Natural Bridges and Cedar Mesa: A Bit Obscure

I’ve been in the Moab area a little over a month now.

Other than a lack of affordable and easily attainable craft beer with a wide selection (sniff!) I am enjoying my new home.

I am looking out from The Homestead and see the red rocks that make up Hidden Valley, the La Sals Mountains are visible from my front door and so much new territory to explore is within quick driving distance.  The canyons beckon. And when it gets too hot next summer, the San Juan mountains of Colorado aren’t very far away.

T-shaped door

And among those places to explore are places where I’ve been previously but exploring nooks and crannies new to me. Canyons beckoning further ahead and along the ancients paths.

Joan and I spent a weekend of hiking in the Natural Bridges National Monument, camping, and then going off down a canyon that is both scenic and full of ancient dwellings.

I last went to Natural  Bridges two years ago. Among my favorite backcountry memories are in that park. Mile for mile, a very scenic hike at the canyon bottom is the highlight. And I fondly remember the ranger-led astronomy talk that highlighted the rings of Saturn and Jupiter.

But on this hike, an unmarked side canyon that Joan mentioned would be the trip highlight.

Located at the sites are simple registers with accompanying text. The NPS text essentially said “Not many people make it here. Look. Don’t touch. And be respectful.”  The last people signed in two weeks prior. And before that entry?  A month ago.

I saw unique pictographs panels. I’ve seen plenty of painted hands over the years. But few pairs of hands on a panel.

And I almost missed what is perhaps the most well-known pictograph in this particular canyon. The bright sun of earlier in the day obscured the white pictograph. Only the soft light of the afternoon sun, and coming back the same way, let me spot the (what I am guessing) to be the three-foot-high pictograph.

Exiting the canyon in the late afternoon meant not only a few people but also the perfect light to see one of the famous natural bridges while climbing out of the canyon.

Later that evening we found a dispersed site just outside of the national monument. We brought in the evening and the crisp October night with a light show provided by Ma Nature.

And that evening the Milky Way splashed across the sky as we experienced some the least amount of light pollution in the US.

The following morning we started our two-hour drive back home.  But we wanted to hike first!  We walked a canyon in Cedar Mesa that has a trailhead but no signs visible from the road. Easy enough to find if you know where to look. And if you know where to look, some well-preserved ancient dwellings await.

We made our way on the canyon and followed some social trails. The recent rain left some water in the potholes.

And in the distance, we could see a small canyon containing dwellings. A social trail leads up to a ledge to a view across the canyon way.

Original plaster still on the walls.

And, with a zoom lens, I could make out an amazingly well-preserved spiral pictograph.

Archeologists have specific thoughts on what the spiral means. And the ‘woo-woo’ crowd certainly has their view, too.

But looking at the spiral, I shared a thought with Joan. How many of the trained archeologists and the so-called New Age people grew up with religion as a cultural part of their identity? 

Go into a deep culturally Catholic home, and you will often see a crucifix hanging on a wall in the living room or the bedroom.

Some Catholics ponder the deeper meaning of the crucifix in their faith, but my experience growing up is that most Catholics don’t think about the cross. It is just part of your daily life. You don’t question why you have this symbol in your home, either.  You just have it.  Something you are supposed to have and would be odd to NOT have in your home. If you swim in the faith, you don’t think about it any more than a fish thinks about water.

How many of the Ancestral Pueblos had the spiral in their home for similar reasons? I don’t know. Nor will I claim otherwise.

Always hard to apply your specific culture to another culture that is not yours. But with nearly two-thousand years of culture behind those thoughts, perhaps my thoughts aren’t entirely wrong, either.

Down the canyon we went and our conversation continued as we explored other dwellings.

We clambered up out the canyon and into a semi-hidden cave. We joked that we could almost hear the voice of Werner Herzog! 🙂

Joan about to descend a ladder that is no doubt OSHA approved.

We soon reached the logical end of our hike. And then made our way back to the car.

On the drive back to Moab, we made a quick trip to see something much further back in time: Theropod tracks!

We drove back, crested the hill, and saw our home framed by the La Sals and the red rocks below.

I am looking forward to seeing what else awaits as I continue to explore the Moab area more.

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