A Week in Cedar Mesa's Canyons, Part 1

Scott Chandler

Wildness is a necessity- John Muir
Jan 4, 2014
At the end of February I made my first trip down to Cedar Mesa and was blown away by the experience. In sharing the story and pictures among family and friends, my friends Richard and Kaitlin showed significant interest in getting their first experience to the area. So plans were put together and we ventured to the southeast corner of the state for a long weekend.


Met up and gassed in Hanksville, we continued our drives southeast. Boy was it easier to get to Cedar Mesa while I was at Dead Horse Point. :scatman: We stopped in at the Kane Gulch Station to acquire our permits for the trip, found ourselves a campsite, and drove on to our first adventure of the trip: Moonhouse Ruins.

It was pretty awesome being able to see the destination right on the other side of the canyon.
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We could also see that there were a few groups already at the ruins, so to decrease the crowding of the situation we wandered along the bench to see a couple other structures. The individual character of every structure was so fun to see and would be a continual joy throughout the trip.

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With the groups that were at Moonouse gone, we got some solitude to experience it on our own.

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Named after the painting in a certain room, the place was pretty darn cool. It really raised questions of what life was like back in the day.

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With a bit of daylight left, we decided to wander up the canyon, encountering another ruin that looked like it was pretty awesome at one time and eventually turning around at a dryfall.

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That night we got to witness an interesting phenomenon. Oddly enough, when the sun went down the temps seemed to instantly drop 20 degrees... It was pretty cold at night. Spring camping!


The next day we set out to hike Sheiks Canyon down to Grand Gulch. We weren't sure how long anything would take and decided to play it by ear. Looking at the map there was the possibility of creating a loop by exiting via Bullet Canyon, but it would be a long day...

Sheiks started out nice, cute and shallow. Quickly we encountered Yellow House Ruins.

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Wandering down the canyon we also found this cool granary. I bet it was a lot easier for the creators to use natural walls instead of building all of them.

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As we continued, the canyon decided to change its character and we started to lose elevation. While it was never too bad, it was certainly more spicy than expected.

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Once the canyon bottomed out we next reached the Green Mask Ruins, named after a multitude of petroglyphs, including one Green Mask that has ties to one found in Arizona and a set of abstracts from the BC times.

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Beyond that was Grand Gulch and we had a decision to make: continue through Bullet, or wander in Grand Gulch before returning up Sheiks... None of us felt great about the thought of going up Sheiks so the decision was pretty simple. Down canyon to Bullet we went!

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And then up Bullet.

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Along the way we checked out Jailhouse Ruins, which were probably my favorite set from the trip. The midden was huge and riddled with cool artifacts and the ruin with its pictographs had a menacing character.

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As we continued, we started to wonder what we would find when the canyon started to climb. Not much elevation was gained as we got to Jailhouse... Eventually we started to climb, but it was all fairly nice and simple. Surprisingly we found the bypasses were harder than the watercourse itself. People are weird.

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Finally we saw the rim structures that marked how close we were to the trailhead and the start of our road walk. We ended up back at the car just before headlamps were needed. A long day, but pretty awesome.

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After another chilly night and another short drive we started out to the final spot Kaitlin and Richard would visit: The Citadel. The hike along the rim yielded great views.

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When the peninsula that the ruins came into view and we saw what we had to traverse to get there some butt puckering happened. Ledges were descended with ease though and soon we were there, figuring out how to get up to the structures. Cedar Mesa-144.jpg Cedar Mesa-146.jpg Cedar Mesa-146.jpg Cedar Mesa-148.jpg Cedar Mesa-150.jpg Cedar Mesa-152.jpg

And then lives called and I found myself alone. Bye friends! What to do now? I filled the rest of the day by going into the upper end of the canyon system we had hiked above and see a few ruins down there.

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The first are pretty "well known": The Fallen Roof Granaries. Really neat and a nice view too boot!

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From there I traveled along a bench and encountered a couple more ruins before turning around to camp out another night.

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The perk of seasonal employment is that you have plenty of time off at times. So with no commitments I would spend the next couple days backpacking down into Grand Gulch! Story continued in Part 2.
Last edited:
Just the tip of the iceberg there.....
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