Cedar Mesa Information
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ArcheologyCedar Mesa

Please treat archeological ruins with respect so that future generations can enjoy them.

This area was occupied by Ancestral Puebloan Native Americans between 800 and 2,000 years ago. They grew primarily corn, beans, and squash, and made use of some wild foods as well. They made and used stone tools, pottery, and baskets. They pecked or painted rock art images on some cliff faces. They lived in permanent homes made of stone, wood, and mud. These may have been built on the surface of the ground, dug into the ground, or built in protected areas such as under overhangs and high in the cliffs. Many of the smaller structures in the cliffs are actually granaries where food was stored. More information about the Ancestral Puebloans and other cultural periods is available on the Archeology webpage.

These structures are fragile and should never be entered. Please enjoy them from the outside. Let others enjoy the thrill of discovery, as well. Tell them about the area, but let them visit their own special places. Never post the location of a ruin on the internet. This can lead to too many people visiting a specific site, which can cause serious damage.

When you visit archeological sites, please take care not to harm them. Leave all artifacts in place; don’t make piles for pictures or take them home. Artifacts tell an important part of the story that makes these places special. If you visit a ruin with standing walls, please don’t climb on the walls and don’t enter rooms. Standing walls are fragile and can easily be damaged. Stay on the trails. Leave your backpack and your pets outside the site. Never touch or put chalk on rock art figures, and don’t write on the rocks. Take only pictures, and leave only footprints.

Please Stay Out of the Trash. The midden is sometimes thought of as a prehistoric trash mound. It is usually soft, charcoal-stained soil located immediately down slope of an alcove or cliff site. Middens contain valuable evidence of day to day activities revealing changing preferences in pottery, food, tools and even treatment of the dead. Please avoid creating or using trails through midden area, as trailing increases the natural erosion processes which eventually destroy these reservoirs of scientific information.

Would you want someone violating your ancestor's bones? If you come upon human bones, please leave them alone and notify a ranger as soon as it is possible. Keep in mind that burial sites are the remains of ancestors of present day Native Americans and should be treated with respect. Native people view burials as part of a cycle. Birth, life, and then death are all a stage of the cycle, as is the process of burial or the abandonment of a village. When a burial takes place it is not seen as a leaving, but is a state of being that should not be disturbed by anything but the forces of nature.

Bring those memories home with you, take a picture! One way to enjoy archaeological sites and rock art in a low impact manner is through photography. However, please be cautious when publishing captions. Avoid naming a site or offering its location. We know you want a good picture, but please never chalk rock art or light fires nearby to enhance the quality of a photograph.

Read more about Minimum Impact and Archeological Site Etiquette

Visitor Activities

Visiting archeological sites and hiking or backpacking in Grand Gulch and other canyons are the dominant recreational uses of the area. There are limited interpretive displays at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station.

Camping is available at the Comb Wash Campground or an undeveloped overflow campground near the junction of SR 95 and SR 261. Lodging is available in the towns of Blanding, Monticello, and Bluff.

Primitive vehicle camping is limited to existing well disturbed campsites atop the mesa in limited areas outside of WSAs. Dispersed backpack camping is allowed except in the vicinity of Moon House or other archeological sites. Campfires are allowed on mesa tops but not in the canyons. A fire pan must be used.

Points of Interest

The main canyons and features of interest on Cedar Mesa are listed below:

In addition, the highways crossing Cedar Mesa have been recognized as Scenic Highway Corridors.


Accessible facilities are available at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. Otherwise, accessible facilities are very limited.

Access and Directions

Access to the area is from State Highway 95 (SR 95) between Blanding and Hite, or on SR 261 between SR 95 and Mexican Hat. The Kane Gulch Ranger Station is on SR 261 about four miles south of the junction with SR 95. The trailhead is located adjacent to the Kane Gulch ranger station which has a paved parking lot and restroom. Dirt roads lead to many trailheads at the heads of canyons and at the mouths of some canyons draining off the east side of the mesa into Comb Wash. Many of these roads can be recommended only for high clearance vehicles. Detailed maps showing road access are available at the offices of the BLM or the U.S. Forest Service in Monticello, at the Blanding Visitor Center, the Monticello Multi-Agency Visitor Center or the Moab Information Center, and at the Canyonlands Natural History Association.

Permits, Fees and Regulations

Permits are required for hiking and backpacking in the canyons of Cedar Mesa. Day use permits may be obtained at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station or at trailheads. During the spring and fall, permits for Moon House Ruin are only available at the ranger station. Overnight backpacking permits must be obtained on the morning of the trip at the ranger station. They may be reserved up to 90 days in advance by calling 435-587-1510.

Preparedness and Safety

Cedar Mesa is in a desert environment. Temperatures here may exceed 100 degrees in the summertime. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat. Spring and fall are the best times to visit.


Cedar Mesa has many interesting wildlife species, including deer, bobcats, and coyotes.


Most canyon areas have been closed to grazing. Livestock use the mesa tops.


In 1847 Mormon pioneers moved into northern Utah and began expanding southward. In 1879 they launched an expedition to settle the area in an effort to pursue peaceful relations with Native Americans, and in an effort to repel a lawless element entrenched in the canyon country. The Hole-in-the-Rock Trail was blazed by the Mormons that winter and a permanent settlement in Bluff was established in 1880.

Grand Gulch was a major obstacle to the pioneer trek, around which they took a long detour to cross near its head. East of there, scouts became lost in the snow searching for landmarks. Exhausted and without food, they climbed a hill in the mesa’s northeastern corner. Key landmarks were identified, and they named the hill “Salvation Knoll.” The trail they blazed went south across the mesa, and then descended the eastward flank of the mesa on a ridge between Fish Canyon and Road Canyon. One difficult part of the trail in this area carries the name “The Twist.”

More information on the Hole-in-the-Rock trek is on the Utah History to Go website maintained by the state of Utah and on the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area website.


The San Juan River canyons are cut into the Colorado Plateau, which is a regional uplift that began millions of years ago. These rocks were once below sea level. The canyons have been eroded by the streams which flow through them; and most erosion occurs during times of high water.

The eastern edge of Cedar Mesa is a monocline, which is a fold in the earth’s crust. The rocks of the mesa are lifted higher than those to the east. The mesa gently slopes to the south and the eastern edge slopes sharply to the east. The southern edge is deeply cut by the San Juan River canyon. Grand Gulch and its tributaries cut into the mesa as they drain into the river, as do Slickhorn Canyon and Johns Canyon. Other canyons cut back from the steep east flank of the mesa. These include Fish, Owl, McLoyd, Mule, Arch, and Road Canyons.

The upper canyon walls are sandstones and shales of the Permian Cutler Group. The deeper canyons have eroded into the Rico Formation and into Pennsylvanian age rocks of the Hermosa Group. Quaternary age stream terraces are formed along the wider canyon bottoms and some wind deposited Quaternary eolian deposits are present on the mesas.

Additional Information

Last updated: 09-08-2011