Our trip to Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah over Labor Day weekend flew by way too quick. The drive just to get there chewed up quite a bit of time, but what a drive it is. Despite being a little rushed, we still managed to get a taste for what the mesa has to offer.
To break up the drive, we stopped at Hog Canyon in North Wash for a hike and a swim.
Some fairly large floods must have come down recently and washed out much of the trail that leads to the swimming hole. It was a bushwhack for much of the way through head-high flora, and there were few signs of other people having hiked into the canyon recently.
The whole canyon seemed different from the first time I hiked here and I began to think that maybe we had somehow passed the swimming hole. Just as I thought about backtracking, I heard a trickle of water spattering into the plunge pool.
The cold water felt great for the unusually warm weather. And we wasted little time jumping in and getting muddy.
The hike to Hog Springs took longer than I thought, so we were already getting behind schedule. We drove to Natural Bridges N.M., set up camp and headed out to Butler Wash to look for what makes the Cedar Mesa area famous--Anasazi ruins!
Above: a fast-moving whipsnake surprised us on the way to the Butler Wash Ruins overlook.
Above: the largest of three ruins visible in alcoves below the overlook.
We were anxious to get a more intimate look at some ruins (you can only view the above ruins from a distance), so we headed east and followed the unmarked trail up the main Butler Wash toward Ballroom Cave and the Target ruins.
The hike up Butler Wash was surprisingly lush and pleasant. However, mosquitoes began to swarm however forcing us pick up the pace.
Ballroom Cave is impressively big and has several partially intact structures including living quarters, a kiva, and a defensive wall.
Above: a row of matates (stone grooves where corn was milled by hand) indicates the "kitchen" area of this sprawling dwelling.
Above: the cave is deep and dark enough to where you'll want a flashlight to find all of the habitation sites.
After exploring the cave for some time, we backtracked and climbed up into a short side canyon that houses the amazingly well-preserved Target (aka Bulls Eye) ruin. One of the rooms still has the entire roof intact.
The ruin is inaccessible but the view from below is very good. For an even better view though, you have to climb up to an alcove on the opposite side of the canyon. The alcove guards a small granary(?) but most important is the view from alcove's edge that reveals how the ruin got its name.
Above: a small granary(?) in an alcove opposite the Target ruin.
Above: view from above into Target ruin. Note the intact roof and the unusual concentric-circle pictograph resembling a target or bulls eye.
I had hoped to visit the Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding, but it was closed by the time we made it into town. We were tired and hungry, so we grabbed a bite to eat and then headed back to camp.
The next day, I had planned to hike into the House on Fire ruin in Mule Canyon. But I feared the kids would get warn out in the heat and not have enough energy for Moon House ruin in the afternoon. So we started out by hitting the Mule Canyon roadside ruins just off the highway.
Above: Zoe and Ava explore a restored kiva at the Mule Canyon roadside ruins.
Next, we made the short drive to the Mule Canyon towers -- a series of interesting stone lookout towers perched on the rim above a deep tributary to Mule Canyon.
Above: a lonely and forgotten grave near the Mule Canyon towers. If anyone has any info on who is buried here, please let me know.
Above: Zoe inspects one of the larger Mule Canyon towers.
With some more time to kill, we found a few geocaches (kids go nuts over these things), and drove up to the Arch Canyon overlook. An old Jeep road goes up much of the canyon that I'd bet makes a pretty good bike ride -- next time for sure.
Above: Ponderosa Pines, several natural arches, sandstone spires, and Anasazi Ruins all add to the allure of this deep canyon. A perfect place to explore by bike.
Above: the girls play on the ladder leading to the Arch Canyon overlook.
We were finally ready for the 5-mile hike to the Moon House ruin. All we needed to do was stop at the Kane Creek Ranger station to pick up our permit. It turns out that the station closed at noon! A small but important detail that I had overlooked. Upset that I couldn't hike into what was supposed to be the grand finale to the trip, I just felt like driving. So I turned down the Mormon Trail (part of the Hole-in-the-Rock trail to Bluff) and descended off the Mesa toward Comb Ridge.
The views into McCloyd Canyon and of Comb Ridge were great and by the time we reached Comb Wash, we were ready to hike and find a couple of more geocaches.
From Comb Wash, we took SR-163 to the Valley of the Gods. What a beautiful and peaceful place. Again, this would be a great place to explore by bike.
Above: deep into the trail through the Valley of the Gods.
We enjoyed the drive up the infamous Moki Dugway and made our way out to Muley Point. A sunrise experience at Muley would be phenomenal. I will camp here before I die.
Above: my girls at Muley Point. The Goosenecks of the San Juan River are in the mid distance; Monument Valley is in the far distance.
We had the usual hot dogs and marshmallows at camp that night.
The drive home to Cedar took most of the day as I chose the most scenic way home rather than the fastest. I also got to check two things off the to-do-list: (1) taking the ferry across Lake Powell and (2) driving the extremely remote southern Burr Trail.
Well, we've got a lot more to see on Cedar Mesa. We really didn't even scratch the surface. Next time we'll go during cooler weather and I'll be sure to get that stinking permit for Moon House in the AM!
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