Note: Visiting Cedar Point (and Cedar Mesa in general) requires a pass. For more information, check out BLM Utah Cedar Mesa Permits and Passes Information.
My trip got off to a rough start when my plane from Seattle to Las Vegas was delayed by an hour, just after I arrived at the airport. While it was "only" an hour, I knew that even with my flight south, I had quite a bit of driving to do after I touched down and picked up the Tacoma. Driving that would now extend past midnight, shortening the amount of sleep I'd get for my first day of exploration.
See, I've been itching to get out of California for a while now. Over the last 16 months, a full 15 of my 24 trips have been to the Golden State, and I'm starting to miss the variety offered by places like Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. Of course, the high elevations and northern reaches are still snowed in, but there's never a shortage of amazing hiking and exploration to be done in the Grand Gulch and Cedar Mesa area So, with a few days to burn, I'd pulled together an itinerary that would take me back in time.
With more than 30 miles of trails, it'd be a literal marathon of R&R - Rock art and Ruins!
Tacoma acquisition and provisioning went smoothly enough once I finally had my feet on the ground. The problem - as it were - reared its ugly head two hours into my ten-hour drive, when I noticed that the ARB fridge - which has worked flawlessly and that I've loved for the last six years - wasn't cooling. This was especially strange given the fact that it had worked just fine on our last trip to the Mojave Preserve, but after a little in-the-field debugging, I realized that the quickest way forward - for now - was to simply convert the fridge into a cooler. I could deal with the actual problem, later.
So, after an unplanned stop for two, 10-lbs blocks of ice, and a couple stops for fuel, I found myself pulling into a windy camp site - just north of Mexican Hat, Utah - a little after 2:00am local time. The trip hadn't even really started, and I was already exhausted.
Sunrise came and went without my even realizing it.
By the time I awoke the sun was well above the horizon and the tent was nice and toasty despite the relatively cool temperatures I'd enjoy for much of my spring trip to southeast Utah. As such, it was more of a struggle than usual to haul myself out of bed and down the ladder for what I'd planned as a short, leisurely stroll along the base of Cedar Point.
In the distance, the formations in the Valley of Gods reached into the sky.
Figuring that lunch wasn't all that far away at this point, I quickly stowed the tent and headed out for what I'd thought was a three-mile roundtrip to several rock art sites...
When visiting rock art and ruin sites, be respectful.This is most easily done by following the Leave No Trace principles; leaving the place exactly as you found it and taking with you only photographs and memories. In case that is not clear enough for some reason, here are examples of respectful behaviors:
- Do not collect any objects - historical, geological, or botanical. Doing so is a federal offense.
- Do not touch or trace rock art or make your own - petroglyphs (etchings), pictographs (paintings) or signatures. Oils from the skin can accelerate erosion.
- Do not rearrange items, such as by creating piles of pot fragments or other artifacts.
- Do not touch or enter any the walls or roofs of any structures - some may look sturdy but all are potentially delicate and unstable.
- Do not use ropes or other non-permanent climbing aids to enter archaeological sites.
- Do not post GPS coordinates or geo-tagged images to the internet or social media. GPS points often lead uneducated visitors to sensitive sites.
- If camping is permitted, then camp a reasonable distance away from archeological sites, and do not build fires in the vicinity.
- Keep pets leashed at all times, and well away from any archeological sites. In many regions, such as Grand Gulch, all pets are prohibited.
- Stay on established trails and do not build cairns. Cairns can increase impacts (usage) of sensitive sites and are a form of vandalism, which is illegal.
- Do not leave litter, even organic items, as these can attract wildlife, who can damage ruins by burrowing or nest-building. Pack out your poop.
- Report acts of vandalism to the BLM or other management agency.
As I headed out of camp, Cedar Point was looking majestic in the mid-morning light.
Of course, as I set out, I had no idea that a hike I'd planned for two hours would end up taking four, so I moseyed along looking for petroglyphs, excited for each one I found. And boy, there were quite a few.
The first petroglyph I found was in the Basketmaker style. (0-500 A.D.)
The next panel had quite a bit going on.
Two of the anthropomorphic figures. One was tall and skinny, the other (a woman?) seemed to have a purposefully-carved hole in a rather conspicuous spot. This was also only the second spider I've seen, the other recently discovered in the Mojave Preserve.
This panel was especially interesting as the faint bighorn sheep seemed to have been carved behind the rest of the smaller figures and dots that made up the panel.
A more focused view of the bighorn sheep.
I'd see a lot of Duckhead Man on this trip.
While the true meaning behind the Duckhead Man petroglyphs will likely never be fully understood, a few possible interpretations - based on the cultural and historical context of the Ancestral Puebloans who created them - are that the Duckhead Man represents a shaman who could transform into a bird and fly to other realms; that he is a symbol of water and fertility, since ducks are associated with rivers and lakes; or, that ducks were the form taken by Katsina (spirit beings) when travelling.
It wasn't every large boulder that was covered in petroglyphs, but many were.
A closer look.
This was an unusual figure.
One thing that I always find amazing about rock art is that the canvas - as it were - generally seems unchanged since the patterns and figures were etched hundreds or thousands of years ago. Of course, desert varnish has returned in some cases, and a few sandstone fins have cracked in others, but in general, the period of time is not long enough to make a dramatic difference.
In the case of one boulder near Cedar Point, not only has time intervened, but it did so as the art was being added to the surface. Well, probably not as the art was being added, but during the same time period.
Tipped Over petroglyphs.
Once right-side up.
This marker's been here for quite a while.
Time is slowly recapturing this figure.
These were simple, but I liked the brightness and the green contrast.
With lots of poking around, unusual views often presented themselves.
By this point I was starting to get hungry and even with all the poking around in various nooks and crannies, it was taking longer than I expected to cover the "out" portion of the hike. In fact, I was more than two hours into the ordeal when I took a closer look at my track and I realized I'd actually mapped seven miles of trail! That, plus the inevitable searching for art - which often adds significant additional distance - and the couple hours I'd slept in, suddenly gave me pause as to the itinerary I had planned for the rest of the day. Yep, off to a good start!
The final panel I'd planned to see - a line of dancers!
It was after 11:00am when I finally saw the Tacoma in the distance.
Way behind schedule, I could have made up a little time by skipping lunch, but having purchased the fixings for some deliciously spicy turkey sandwiches with hot peppers from In-N-Out, there was no way I was going to let the opportunity for belly-filling pass me by. It was a good thing too, as the next segment of my day also took longer than I expected, an indication that - in my excitement to get to Cedar Mesa - perhaps I was trying to squeeze in just a little too much.
Headed west - towards Muley Point - in search of more rock art along the base of the mesa.
The landscape here is dramatic, the San Juan River carving a most circuitous route through the desert.
In places, the road seemed to encroach on the canyon walls.
Another great Duckhead Man. Notice how the one on the left has bird hands and feet, while the one on the right has human extremities.
Grumpy lizard wishes to be left alone.
I don't know if I'll ever tire of this landscape.
Let's hope this doesn't become a trend.
I don't generally think of seeing Fishhook Cactus on Cedar Mesa, and this one hadn't quite gotten its spring color on. (Sclerocactus parviflorus)
Winding my way west, the next 15 miles presented a series of rock art panels. The first of these went quickly enough - the road graded and smooth, speeds of 25mph not uncommon. But, halfway in - after crossing a water-filled wash that surely marks the turnaround spot for most - the road got significantly rougher. It wasn't anything to worry about with the proper vehicle, but as I'd refrained from airing down, it meant dropping my speed dramatically.
A few bumps in the road as I got out in search of a nearby panel.
This guy really gets around.
Big boulders everywhere, even the "blanks" were a dramatic sight.
Lost in the rocks.
This was the first Kokopelli Man I'd encountered on the trip, and I really liked how he was connected to the sheep!
Kokopelli was a fertility god, usually depicted as a flute player and known as a playful prankster and storyteller.
As I was poking around, I stumbled on this amazing tafoni. I didn't realize it at the time, but it wouldn't be the last of this trip!
Eventually, I reached the end of the road - or at least, as far as it was going to take me - and got the truck flipped around for the return journey. I'd skipped a couple of sites on my way out, leaving myself a few stops on the way back.
It was a little after 2:30pm when I headed back the way I'd come, and I enjoyed the views just as much the second time through!
Broken Man. Note how the petroglyph continues onto the varnished surfaces of a once larger rock.
More dancers, but these appear to be sitting, the panel appropriately named, "Men on a Bus."
I really liked this vibrant panel of a hunt.
Back on the smooth road.
Somehow, even with my constant forays into the rocks, I'd managed to make up a bit of the time that I'd fallen behind earlier in the day, and it was 4:00pm as I transitioned from dirt to pavement. Headed north now - toward the Moki Dugway - I hoped to continue my exploration of Johns Canyon before making camp for the night.
Time wasn't on my side, but I hoped that if I could keep from getting too distracted along the way, I might be able to squeeze in a few ruins before the sun set. Of course, distractions are the name of the game in places like this, and I'd soon discover that today was no different!