Idon’t know what it is about Cedar Mesa, but almost every time we set out on a hike there, we get lost. Not so lost that we can’t find our way back. But lost enough that we end up hiking miles out of our way. My sense of direction is admittedly abysmal. Eric, however, has a terrific sense of direction. It just doesn’t seem to work well on this seventy-mile long plateau in the remote southeastern corner of Utah.
We first visited Cedar Mesa two years ago, and were captivated by the landscape and the incredible ruins hidden in the isolated canyons. Every hike is an adventure, with the enticing possibility of discovering Ancient Puebloan dwellings and rock art. Many sites have never been excavated or mapped—Cedar Mesa attracts relatively few visitors, and it’s awe-inspiring to think how few people have laid eyes on this splendor.
This time, we explored with our friends Henry and Loretta (AKA Yahoo Ramblers), whom we first met two winters ago in Florida. They’ve since taken to the road full-time, and we met up with them in Bluff. “Cedar Mesa is spectacular!” we told them, and we invited them to hike with us. Without going into the painful details, I’ll just say that on two of the three hikes we did together, we got lost. They were excellent trail companions and good sports. Although we were all exhausted at the end of our adventures, we had lots of laughs along the way, and we found some incredible ruins. (I think we’re still friends, although they left town before we could convince them to hike with us one more day. You can read their hilarious account about our adventures together here.)
Getting lost on Cedar Mesa really isn’t all that hard to do. There are no decent maps, no definitive guidebooks, and no established trails. This is not like visiting Mesa Verde, or Chaco Canyon, or Betatakin. The best you can hope for are rock cairns left by helpful souls, and occasionally, a randomly placed BLM trail marker. Directions to ruins and petroglyphs gleaned from the Internet are often frustratingly vague. And believe me, when you’re surrounded by an expanse of sandstone, canyons, and washes that extend to the horizon in all directions, everything looks confusingly similar.
Any directions we managed to scrounge went something like this: Drive approximately three miles to a wide spot in the road and park. (Where does the three miles begin? At the turnoff? After the gate? Which side of the road?) Cross the wash. (Where? It’s all thick brush, deep mud, and steep walls.) Head toward the horizon. (Seriously? There’s nothing but horizon!) Look for the rock waterfall and turn east. (We’ve passed several rock waterfalls—which one?)
You’re on your own when you’re hiking on Cedar Mesa. If you get yourself in, you had better be prepared to get yourself out. There’s no cell phone coverage, help is many miles away, and you’ll probably not see anyone else on the trail. We didn’t. Except for the unsuspecting friends we brought along.
Here, in no particular order, are some of our favorite places that we’ve discovered in our two trips to Cedar Mesa: Procession Panel, Wolfman Petroglyph, Monarch Cave Ruin, Fallen Roof Ruin, and House On Fire Ruin (we posted about this hike here, and our previous visit to Cedar Mesa here.). Oh, and don’t miss the drive through the Valley of the Gods. You can’t get lost there. There are many more spectacular hikes to do and interesting ruins to find on Cedar Mesa. We’ll be back.
About the campground: We spent five peaceful nights at Cadillac Ranch RV Park in Bluff. It’s a great location for exploring many of the ruins on Cedar Mesa. The facilities could use a makeover, but the setting is lovely and the campground has full hook-ups, spacious pull-through sites, good Verizon coverage, dark night skies, and beautiful views of the canyon, especially if you score one of the sites at the far end of the row.
Next Up: Aztec Ruins National Monument