Sunday, November 2, 2008

Arch Canyon Trail

The Arch Canyon Trail is a 16 mile round trip to two large arches in the Cedar Mesa area of southeast Utah, west of Blanding and just west of Comb Ridge. Along the way there are also several mostly small Ancestral Pueblo Ruins sites.

The trail head is 2.5 miles north of Utah Route 95 along a BLM gravel road. The  road is a north turn just after passing through the engineered notch in the massive sandstone of Comb Ridge. The trail is mostly an ATV trail so the walking is fairly easy. This trail head is also the starting point for a hike to Hotel Rock. Look for the Walnut Knob petroglyph site in the trail head area also.

There are many creek crossings but in fall there is not much water to step through. The trail is sandy and meandering much of the way.

Within the first ten minutes of hiking there is the fairly large Arch Canyon Ruins site that has several wall sections still standing and many collapsed rubble pile structures, and several examples of petroglyphs on the sandstone canyon walls.

After that site, there are small and inconspicuous sites higher in the canyon walls. I saw four that I'm sure were sites. I saw other possible sites but they were so far up the canyon walls that it was difficult to tell even with binoculars. On this hike I was focused on reaching the two large arches and didn't stop at the ruins small sites. On  a later hike to the Hotel Rock side canyon I looked at the ruins more closely.

Further up the canyon there are more rock fins and monument formations. The canyon forest changes gradually from Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper to Ponderosa Pines with occasional Douglas Firs in shady canyon corners.
I looked at this alcove carefully to see if it was an arch or a ruins site but it didn't appear to be either. Binoculars are handy on this hike for scanning the canyon walls.

It took me about 4:00 hours to get to Cathedral Arch, with Angel Arch another few minutes further. The land status changes from BLM to Forest Service just as Cathedral Arch comes into view, and the trail changes from jeep trail to footpath.

The trip back took 3:00 hours for a total hike of 7:10 hours for the 16 mile round trip. I carried four liters of water and finished the last drops when I returned to the trail head on a perfect late October day of blue sky and about 65 F. This is a long hike but there is a lot to see.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Arch Canyon Ruins Trail

The Arch Canyon Trail in the Cedar Mesa area, west of Blanding in southeast Utah features two large arches and several small Ancestral Pueblo Ruins sites.

The access is 2.5 miles north on the BLM road that is just west of Comb Ridge along Utah Scenic Byway 95. The Arch Canyon Ruins are within the first ten minutes of hiking. From the parking area, also look for Walnut Knob and a rubble pile ruins that overlooks the trail.

The Arch Canyon Ruins appears to be a combination alcove site and mesa top site. There are some wall sections abutting against a sandstone cliff and collapsed rubble piles in front.

It looks like there are three or four structures still partly standing and these draw the most interest. The site is on the north side of the canyon and gets full sun most of the day. It is somewhat elevated above the creek that would have provided a year round water supply.

The third structure seems to have the most details left, showing some entryways and examples of the stonework still in place.

The numerous rubble piles make it appear that this was a sizeable village but there isn't much in the rubble to see for the untrained eye. I didn't find any interpretive information on this site, such as number of rooms or kivas.
Between the structures on the sandstone wall there are several petroglyphs. This is a trail that seems to have it all, ruins, petroglyphs, arches, massive cliffs, carved monuments, and year round water.Besides the geometric designs there are also a few petroglyphs of animal and humanoid figures. Beyond the ruins site the trail extends as an ATV trail for about eight miles before reaching Cathedral and Angel Arches. Along the way there are opportunites to scan the high cliffs for small Ancestral Pueblo sites.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cathedral Arch and Angel Arch in Arch Canyon

Arch Canyon in the Cedar Mesa area of southeast Utah is named for two large arches that are about eight miles up the canyon at the end of an ATV Trail. The trail head is up a BLM dirt road, 2.5 miles north of Utah Route 95, just west of the rugged Comb Ridge.

At the end of the ATV trail the land status changes from the BLM to the Forest Service and the trail becomes a footpath. Cathedral Arch is visible at the trail head.

The forest at the upper end of Arch Canyon is dominated by Ponderosa Pines rather than the Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest of the lower canyon and patches of evergreen manzanita are common. The trail continues to cross and recross the creek that runs through Arch Canyon. In late October 2008, there was only a small amount of flowing water with pools forming in a few places.

There didn't appear to be an angle to get blue sky through the Cathedral Arch from the trail. It was a long hike to get up this far and a long way back, so I didn't use up my energy to get up underneath for the blue sky angle.
A few minutes more of hiking, Angel Arch comes into view. Besides the spectacular scenery and large arches, Arch Canyon has the cultural overlay of Ancestral Pueblo Ruins. There are many small sites in the canyon but they are hard to see much less get close to.

At Angel Arch, it was possible to get an angle to see blue sky, but it involves maneuvering through some brush and finding a gap in the tall pines.
It looks like one could climb up higher and get under Angel Arch but it would take more energy than I had. It took me about 4:00 hours of hiking to get to this point and I turned around here.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mule Canyon South Fork Trail

The Mule Canyon South Fork Trail visits several small Ancestral Pueblo ruins in a fairly small canyon in the Cedar Mesa area in southeast Utah. The trailhead is a short distance along a gravel road on the north side of Scenic Byway 95 just east of the roadside Mule Canyon Ruins site.

This is one of several trails in this BLM managed area that has a $2 per person day hiking permit fee. The trail head for the parallel Mule Canyon North Fork trail is another 0.5 miles along the same gravel road.

The trail follows a sandy and rocky creek bed, crossing frequently. In fall there is no flowing water, only a few pools. Deeper into the canyon, there are more cool weather Ponderosa Pines, Engelmann Spruce and Douglas Firs along with the riparian Cottonwoods and willows.

The first ruin site arrives after about one mile and 30 minutes of hiking. The small site is well known as the "house on fire" ruin due to the way light plays on the ripples of sandstone in the alcove ceiling.

 This effect seems to show up better in photos than it did actually looking at it.

Another mile or so past the "house on fire" there is another small storage looking site. I only went up far enough to get a picture. The canyon has more large sandstone cliffs through the middle part of the trail.

The small ruins sites are spaced fairly evenly. The third site that I saw is perched high on a sandstone cliff, with the trail crossing bare rock at this point.

The last two of the five sites that I saw were also small and hard to see much. They are in locations where it would be difficult to get close to them. I walked about 4.2 miles to a point where the trail seemed to fizzle out.
The last part of the trail was very green and had quite a few large evergreen trees mixed with the riparian creek side trees. I also saw quite a bit of manzanita, an evergreen shrub member of the Heath family that I haven't seen very often in this region.

I used about 2:15 to get to the end of the trail, walking slowly while scanning for the ruins sites. My total hike was 4:00 hours.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Upper Butler Wash Trail and Ballroom Cave

The Upper Butler Wash Trail is an unpublicized 1.25 mile route that visits three Ancestral Pueblo sites along a sandy creek bed. The trail begins at the well marked Butler Wash Ruins Trail that is along Scenic Byway Utah Route 95 west of Blanding in southeast Utah.

Just inside the fence at the trail head for the Butler Wash Ruins Trail, an unnoticed path takes off to the right and follows near the fence for 0.25 miles. There is a BLM sign in box and an alternate place to park near the highway sign for the better known trail.

After about 40 minutes along a somewhat overgrown path, criss crossing the creek and stepping over a lot of small fallen trees, the first of three ruins sites appears in an alcove to the left.

I climbed up the sandy hill to the right, though left might have been a better choice. The first site is known as Ballroom Cave. There is some interpretive information in an ammo box on the right side of the site. Besides the main alcove there are side caves on each side.
On the alcove walls to the right are several small petroglyphs. I suppose the one to the left is a deer with a big rack, somewhat stylized.

 Room blocks to the right have some roof beams still in place. Stepping carefully past these, there is a cave room that appears empty but I didn't go in there very far.

Above the room blocks is a good multicolored pictograph. There are more handprint pictographs along the right side wall.

On the left side there are some wall sections and another deeper cave room that looked mostly empty but I didn't go down there. The view from the site is elevated and the creek bottom below is thick with cottonwoods and brushy plants. This site seemed to have a very thick sand layer below the sandstone layer. Along the left side of the site there may be a seep spring providing water.
Within the next 500 yards there are two more sites. The second site is hard to climb up into, and I just looked from below. The third site is mostly a small storage area in a small elevated alcove with a wall fragment down below. There is not much to see except to marvel at the placement of the sites and the environment they reside in. I spent about 2:00 hours on this trail.

There are two more ruins sites along the Upper Bulter Wash Trail that aren't obvious from the trail. On the return hike look for side trails that climb abruptly, on the same side as the Ballroom site. One of the side trails leads to the interesting Target Ruins site.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Kigalia Canyon Trail

The Kigalia Canyon Trail is a 2.5 mile route in the Manti La Sal National Forest along the Elk Ridge Road near Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah. The trail head is at the Kilgalia Guard Station, marked as 026, about 10 miles along the forest road from the junction with the paved road that leads to Natural Bridges.
This trail is higher in elevation than the high desert Pinon PIne and Utah Juniper areas of most of the Cedar Mesa area and starts in a Ponderosa Pine and Aspen forest
There is a ruin along the early part of the trail, but not the type we are usually looking for in this area of numerous Ancestral Pueblo dwellings. There was also the remains of an old wagon near the cabin site.
The trail descends steadily down a small drainage. As the trail gets deeper there are more cool weather deep forest trees like Douglas Firs and Engelmann Spruce. The forest is very dense down below and there weren't any views on the part that I walked.
The day I hiked here there were quite a few deer along the trail and I also saw a group of turkeys. I only sampled the trail for 30 minutes down and back up for a total 1:00 hour hike.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bears Ears and Arch Canyon

The Bears Ears is a pair of buttes 6 miles along the Elk Ridge access road to the Manti La Sal National Forest near Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah.

The turn off is about 4 miles before the entrance to Natural Bridges and the road climbs steeply the first couple of miles. About 3 miles past the Bears Ears on the Elk Ridge road is the Arch Canyon Overlook looking to the southeast. The canyon mouth starts near the point where Scenic Route Utah 95 passes through an engineered notch is the massive Comb Ridge sandstone formation.
The canyon runs for about 10 miles from northwest to southeast. There is an Arch Canyon Trail that penetrates the canyon to Cathedral Arch and Angel Arch, but these two features are about 7 miles up the trail.

The Bears Ears aren't spectacular in themselves, but they are visible from long distances in the Four Corners area and have served as a regional navigation point. The Bears Ears are the remnants of Wingate Sandstone. This layer sits on top of the shales of the Chinle Layer and just below the thick Navajo and Entrada Sandstones that are visible near the Arches and Canyonlands National Park area.

The gravel forest road splits the Bears Ears, passing between them. It looks like there are unofficial trails going up that climbers probably use.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Westwater Ruin & Edge of the Cedars

The Westwater Ruin is an Ancestral Pueblo canyon rock alcove site just south of Blanding in southeast Utah. It is located about 2 miles west along road 1200 South, which isn't marked.

The Westwater Ruin is an overlook site. I didn't see an easy trail across the canyon, though it looked like the agile could probably get over there.

Westwater Ruins is thought to have at least 13 ground level rooms and 5 kivas. There were also probably some upper level rooms. The site may have been occupied as early as 750 AD and abandoned by 1300.
This canyon has other ruins nearby, including the pueblo at the Edge of the Cedars Museum.
Down the canyon is to the south and the canyon appears to get deeper. There is some riparian habitat at the bottom of the canyon indicating permanent water. Up the canyon to the north the Blue Mountains are visible. This site has a good road going out to it, but there is no interpretive information and it doesn't appear to be protected except by its difficult location.

Edge of the Cedars is a Utah State Park in central Blanding. There is a partially excavated Ancestral Pueblo site there with a small museum. This is a site that appears to have had three lives. The first occupation lasted from 825 to 950 and the second from 1050 to 1125. In the early 1200s there was some remodeling with the site thought to be vacant during the intervals in between.

Then as now there were advantages to this location including the fine views of the nearby Abajo Mountains. The Edge refers to the biological boundary between the sagebrush fields and the Pinon Pine and Juniper forests. The trail here is short and visitors have to pass though the museum to get to the ruins site.

There is a reconstructed kiva than can be entered. The excavated sections of the site show part of the Great House. About 17 rooms and two kivas are visible. There is an unexcavated Great Kiva on the south side, appearing as a circular depression.

The abutment joints of walls show that the site was remodeled over a period of time. The stones used in building the site are a mix of flat tabular sandstone that had to be carried a long distance and more local chunky rocks. In the chunky layers, small chinking stones were used.

The Museum has a large collection of ancient pottery. At many of the ancient sites looting by collectors occurred before the sites were protected, so it's rare to see a lot of preserved ones on display.

Edge of the Cedars is a good place to find red ware pots, found mostly in southeast Utah and northeast Arizona.  It is common to find pottery shards in the region and it is odd to think that the shards have been laying there for 700 years.

There is also a sculpture near the ruins site that replicates some of the archaeoastronomy sites in the southwest. In some locations, spears of light hit spirals or other symbols on the significant days of the solar year.