Mesa, Road Canyon, Utah, ruins, Ancestral Puebloan

Kiva interior. *Note that I did not enter this ruin; I shot this photo through a window.

Cedar Mesa, John Canyon, Utah, ruins, Ancestral Puebloan

A seldom-visited ruin in a Cedar Mesa canyon, with intact door.

Cedar Mesa, Mule Canyon, Utah, ruins, Ancestral Puebloan

Another remote and difficult to reach ruin.

Cedar Mesa, Mule Canyon, Utah, ruins, Ancestral Puebloan

This ruin has a unique staircase built into it. This is part of a series of ruins in an inaccessible alcove that would be impossible to hike to.

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:

5 thoughts on “Cedar Mesa Antiquity

  1. A fine set of images! I esp. like the narrow sandstone ridge you captured. Perfectly lit with both sides in shadow, highlighting its defensive nature.
    It appears that various stakeholders in the region (incl. 5 Native tribes) have crafted a proposal for a new ‘Bear’s Ears Nat’l. Monument’ that will include Cedar Mesa and much more. This is an optimal way to work, IMO.
    Speaking of crafting, I think you & Raza did a fine job with Marc A.’s new website!

  2. Excellent photos Jack! The first photo is well crafted! The flash lights placed on the windows really add another dimention to the image.

  3. Jack,

    My highest respect for your photography and your mindful thinking about what you do when you are out in the nature or at these historical sites. To many careless boots might cause some damage to those places

    I wished that there was more longterm thinking in keeping those natural leftovers alive by the persons at power.

    Best regards,

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