South Mule Canyon and The Seven Towers

Buff, UT

Southeastern Utah has one of the largest concentrations of ancient Pueblo dwellings in the US.  Some are developed and have accessible trails, but there are many hidden in the canyons only discovered by long backpacking hikes.  One of our first explorations was to South Mule Canyon.  All of the ruins in this area are very fragile and susceptible to damage from visitors who sometimes tend to get a little to close.  So at the trailhead there is a list of rules to follow as you visit.

The hike is on a flat trail that crisscrosses a dry stream bed.

After hiking for a mile, we came to the first set of ruins, the famous House on Fire.   This set of ruins is unique in that at certain times of the day, when the sun is hitting it just right, the coloring of the rock above the ruin looks like flames and smoke are coming out of the top.  The best time to visit House on Fire is in the late morning when the light is reflecting off the opposite wall of the canyon.  If you’re there too late, the ruin will be in direct light and the brilliant colors fade away.

If you hike into the rocks just to the left of House on Fire, there are four hand prints on the rocks above you.

After enjoying the colors of the House on Fire, we continued up the wash searching for more ruins.  Since the ruins were up on the north wall of the canyon, we took a side trail and scrambled up on the first ledge, where we found a seldom used trail.  After another two miles we came upon what we later found was called the Pour Over Ruins.

Since it was just past noon, we settled down next to the ruins for a little lunch.

After lunch, we hiked another two miles along the ledge before coming to a cluster of very well preserved ruins on the ledge above us.

Part of the reason these ruins are so well preserved is probably because they are deep under a rocky ledge, providing protection from the elements.  But mainly it is due to being high up on the cliff, making it inaccessible to explorers without a ladder to scale the high wall.

At that point we decided to climb down  the rocks to the trail in the wash for the return hike.

From the wash below, the ruins above us were a bit difficult to spot.

We returned to the Jeep and drove back down the main road (Rte. 95) just two miles, where a dirt road turned to the south.  The road is recommended for high clearance four wheel drive vehicles, but the ruins we were seeking are only about a half mile away, so you could park near the main road and hike in if necessary.  We drove the road and found that we didn’t need four wheel drive, but the high clearance was definitely necessary.  The area we were seeking is called the Seven Towers Ruin.  It is located on the mesa at the end of a deep canyon, where the ancients built seven stone towers surrounding the end of the canyon.  No one is certain of the purpose of the towers, they could have been for defense or maybe part of a religious belief.  Below is the best preserved of the towers.

We sat on the edge of the south wall of the canyon for a snack.  While scanning the north wall of the canyon with binoculars, we spied some ruins along one of the far ledges.


We hiked to the other side of the canyon, hoping to find a way down to the ruins.  The search appeared to be futile and we were about to give up when we spotted a small cairn along the edge.  The cairn marked a spot where we could climb down the ledge to a crude trail leading down to the ruins.

Approaching the ruins

Carefully peaking into the ruins

The canyon view from the ruins

Exploring these ruins with no one around was a great experience.  We were very careful not to get too close or to touch anything, as even slight contact could cause damage to them.  But just getting close to them was good enough for us!

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8 Responses to South Mule Canyon and The Seven Towers

  1. pmbweaver says:

    What a cute wayto display the rules.

    What a gorgeous rock formation. It looks like it is on fire. Any background on the hand prints?

    That area looks a bit like the cliff dwellings. No matter how hard I imagine it, I just could not see me living like this.

    Glad to see you two know how to follow the rules. I would hate to see anyone be so evil as to destroy history.

  2. Deb says:

    The House on Fire is unbelievable! I’m glad to see you have moved beyond just rocks to rocks posing as other things! Ha.

  3. Lisa says:

    What an awesome hike! You two have had an amazing past couple of months. So great you got to see the house on fire at the best time of day!

  4. LuAnn says:

    We love visiting ruins and this area looks like a treasure trove. Your photo of House on Fire was stunning.

  5. Janna says:

    Great experience!! You guys are hikers I must say–wish I could get my DH out that much!

  6. Joel & Diane says:

    We have been enjoying your blog. We also are fulltimers and have been out west twice but have not been to the area you are in now. WOW your picture of the House on Fire is terrific. Keep up the great blog.

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