Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mule Canyon North Fork Trail

The Mule Canyon North Fork Trail is a parallel route to the nearby and somewhat more popular South Fork Trail in Mule Canyon in the Cedar Mesa area of southeast Utah. The trail head for the North Fork is about 0.5 miles past the starting point of the South Fork Trail.

There is a small parking area just before a narrow wooden bridge. Both are north off of Scenic Byway, Route 95 west of Blanding and a short distance east of the roadside Mule Canyon Indian Ruins site. The Mule Canyon trails are among the canyon areas where BLM is charging a modest $2 per hiker permit fee.

The North Fork route mostly follows the creek bed with some trail segments around the spots where pools of water form. The canyon starts out shallow and gets deeper up canyon. This canyon environment includes tall Ponderosa Pines and a few Douglas Firs along with the Pinon Pines and Utah Junipers.

After about 20 or 30 minutes of walking, there is a small one room Ancestral Pueblo Ruin on the right under a rock overhang. This site appeared to be a place where someone could have lived, rather than a storage place for grain. The canyon isn't very deep at this point and the site isn't very high above the creek. The left wall seemed particularly thick for a one story structure.

This part of the canyon has Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper Trees. On a day or two after some rainfall, there were many small pools of water in the creek bottom. The canyons in this area appear to be very dry, but I was impressed with how much water could have been collected after a storm event occurs.

About thirty minutes later, 1:00 hour into my hike, a granary structure is visible under a sandstone overhang high overhead. Along this trail segment, there is also a lot of Manzanita, an evergreen shrub with leathery leaves. I also saw some of the silvery Roundleaf Buffaloberry that is common near Natural Bridges National Monument. Along the canyon wall, there is some obvious water seepage between the layers of rock with some hanging garden type plants taking advantage of the moisture.

Below the granary is another creek level structure hidden in a small alcove. The room on the left had the roof woodwork holding together well and I saw some spiral petroglyphs in the black stained stone on the left.

It looked like the roof work of a circular kiva was directly in front of the two rooms. This site seems to be an example of what other interpreted sites call a unit structure, rectangular rooms and a kiva combination.

Another high level series of structures in visible another 0:30 minutes further up the canyon. I climbed up a little to get a closer view. There seemed to be a central residence structure with a storage structure on each side.

I was interested to see some flowing water trickling down the sandstone a short distance past the skyline ruins. All along this segment there are signs of seeping water between layers of sandstone. I turned around about 0:15 minutes past the skyline at a point where boulders blocked the trail and a pool of water makes climbing past the boulders inconvenient.

My return hike took 1:45 minutes without any stops. My total hike took 4:00 hours on a 72 F degree early October day, and I only saw two other hikers. I carried and drank 3 liters of water.