top 5 reasons to visit Cedar Mesa, Utah

Sometimes I do lag in posting, don’t I? Hard being a freelance writer yet also a lover of the wilderness who adventures a lot! (Ok, ok–I’m also a bit of a procrastinator. Just a bit!)

I recently traveled to Mancos, CO, to visit a friend. Great trip…especially the drive over Cedar Mesa. Now, this is an area I have driven through many, many times when I lived in Durango yet felt compelled to often return to Torrey (gee, I wonder why, lol). I’ve done a minimal amount of hiking and camping in the area–but let me tell you, there’s an abundance of hiking to be done there! Cedar Mesa is the sort of huge secret that many locals or canyoneering or ancestral Puebloean aficionados know about, yet it’s still basically hidden from the general public eye.

Good thing, that. Plus, if you visit this area or plan to do any stomping around, you’d better be self-sufficient. Not a forgiving area in which to get lost or stranded without possessing some basic survival skills. (That’s another post coming soon…all abut the bowdrill and more.)

Ok, caveat emptor, here’s why you should put Cedar Mesa on your list of places to visit:

1) Unspoiled.
Really. It’s way off the beaten path, there are no national parks within its sprawl of canyons and buttes, and its biggest attractions (mountain biking, canyoneering, hiking) haven’t yet drawn the crowds that swarm places like Moab. Phew!

2) Huge.
Cedar Mesa encompasses over 400 square miles of pure wilderness playground. Check out Natural Bridges National Monument, the awe-inspiring ancient native american remains (such as Turkey Pen Ruin and Perfect Kiva in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area), and stop in at Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding to see some of the “spoils” taken from ruins over the last century. Oh, and swing into the Butler Wash Ruins overlook and check out the Moki stairs. Really nuts! (Yes, Virginia, there were ancient people who pecked that staircase out of sheer rock and then used it. They were either ancient versions of Spiderman or just really, really trusting of their toeholds.)

3) Grand Gulch Primitive Area.
Note the word “primitive.” They’re right on the money about that, so realize that if you get your little hiking butt into trouble out there, you’d best be able to get it out again–on your own. Grand Gulch is utterly sublime in its beauty, incredible ruins, and eerie link to the past. Back in the day (say, 1200 years ago), supposedly, more people inhabited this area than live in all the Four Corners today. Crazy, no? (I remember hearing this somewhere but can’t find documentation for it just now…will keep looking though.) Please remember that the Archeological Resources Protection Act says it’s a felony to disturb or take artifacts. Want more proof of how serious they are? Hark back to the Blanding raids earlier this year. They mean it.

4) White Canyon, home of the Black Hole.
Spooky! The Black Hole is a classic canyoneering experience in the most serious sense. You actually need a drysuit to do it, as water temps can be so cold even on a 100+ degree day in July that you can get hypothermic. You’d also best be experienced or with someone very experienced and safety-conscious. And White Canyon itself is such a fascinating, lovely fissure in the earth. It demands exploration even if it didn’t contain the presence of cool slot canyons.

5) Dark Canyon Wilderness.
Ok, technically it’s a bit north of Cedar Mesa. But it is an amazing hidden gem, and should be explored by every serious off-the-beaten-path adventurer heading to southern Utah. There are some stunning hikes, hidden ruins, and vistas that are unbelievably beautiful–and best of all, no one else is there! And it has 45,000 acres! Let me say it again: Hidden. Treasure. Go check it out…but mum’s the word.

Best reasons of all:

See below. Happy trails…. And do tell me your own reasons why visiting Cedar Mesa is such an awesome idea.


Cheese Box Butte.


Gorgeous canyon that parallels Hwy 95 much of the way.


Ancient potsherds. (No, I’m not the one who “arranged” them thusly. You should never do this, as it causes the artifacts to lose their provenance. But does make for a nice pic.)

2 Comments

Filed under Utah Adventures

2 Responses to top 5 reasons to visit Cedar Mesa, Utah

  1. Michelle

    This is such a special place. I spent the summer of '99 working at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station (the old one, not the new one). That was such an amazing time and I'm glad I did it. I met some awesome people who blew my mind with the things they showed me out there. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Julie Trevelyan

    It is utterly amazing. And I remember the old ranger station too…the new one kind of shocked me when I first saw it being built. It's so huge in comparison! But the area is still pretty much left alone. Glad you took a trip down memory lane, thanks for stopping by. Pretty lucky you got to work there.

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