Bullet Canyon – Cedar Mesa, UT

Bluff, UT

On Friday we decided to take the most challenging hike we had planned during our stay in the Four Corners area of southeastern Utah.  Bullet Canyon has the attraction of two Ancient Puebloan ruins withing a short distance of each other.  But the number of visitors they receive is limited, as to get to the ruins requires a hike of over ten miles round trip through a wash covered with large rocks and boulders.  To get to the trail head we had to  drive over forty miles, including another trip up the Moki Dugway.  Once at the trail head the hike begins benignly over flat terrain for a short distance.

Then you quickly drop down the side of the canyon into the wash.

After about a mile, we spotted the remains of some ancient towers on the canyon rim above us.

We soon came to a pour over where the wash went steeply down a slickrock channel.  A trail veered off to the right along a ledge.  It looked like a good way around the steep channel, so off we went.

The ledge was nice and level, which presents a problem when you know you need to get back down into the wash at some point.  As we moved along the level ledge we could see the wash getting deeper into the canyon below.

We finally ran out of ledge and had to make a decision.  Do we go back to where the ledge began, or do we make our way down the side of the canyon on steep slickrock?  Hikers never like to retreat, so down the slickrock we went!

Going down slickrock is never as difficult as it looks.  From the bottom, the view back up the canyon wall did look a bit scary, but by this time we were safely back in the wash.

Things then got interesting, as the canyon narrowed and the wash was filled with rocks and large boulders.  Since there was no way to go around them, we went over, under, around, and through them.

Boulder alley finally eased and the hiking became a little easier with much smaller rock to maneuver.  Our hiking guide book said we should see the first set of ruins after about five miles.  So when our hiking app on the phone read six, we began to think we missed it.  But the ruins finally appeared on the canyon wall to the north.

This set of ruins is called Perfect Kiva.  It has one restored dwelling and several more that are in various conditions.

The  name comes from the “perfect” example of a kiva.  A kiva is a large room used by early Puebloan people.  No one is sure exactly what kivas were used for, but they are   generally believed to have been used for religious and other communal purposes.

The Perfect Kiva ruins also have numerous examples of life for the ancient Puebloans.

The rocks contained numerous metates, indentations used by the Pueblo people to grind corn with a flat rock.

Many rocks also showed slits, thought to have been used to sharpen tools.

Many pieces of pottery were scattered around the site.  Some of the stones appeared to have been used as sharp cutting tools.

Some rocks contained small holes, called morteros.  They were used to grind other grains, herbs, and spices like a modern mortar and pestle.  Walking among all these artifacts made one feel as if you were sitting with the native peoples.

After a lengthy visit, we then scrambled back down the rocks to continue our adventure.

About another half mile down the trail we spotted the second set of ruins above us.

These ruins are called the Jailhouse Ruins.  They’re interesting in that they are on two levels, with large white pictographs painted above them.

Another interesting thing about these ruins is the use of mud walls with wood supports.

One wall even has a window with wood braces, which gives the ruins the name Jailhouse.

There are numerous  pictographs on the walls of the ruins.

After a brief visit, it was time to use our superior rock climbing skills to get back down to the trail.

We then began our hike back up the canyon, passing through grassy areas and patches of woodland.

Then it was time to scramble back over the rocks and boulders.  Some of the boulders were huge, but we were so occupied finding our way over them that we didn’t take any pictures of the largest ones.

After hiking more than thirteen miles, we finally climbed back up out of the canyon, thirsty and exhausted.  We carried what we thought was plenty of water, but drank our last sip about a mile before exiting the canyon.  The cold water we had in a cooler in the Jeep sure tasted good!

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11 Responses to Bullet Canyon – Cedar Mesa, UT

  1. Joe and Gay says:

    What a day…the ruins are magnificent! And Pam…that picture of you coming up the ladder is great…you don’t even look sweaty and your hair is perfect! How do you do that? The painted pictographs are interesting and the window…

    Great hike and photos…thanks for sharing. For sure that was a “WOW” day!

  2. The title of your blog is so appropriate! The pictures are great. Your hikes are always so much fun to read about!

  3. Pam says:

    Your hike did seem ambitious but your photos made it look relatively easy. I would like to learn more about your hiking app. I wondered how you always seem to be able to find your way in some of these places. Amazing photos of the various artifacts revealing the daily life of the Puebloans. I could envision their presence there as though it were recent times.

    • placestheygo says:

      Pam, the pictures didn’t begin to capture the difficulty. This was by far the hardest hike we have ever done. That .3 mile through that mountain of boulders was scary at times and took forever. There were no cairns marking the best route. We had to try several different routes to find boulders we could climb over. At times we were wee little things among these towering monsters. I was getting a little nervous. Then, after that, the path was still full of rocks to walk and climb on. Thank goodness the reward of the Perfect Kiva and Jailhouse ruin were so worth the effort.

  4. Charlotte says:

    What an awesome day of hiking and adventure! I got the willies just seeing the pictures of ya’ll walking the narrow ledge on the slickrock. What hiking app do you use? We have “Trimble”, could not find anything about the area your in on this app. We’d like to check out the one you have. We love to hike and explore in remote places. Ours has all the well know place like Yellowstone.

    • placestheygo says:

      Our hiking app doesn’t help guide us on the trail. We’ve never been able to find one that did that. We use it only for mileage, elevation, and time. All of our hikes are mapped before we leave either with info from the internet, the ranger stations, or a guide book. Almost all of the hikes in this area are pretty well marked with cairns. That’s why we made two wrong turns into alcoves while looking for the Perfect Kiva. That added at least a mile or more to the trip. My husband has a wonderful sense of direction, thank goodness.

  5. Lisa says:

    I think I’d rather have the adventure of finding the little known ruins you two are seeing than the big well known pueblos any time! What a great hike and photos! You deserve a rest day!

  6. pmbweaver says:

    For the first time you’re wrong. I would’ve retreated. But of course I would’ve told anybody.

    Now the Perfect Kiva is a great place to try to put yourself back in ancient times. I can imagine just how the residents must have looked and worked. I don’t envy them one single bit.

    Very interesting about the wood walls in the Jailhouse. Wonder if they were one of the first to try this?

    Not sure I would be looking forward to a cold drink of water. A big icy margarita sounds better to me.

    Sent from my iPhone

  7. Mark Routt says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing that remarkable hike! The secluded destinaion looks like it was well worth the effort.

  8. Erin says:

    Mark said it … secluded destinations always make a hike worthwhile. It took forever for me to load this post with our crummy internet here, but it was worth it. You mention your hiking guide book … which one do you use?

    On a separate note … I’m in the market for some walking shorts … would you mind sending me an email or leaving a reply here with the brand of the ones I see you wearing in the photos.

  9. LuAnn says:

    I thought we had seen some amazing ruins in our lives but these are really spectacular and what an adventure to get there!

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