Roadside Ruins ie. Drive-by Archaeology…

I’ve had people ask me if there are any archaeological sites to visit that don’t require “hiking”.  My first instinct is to ask “Why wouldn’t you want to take a nice hike?  That’s part of the fun!”  Well, for many, hiking isn’t really an option — pre-existing injuries, a lack of fitness, a fear of snakes, vertigo, hyperactive toddlers — there are many reasons why someone might shrink at the idea of scrambling down to the bottom of a canyon to visit a kiva or rock art panel.  If you happen to fit into that category, not to worry.  There are many interesting archaeological sites to explore with easy access, some are literally just outside your car door. 

If you happen to be staying in Moab, Monticello, Blanding or Bluff, following is a list of great roadside sites you can visit, all in one day, without having to break a sweat, without having to drive off the pavement and still be back at your hotel to clean up for dinner:

Newspaper Rock:

Newspaper Rock Petroglyph Panel

Approximately 50 miles south of Moab, and approximately 15 miles north of Monticello, turn west off of Hwy 191 onto Highway 211.  Located along the way to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, this densely packed petroglyph panel contains images representing almost 1200 years of prehistory from the Anasazi to the Late Historic Ute.   There is a parking area and vault toilets.  There used to be a campground here but it was closed and reclaimed due to flashflood hazards.  This site is administered by the Monticello Field Office of the BLM.

Edge of the Cedars State Park (Ruins and Museum):

Edge of the Cedars Ruin

Located in the town of Blanding, UT, Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum is open year round.   The museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts from the Four Corners area.  Outside the museum, you will also find a partially reconstructed Chacoan “Great House and Great Kiva”.  The site is administered by the Utah State Parks system

Butler Wash:

Butler Wash Roadside Ruin from the overlook

Ok, to be honest, this one involves a short walk.  From Blanding, continue south on Hwy 191 for 3 miles to the intersection with Hwy 95.  Here you will turn right (west) heading towards Natural Bridges National Monument.  After 10.5 miles you will see the sign on the right for the Butler Wash Ruins.  There is a large parking area here with vault toilets.  An interpretive trail takes you along an easy to moderate 1 mile loop trail, following cairns across the slickrock (natures sidewalk) to an overview of a large ruin including storage structures, dwelling structures and four kivas, tucked into an alcove.  Bring your binoculars.  This site dates to approximately 1200 AD.  It is administered by the Monticello Field Office, BLM

Mule Canyon:

Mule Canyon Roadside Ruin

Another site under the care of the Monticello Field Office, the Mule Canyon “Roadside Ruin” is also located along Hwy 95, about 19 miles west of the intersection with Hwy 191.  As you drive west towards Natural Bridges National Monument, the pullout for the ruins will be on your right.  Again, a large parking area and vault toilets can be found here.  A very short path takes you a few dozen meters to a stabilized excavation under a large awning.  An L-shaped roomblock, tower and kiva can be seen here, dating to the 1100’s AD. 

 So, there you have it: a day long itinerary for visiting roadside ruins in southeastern Utah, without really having to stray far from your car.  All of them are free, except for the Edge of the Cedars Museum ($5 entry fee and it goes to support the museum), and you will be passing through some of the most beautiful country on earth.  Fill up the gas tank, grab some snacks and drinks and head out.  For more information on these and other sites in the area please go to

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