Our hike to House On Fire sparked our interest in exploring more of Cedar Mesa. Located in southeastern Utah, this 50-mile long plateau encompasses the small and smaller towns of Blanding (population 3,500) and Bluff (population 320). This sparsely populated area is home to the Navajo, Ute, ranchers, a handful of artists, and hardy souls who search the canyons and mesas for ancient Anasazi dwellings and artifacts.
After five days without water or electric hook-ups in Goblin Valley and Natural Bridges National Monument, we were ready for a bit of civilization (laundry, plenty of water for showers, and electricity for our computers). We chose Blanding as our home base for exploring Cedar Mesa, and found a nice place to stay at The Blue Mountain RV Park for three nights—a mere 40 miles from our campsite in Natural Bridges (love those short travel days). Peaceful and dark (two of our most sought after attributes, wherever we camp), the park also boasts a fine trading post stocked with jewelry, rugs, and baskets made by Native Americans in the Four Corners area. The owners, Duke and Rose (now in their 80’s) have been trading with the local Indians since 1959. Their taste is excellent; none of the made-for-tourist junk that fills too many shops in the Southwest. I really wanted a green turquoise necklace and earrings that would have perfectly matched a beautiful green turquoise and silver bracelet that I bought 25 years ago in Santa Fe—but the steep increase in the price of silver and turquoise over the past couple of decades stopped me. Glad I bought that bracelet when I did.
There’s not much to Blanding; the town is DRY (and I’m not referring to the desert location). This is another locale where you need to BYOB (while you’re at it, bring your own food, too).
Highlights of our time exploring Cedar Mesa:
• Edge of the Cedars Museum: Just a couple of miles from the RV park in Blanding, this Utah State Park has the largest collection of Anasazi pottery and artifacts in the Four Corners Region. Most museums have more items squirreled away in storage than they have on display; this museum is unique in that all of their storage is visible, with a very cool computer program to access information on each piece.
• Valley of the Gods: A 17-mile drive through magnificent red rock formations; somewhat like a smaller version of Monument Valley (and according to many people, more beautiful). According to Navajo legend, the rock formations are places of power in which spirits reside. The imposing monoliths are Navajo warriors frozen in stone, who can be appealed to for protection (45 miles from Blanding; 20 miles from Bluff).
• Sand Island Petroglyphs: Only four miles from Bluff, it’s an easy walk to this accessible 70-foot long panel of petroglyphs that are between 800 and 2500 years old.
• Wolfman Petroglyph Panel: A few miles from Bluff, and only about a mile hike round trip—involves some scrambling, and a tight squeeze through boulders. This is a wonderful petroglyph panel, considered to be one of the finest in the Southwest. We especially liked the owl image.
• Monarch Cave Ruins: Absolutely spectacular Anasazi cliff dwelling in a shaded canyon overlooking a small pool below. A moderate one-mile hike through a narrow canyon leads to the ruin, and then there’s an insanely steep climb up into the main ruin—but coming down was far worse (Eric went for it, while I stayed below). Walking among the ruins, discovering shards of pottery, tiny corncobs, and metates (grinding stones), it was easy to imagine life in this ancient village.
• Bluff, Utah: We realized that most everything we were doing (except for visiting the museum) involved driving to Bluff. Next time, we’re staying in Bluff (the BLM campground at Sand Island, or perhaps Cadillac Ranch in Bluff). It’s a unique town in a beautiful setting, with a vibrant community of artists—the weekend we were there they were celebrating the Bluff Arts Festival, with local artists offering free workshops.