Monday, November 18, 2013

House on Fire Ruin, Mule Canyon, Utah

Distance: 3 miles roundtrip (4.8 km)
Elevation: 5,965 - 6,005 feet (1819 - 1830 m)
Difficulty: Easy
Time of Year: Anytime (watch for ice in winter and flash floods and extreme heat in summer)

Mule Canyon Pueblo - 0.2 miles from the road to the canyon itself

Located within Mule Canyon on the Grand Gulch Plateau, about 19 west of Blanding, UT on UT-95 is the House on Fire Ruins. Famous for its flaming red stratified rocks on the roof about the structure, the ruins are also located in a beautifully sculpted redrock canyon just above the seemingly monotonous juniper woodlands on the mesa top. Mule Canyon also contains several over ruins and petroglyph panels within the next 4 miles or so of the canyon, indicating this was obviously an important site for the ancient Puebloan peoples. On of these sites is found on the rim top, right off the highway.

The view from the trailhead above the canyon

To access the site, drive on UT-95 to the Mule Canyon Pueblo BLM site. Here there are the remains of the foundations of several rooms and a large restored kiva site. However, to get down into the canyon itself to see the House on Fire Ruins, backtrack east on UT-95 0.2 miles and look for a dirt road branching off to the left. Follow this road down to the "bridge" crossing Mule Canyon. The trail begins to the west here. There is a fee of $2 per person to access this site.

The trail descends into the canyon and is easy to follow up the dry creek bed. There are beautiful slickrock formations along the way for the next 1.5 miles. After about 20 minutes of hiking, start looking up to the right side of the canyon and you will see three structures tucked under the large overhanging boulder.

Located within the structures are old packrat middens filled with rat droppings and thick dark smoke scars on the roof. The structures are so short, it is really hard to imagine people living within these structures. One wonders how much time they actually spent in these, perhaps only to lay down and sleep at night in the winter. The site, like many in this region, is on the south-facing slope, which means they would get the warm winter sun to warm up, while being in the shadows when the sun is high in the sky in summer.

Packrat droppings and plant materials on the floor and smoke scars on the roof
If the lighting is right, the ceiling appears to be a flaming glow of red off the roof. If not, then it is just drab layers of sedimentary rock. Some of the most brilliant images on the internet are surely heavily altered using photoshop. But, whatever the lighting, its certainly a beautiful site in an amazing canyon.

You can continue down the canyon to see another three more structures over the next four miles. But, if you need to hit the road to see more sites along the way, such as the Fallen Rock Ruins  in Road Canyon, then this is a good place to turn back and head 1.5 miles back to the trailhead.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fallen Roof Ruin, Road Canyon, Grand Gulch Plateau, UT

Distance: 2.6 miles roundtrip (4.2 km)
Elevation: 6,390 - 6,220 feet (1,948 - 1,896 m)
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Time of Year: Anytime (watch for ice in winter and extreme heat or flash floods in summer)

The Fallen Roof Ruin is one of the premier examples of a small Puebloan ruin not located within a national park. It is remote, but relatively easy to access. It is almost perfectly preserved and even contains dozens of 700+ year old corn cobs on the floor of one of its rooms. If you visit the site, please respect this archaeological wonder and do not touch the structure or disturb any of the artifacts. Any slight bump could permanently damage this structure, disrespecting the work of these ancient people and damaging it for future generations to see.

You can access this site by taking UT-261 up from Mexican Hat or down from Natural Bridges National Monument. Near mile post 20, look for a sign for Cigarette Spring Road on the east side of the highway. Turn here and set your odometer. Drive 0.9 miles to the sign in station. The fee was $2 per person when we were there. Drive to the 3.4 mile mark (2.5 miles past the sign in station) and look for a road pulling off to the left in the brush. If you are driving too quickly, it is easy to miss. Drive about 200 feet to the end of this road where there is a large parking area. Cigarette Spring Road is narrow and brushy, so look out for oncoming cars. It is also sandy in places with occasional ruts, but usually doable for cars in good weather.

From the parking area, there is a small brown sign that says trail. The trail is easy to follow for the next 0.3 miles across the pinyon-juniper landscape and then comes out onto the rim of Road Canyon. Here, the trail drops steeply down the side. It can be hard to follow down 170 feet to the bottom, but it does have cairns to lead the way. Upon reaching the canyon bottom, turn right (following the cairns) and follow the dry creek bed down the canyon.

The trail has a tendency to weave in and across the creek bed attempting to avoid riparian brush, rock jumbles, or debris piles. But, the route is easy to follow and cairned most of the way. After about 15-20 minutes, the canyon opens up into a wide area where another side drainage joins it. Here, if you look up to the left, are three large boulders perched on the alluvium with black desert varnish. If you hop up the slope and look onto the nearly horizontal surface of one of them, you will see a number of very old and faded petroglyphs. Petroglyphs at canyon intersections is a common feature in this region, probably signifying this as a significant site of travel.

Continuing down the canyon, the canyon walls narrow and shortly thereafter, you should catch a glimpse of the ruins about 70 feet up the slope to the left. Although the slope is steep, it is pretty easy to scramble up with adequate footwear. Once at the ruins, you will see why it is called Fallen Roof Ruin. A large slab of the alcove ceiling came tumbling down and shattered into a dozen or so large chunks of flattened rocks.

There are three main rooms and the one furthest to the right contains the numerous corn cobs. It is hard to see them in the darkness, but if you have a camera with a flash, that'll catch them.

After enjoying the site, just backtrack the way you came. Be prepared to deal with icy slick spots on the descent down and along the canyon bottom in winter. In summer, be prepared for near 100 degree temperatures and the risk of flash floods from summer monsoon rains. In summer, it is best to start very early in the morning. The best seasons to go are late spring and autumn. And remember to respect the site and not touch anything.

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