Trail of the Ancients Scenic Drive
An ancient trail to modern-day discovery, this federally designated National Scenic Byway circles through the ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) Country of southeastern Utah, providing opportunity to view archaeological, cultural and historic sites, as well as Natural Bridges National Monument.
An extension of this route continues into Colorado, to Mesa Verde and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
The byways program recommends five days to explore this area. Shorter and longer trips can also be enjoyable. Start at any point along the route. Major stops are listed below:
Hovenweep National Monument:
Hovenweep National Monument is located on the Utah/Colorado border. Hovenweep is known for its square, oval, circular, and D-shaped towers. The park invites exploration among the ruins of a culture that thrived here hundreds of years ago.
Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum:
Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum is located in Blanding. Here you can see an impressive Anasazi ruin restored at the site of a Puebloan surface village. It is distinct from the larger museums of Indian culture in the Four Corners states in that it offers the visitor an intimate look at the lifeway of the Ancient Puebloans. Visitors can walk the paths through the ruin and climb into the kiva via a ladder, just as the original residents did. Exceptionally rare and well-preserved artifacts are at the heart of the museum exhibits.
Butler Wash and Mule Canyon Indian ruins:
These ruins are located along Highway 95, between Blanding and Natural Bridges National Monument. Butler Wash shelters a cliff dwelling that can be seen after a short hike. Mule Canyon Ruin is adjacent to the road and contains dwelling units, a reconstructed open kiva, and a partially reconstructed tower.
Natural Bridges National Monument:
Natural Bridges National Monument is located along Highway 95 west of Blanding. Here you can see three of the world's largest natural stone bridges. All are easily viewed from overlooks, or you can hike down into the canyon and walk under them. Several Anasazi ruins can be viewed within the monument.
Grand Gulch Primitive Area:
A sprawling canyon system full of ancient structures and artifacts. It is located west of Highway 261, south of Natural Bridges. Some impressive ruins can be seen by day-hiking. To visit the most popular sites you need to backpack into the canyon. Three-day treks are popular and allow backpackers to make a loop. You'll have to backpack for two weeks or more if you want to really explore this area. Backpackers must obtain permits. Permits are not required for day hiking.
Valley of the Gods:
As Highway 261 continues south it descends more than 1,000 feet down tight switchbacks called the Moki Dugway. At the base of the dugway a dirt road winds through the area known as Valley of the Gods. Sandstone monoliths here are reminiscent of Monument Valley. This route puts travelers on Hwy 163, between Bluff and Mexican Hat.
Gooseneck State Park:
Gooseneck State Park is located along Highway 261, south of the Moki Dugway. It offers striking views of gooseneck meanders on the San Juan River, some 1,000 feet below. Geologic strata are open for examination here, as you peer into the earth's skeleton.
Monument Valley Tribal Park:
Monument Valley is located on the Utah/Arizona border along Highway 163. This is Navajo country and offers visitors a chance to experience modern Native American culture. Rock formations here are classic and have served as a backdrop for countless Western movies. There are also ancient Anasazi ruins scattered throughout this area.
Historic Community of Bluff:
Located northeast of Monument Valley, along Highway 163, this is a historic community of turn of the 20th Century "Victorian" homes made from sandstone block. The community was settled by pioneers who traveled the incredibly difficult Hole in the Rock Trail. From Bluff, adventurers can float the San Juan River or explore several nearby ancient ruins and rock art panels.
Three Kiva Pueblo:
A side trip over winding, gravel roads will take you to this restored Anasazi site. It is located along Road 146, in Montezuma Creek Canyon, north of the Hovenweep Road.
Four Corners Monument:
Four Corners Monument is the only spot in the U.S. where four states share a common geographic point (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado). It is located on Navajo land and is a Tribal Park.
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Archaeology - San Juan County