Cedar Mesa holds some of the most unusual and best-preserved ruins in all the southwest.  Several different clans passed through this area on their long migration and produced dwellings of distinct architectural styles in a relatively small geographic area.  The trick to photographing them is to be there in the right season and at the right time of day.  Being 30 minutes late can mean the difference between a stunning, eye-popping photograph and an average washed out image.  We know the locations and we know the timing. 

This is a great location for photographers who like to combine hiking with their photography! Possible shoot sites include Moon House Ruins, House Fire Ruins, Cave Tower, Bear Paw, Fallen Ceiling and Horse Collar.  

Cedar Mesa is 1.5 hours south of Moab and west of Blanding.  The area is controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and much of it is classified as a Special Recreation Area.  Its 475,000 acres includes one of the prime collections of ancient native american ruins in all of North America.  While Moab is generally around 4500' ASL, Cedar Mesa ranges from 4300' to over 7000', providing more life zones than the Canyonlands and Arches areas.  While the primary occupants were a people we refer to Anasazi (now considered a politically incorrect term but still, I believe, the best term), Utes and Fremont were also in this area and have left rock art behind.  We believe Anasazi translates as "ancient ones" or "ancient enemies".


Moon House Ruin

The Anasazi occupied the area between 1 and 1300 AD, or 700 to 2000 years ago.  The construction of Moon House Ruin spanned 150 years between 1044 and 1255 AD, making it between 750 and 950 years old.  This is a striking archeological site in that all the living areas and rooms are completely enclosed in an alcove sourrounded by a floor-to-ceiling defensive wall.  Moon House gets its name from one room that was plastered and painted red, most of this still intact.  Half way up the wall, all the way around the room, is a painted white band.  On one side of the room there is a quarter moon in the band and a full moon on the opposite wall.  This is one of the destinations in our fall Trail of the Ancients photography workshop.


Fallen Ceiling (Roof) Ruin & Road Canyon

Another possible destination for our Trail of the Ancients groups is Fallen Ceiling Ruin (also called Fallen Roof) in Road Canyon.  This is a moderate 2.6 mile round trip walk.  Various sources date this ruin to be between 800 and 1000 years old, so about the same age as Moon House.  This is a particularly photogenic site of a small, 3 room ruin built under a small overhang.  At some point in time a large slab of rock above the ruin fell, leaving a bright orange surface above the ruin.  A seep that ran through the layer before it collapsed left bright white mineral deposits.  This make a great photograph in mid-morning light.  If you look at the black part of the ceiling, to the left of the rooms, you will see painted hand prints in the ceiling.

Road Canyon is a seldom visited canyon on the Grand Gulch Plateau of Utah.  It's a veritable treasure trove of interesting Anasazi ruins — at least four well preserved ruins are accessible, with the most visually striking being Fallen Roof Ruin.   As we hike along the wash, watch for a red hoodoo capped with a white top rock — spot this rock spire and it won’t be long before we reach the first ruin. The trail follows the bottom of Road Canyon for approximately 0.7 miles before reaching the access point for Fallen Roof Ruin — 150 feet above the canyon floor. Fallen Roof Ruin, so named for the slabs of rock that have separated from the alcove’s ceiling and fallen to the ground below, is easy to see from the trail.  Once you spot the cliff dwelling, simply pick a route and climb up the slickrock towards the ruin — it is an easy scramble to reach the alcove.

Fallen Roof Ruin, a magnificent example of Anasazi life, consists of four small rooms — three of which remain perfectly intact, complete with ancient hand prints painted on the rock ceiling. You are free to explore the ruin, but be mindful of where you step or place your hands and, of course, do not enter the rooms — any misstep could damage the ancient structures. Pick, Dar, and I spent close to an hour enjoying the beauty of the ruin, taking particular note of the amazing light that reflects from the canyon in mid-morning to cast a warm glow on the alcove — midmorning is the best light for photography.


House (on) Fire Ruin

House on Fire, or House Fire ruin is becoming one of the most iconic shots of the Cedar Mesa Area.  David Muench was the first to publish a truely famous image of this site.  It is one of 9 sites in a four miles stretch of Mule Canyon.  None of these sites are easily found and they make a fun half-day searching them out.


Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum

You can learn more about the history of the area by visiting the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum located in Blanding, Utah.  This is not only a museum, but also an Ancestral Puebloan archaelogical site and houses one of the largest collections of Anasazi pottery in the southwest.

Note:  I will have a 1 year exhibition hanging in the gallery of the Edge of Cedars Museum throughout 2013.