Road Canyon on my 50th


May 19, 2012

The first time I camped at the end of Cigarette Springs road and day hiked to the Citadel, it was a day filled with weird experiences. First off I nearly got stuck in my car driving to the camp spot the night before. Full moon. I arrived at the site and there was another car. What a drag. He left immediately after I pulled up.
I did not sleep that night, which is unusual, as i like being in my tent in the rain. So I was tired and grumpy on my hike the following morning. It was cold and drizzly. I was feeling a little weird on the hike. It had looked like it would clear up, but it didn't. On my approach to the Citadel about 100' below I twisted my ankle, not too bad. I wrapped it up tight with an ace bandage, and it felt better. Then I had a bright idea. I was going to go look at the ruin. I had come all this way and it was right there above me. Bad idea. I took one step up (pain) and dropped my camera, a little Kodak point and shoot (actually not a bad little camera), and watched it bounce down the slick rock out of view. I sat down, pretty pissed off. My ankle hurt. It was raining. I lost my camera. I decided that there was some kind of bad vibe here. I am not a particularly spiritual man, but I felt like something did not want me to be there. Plus I was by myself with no one around. I turned around, defeated, and limped, painfully, back to my car.

I don't know why I decided to go to the Citadel on my 50th birthday, in 2008, maybe 5 or 6 years after my first experience there. Maybe I wanted to make peace with the place.

So when my three friends and I camped at Cigarette Springs, everything was much better. It was clear but cold. It was early November, so we were prepared for frigid nights. A little hung over when we started, a 2 day trip down into Road Canyon and a visit to the Citadel.


The hike over from Cigarette Springs is a beautiful one. Hiking through the pinon and juniper and arriving at the canyon, with a view of the peninsula that oozes out into road Canyon, with the Citadel at the end. The hike was uneventful, and extraordinarily beautiful. Clear crisp air.


It is a pretty unique place. First off it is in a spectacular location, the thin connector of stone with steep drops off on either side, leading out to the ruin.
But why build out on this lonely, exposed point? You are a long way from water, Cigarette Springs is a few miles away. There are a lot of pot holes I guess, that would help a lot.
Maybe a reason for the location are the unobstructed views to Sleeping Ute, maybe they signaled messages? Who knows.

So on the approach to the skinny access ridge, I decided to sit down and contemplate why the hell they wanted to live here. Good views, that's a plus. Access to water is a negative. Not a very deep overhang for weather protection, but enough for solar gain in the winter and protection in the summer.

I decided that maybe fear drove them out here. Not a ground breaking theory I know.
The spot is defensible obviously, but someone could easily keep you from getting out too. This place has bad vibes, at least for me. Beautiful but kind of haunted.
I have had similar feelings in cliff dwellings that have sketchy defensive entrances, or spooky petroglyphs.

The photo below is looking the other way from the photo above. This was an interesting corner at the end of the building. It was really fun taking the time to study this place. You can see the later addition in the foreground with sloppy inferior stone work, compared to the original building wall in the background that is quite beautiful, straight corners. Maybe they were in a hurry in the addition:




One of the top 5 all time lunch spots::




Walking back to our packs:



My friend PJ (shown above) and I did a great loop backpack years ago, we parked at the old parking area for Moon House, but went the opposite way into a canyon that connected with Road below, then up Road and out, then back to the car. A nice loop.

I was excited to see Road Canyon again, we dropped into the canyon and headed down, until we found 7 Kivas.
Opening in roof:



An interesting petroglyph below the kivas, maybe a family falling to an untimely end?


Looking down canyon. We decided to check out the cave above:



P1070664 1.jpg

Others had preceded us, as we found this prayer flag:



Road Canyon, we camped around the corner to the left:


Our camp spot in Road Canyon:


We left the next morning for the hike out and long drive home.
I am glad we had such a great time visiting the Citadel. But I still think it is kind of creepy.
Thanks for looking.


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Oct 27, 2013
Your "walking back to our packs" picture of the brightly-lit peninsula dropping into shadows on either side give me chills. It seems even more isolated in black & white than it does in color.

I agree with your observation- it's just as easy to keep someone trapped on the isolated point as to defend it and hold someone out. What if we've been thinking about it backwards, and that was the intent? Which makes it even creepier in my opinion, because who would they want to hold captive and why?


Jul 5, 2014
Your b&w edits really brought the creepy element that you described to life. Also, Happy Birthday.


May 19, 2012
thanks @piper01 & @Vegan.Hiker for your comments.
I screwed up my post, I did not mention this was in 2008, a pretty major omission.


Ready For More
Jul 23, 2013
Hmmm...Thinking about it the other way now, maybe it was like an ancient Alcatraz? That could certainly elevate the creep factor.


Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior
Jun 7, 2012
I dig it @gnwatts. I love seeing your stuff in Cedar Mesa, I have yet to explore the area so your trips open it up for me in a really cool way.

Thanks for posting man.


May 19, 2012
I like reading non-recent trip reports. The details aren't as sharp, but memory filters out what's less-important and lets the remembered emotions come through more strongly.
I agree!

Hmmm...Thinking about it the other way now, maybe it was like an ancient Alcatraz? That could certainly elevate the creep factor.

Alcatraz, that's a good theory. Maybe a monastery.

Thanks @slc_dan
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Feb 5, 2021
Hi Greg, I'm new here but am enjoying reading the older posts, especially the ones on Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch. It's a fascinating and beautiful area to explore. I made my first trip there in the Fall of 2017. While I was at Moonhouse in the early morning a guide and small group arrived, and I asked him for suggestions on what else I should see. His suggestion was the Citadel.

I can't remember if I got directions from him or found them somewhere else, but I had no idea what to expect...I had seen no pictures and the guide had given me no details. I wasn't sure if I was going to see a land feature or ruins or both. As I reached the overlook and saw that skinny land bridge out to the point it became quickly apparent how this spot got its name. Glowing in the late afternoon sun the imposing tower made an incredibly powerful impression. I could see why people came here to see it.

It was getting late in the afternoon and I briefly debated whether it was worth the effort to scramble down and walk out to the point. Fortunately my curiosity pushed me forward and I continued out to the tower. I followed the cairns up through the ledges and eventually got my first glimpse of the ruins. It was one of those jaw-dropping moments that I'll always treasure...such beautiful stonework and what an amazing view!

Once I got over my initial shock my next reaction was the same as yours...what drove these people out to such a place? Like everyone else I have no answers, but I can't imagine it was good. Returning this past Fall and seeing Lewis Lodge brought back those same feelings. Maybe that's what attracts me to places like this...they draw you in and stir the imagination. Being there makes it come alive.

Thanks again for the reports!
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