A Weekend in Ruins

Backpacking through Grand Gulch, Utah - April 2006

Junction in Time
Located at the intersection of Kane Gulch and Grand Gulch, Junction Ruin was the first significant site we encountered on our trip. We spent our first night camped beneath cottonwood trees a few hundred feet away. A thousand years ago, the Ancestral Puebloan people (also called the Anasazi) used the grinding stones in the foreground (called a 'Mano' and 'Matate') to grind corn and seeds. In the background, are a few of the numerous rooms.

Fragile Walls
Some of the canyon's ruins are in better condition than others. Several of the walls at 'Goat on a Bike' ruin (named by cowboys after a nearby pictograph) had collapsed and others were leaning badly. Despite careful monitoring and frequent patrols by BLM rangers, many ruins in the canyon have been damaged by thoughtless pothunters and less-than-careful early explorers.

Rustic Split-Level Home, Good Location in Historic Neighborhood
Split-Level Ruin is one of the more famous sites in the canyon. Located half-way between the junctions of Kane Gulch and Bullet Gulch, the nearby shade trees made it an excellent area for a lunch break. Nearly all of the ruins are located along the north walls of the canyon to maximize the exposure to sunlight. As with the larger ruins at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, the communities in Grand Gulch were abandoned around 1300AD for reasons that are still widely debated among scholars.

Rock Walls
With all the amazing prehistoric sites, you can sometimes overlook how pretty the canyon itself is. Thousand foot high sandstone walls form towering spires, beds of slick rock, and giant amphitheaters like this one near Split-Level Ruin.

Warning: This Pictograph is rated PG-13
At Green Mask Spring in Sheik's canyon is a small cliff dwelling and one of the most impressive panels of pictographs and petroglyphs on Cedar Mesa. Many appear to have a fertility theme, including these female figures (their heads have almost completely faded) and the nearby child-like figure. The spring is named for a colorful painting of a green and yellow striped face with red hair.

Jailhouse Rock
Jail House Ruin was one of the first to be 'discovered' by explorers in the late nineteenth century. While the ruins blend into the canyon walls, the three moon-like pictographs painted above can be easily seen from the far rim. The ruin is named for a small window containing jailhouse-like wooden bars.

Pueblo Pantry
Granaries, like this one at Jail House Ruin, are one of the most common structures in the canyon. Small rooms built into nooks in the rock, they once held pots and baskets filled with ground corn, nuts, and seeds. Although the sunlight reflecting off the canyon walls was often blinding, the ruins themselves were usually shaded in shallow caves and alcoves - the resulting contrast made photography challenging.

Perfect View from Perfect Kiva
Perhaps the most famous site in the canyon is Perfect Kiva, named for an incredibly well-preserved kiva that still has the roof intact. A reconstructed ladder allows visitors to descend inside. Kivas were ceremonial chambers used for gatherings and rituals. They are still used by the Hopi and Zuni - the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloan people.

Sacred Light
Inside the kiva, it takes a moment for the eyes to adjust to the dark. Many kivas have a low bench built into the walls, though this one did not. Long abandoned by humans, it has become a popular home for mice.

After hiking out of the canyons, we spent at night at Goulding's Trading Post and Lodge near Monument Valley before heading back to Phoenix. When sunset comes, all the photographers line up along the walls at the Monument Valley Visitor Center to get a shot of the mittens.

Twelve hours later, they all line up again to catch the sunrise.

The Stage Should Be Along Any Minute Now
John Ford Point provides one of the classic sweeping views of Monument Valley. Director John Ford made the area famous as the setting for westerns such as 'Stagecoach', 'Fort Apache' and 'The Searchers'.

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