What makes this eight hundred-year-old ruin so spectacular is the way the light plays off of the sandstone, making it appear as though the ruins are engulfed in flames. But the flames only appear in photographs, and only when the light is just right. So not only was I determined to visit this ruin, but we had to get there when the light was perfect.
Finding The House On Fire Ruin
The House on Fire Ruin is located in Mule Canyon, on Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah. It’s an area we’ve not previously explored. Cedar Mesa is a territory rich with ancient ruins that are generally unmarked, unmapped, and left to the explorer to discover. Although we had excellent directions to the ruin, our first attempt at finding it took us on a bushwhacking expedition of about six miles over rough terrain. To our chagrin, we discovered that we were hiking the north fork of Mule Canyon, not the south fork.
The hike to House on Fire is a surprisingly easy three-miles round trip. That was a relief after the previous day’s marathon. We arrived mid-morning, the best time for photographing the ruin, and found just a few other people. Lucky for us, one of the people we met was a professional photographer who travels twice a year from Italy to photograph the Southwest. “This is the most beautiful place to photograph,” he said and generously shared tips for capturing a fiery image of this magnificent ruin.
Big Bonus: Natural Bridges National Monument
We camped at Natural Bridges National Monument, a park that’s often overlooked in favor of its more popular nearby siblings (Canyonlands and Arches National Parks). On the day we arrived for a visit, the monument had just reopened after the ridiculous government shutdown. We scored a campsite in the tiny campground and Eric managed to shoehorn the trailer into a site—the door opened into a juniper, but we were in!
(On a side note, on our drive to Natural Bridges we passed by an overlook for the Colorado River that had been closed by the government. How ridiculous is that, to close an overlook? We were delighted to discover that someone had somehow hauled away one of the enormous yellow concrete barriers; on the remaining barrier, they had painted, “This land is my land, this land is your land. Amen!!”)
Hiking In Natural Bridges
We spent three wonderful nights at Natural Bridges. In addition to hiking the North and South Forks of Mule Canyon, we visited the overlooks in the park and hiked to two of the three bridges: Sipapu, a Hopi word referring to the entryway through which their ancestors emerged into the world; and Kachina, named for the spirit beings of the Pueblo tribes. The hikes were only about one and one-half miles round trip each, but with about 500 feet in elevation gain, they were steep, requiring a series of ladders, stone steps cut into the rocky hillsides, and railings.
It’s a gorgeous place; peaceful, beautiful, and little visited in comparison to the better-known national parks. We would love to return.