Lake Powell Area Art & Ruins

  • Anasazi Ruins In Lake Powell's Escalante Canyons

    Defiance House Ruin

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    Some 170 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed a flat lowland that was watered by a system of rivers and small lakes. Over the years, bones and footprints from these animals were covered by sediment, which later solidified into rock. In some spots fossils formed, giving us an enduring record of life at that time.

    At the same time, extreme forces from within the earth caused the entire area to move upward, creating a high plateau. As the land was lifted up, the constantly flowing river waters carved deep, rugged canyons, including the Grand Canyon and nearby Glen Canyon, now the setting for Lake Powell.

    A unique environment was created in the deepening canyons — an environment considered harsh by modern man. For reasons we may never know, an ancient people known as the Anasazi chose to make their homes in these rugged canyons. They built a fascinating civilization that endured for hundreds of years, ending about a thousand years ago.

    If you are careful and observant as you play at Lake Powell, you may hear whisperings from the ghosts and spirits of both the huge reptiles and the mysterious humans that ruled, each in their own turn, this intriguing country.

    Both dinosaur footprints and Anasazi dwellings have been found in the historic canyons of the lake's Escalante Arm.

    Three Roof Ruin

    As the lake's level inched higher, the National Park Service used a famous old vessel, "The Ellsie M," on a successful mission to save and preserve the delicate dinosaur footprints.

    Today one of the prints can be seen at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center, at the Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona. There is another footprint at the Powell Museum, located in the city of Page. This is not public record, but after much research we believe the fossil footprints were found somewhere near the Esacalante's Explorer Canyon.

    Millions of years after the dinosaurs, the Anasazi people prospered in the intoxicating canyons of this spiritual land. The land gave them the essentials for life, and even luxuries that some of us only dream about today. No, they did not know the ways of the world as we see it, but they did have homes surrounded by peace and serenity. They knew how to live off the land and shelter themselves in the cliffs. They had plenty of water and nature's food chain to live in a way that most of us will never know.

    I have spent both summers and winters in this country, boating, hiking and exploring. One of my favorite things to do is to try to understand the ways of the ancient ones who lived here before us. I have found that I can feel the most intense presence of their spirits at night in the canyon arms beyond the water's edge. If you can plan it right, a full moon enhances the whole adventure. To heighten the mood, I always bring some of my most prized collection of higher octave music, like Douglas Spotted Eagle "Feather, Stone and Light," or maybe some Coyote Oldman. All of this is Native American flute music that puts me in a state of mind to better understand the spiritual ways of these fascinating people. We can all learn a lot from the early ones who chose to roam this measureless land.

    The Escalante has a strong presence of the ancient ones because evidence of their culture still lives on. Most Anasazi sightings require getting off the boat and slapping on a pair of hiking boots. You can find petroglyphs, ruins and carved steps throughout the whole Escalante Arm. The hike beyond the water's edge in Davis Gulch has history written all over it, from both ancient times and more modern cowboy days. I highly recommend this hike, but plan on at least six hours roundtrip if you go all the way to the famous Bement Arch.

    Explorer Canyon houses some very unusual petroglyphs beyond the beaver dams and just past Zane Grey Arch. This is also a fun and exciting adventure so plan on about a half-day to soak it all in. Don't forget your camera because this is a part of history you do not see often.

    Three Roof Ruin is one of the most spectacular Anasazi sites in Lake Powell country. It is found between Willow Creek and Explorer Canyon in the main Escalante channel. As you travel upriver, keep a close eye out and you will see it high in the cliffs on a big bend off to your port side.

    This ancient Anasazi penthouse room-with-a-view housed several families, who carved steps right up the side of a cliff to access their home. The National Park service has restored the ancient wonder. Please leave only footprints and do not change its look. This is the only ruin of its type where you can pull your boat up to the steps and be inside the restored piece of Glen Canyon history in a matter of minutes.

    Once you get up there, spend a few moments. Put yourself in their ancient shoes and remember that the lake was not there during Anasazi times. Try to imagine how high up they really were above the canyon floor. The site was chosen for their safety and shelter from Mother Nature's elements, and from other threatening living things.

    The Escalante River is often called the most crooked river in the world. This winding, meandering water path also shows evidence of the ancients' presence. Hiking beyond the lake's end you will find exploration and adventure like nowhere else in southern Utah. The river goes on for miles and miles all the way to the small town of Escalante. This is probably the best piece of breathtaking landscape seldom touched by humans in this part of the world. The main reason it remains pristine is because exploration requires a great deal of preparation and energy, with many river crossings and strenuous hiking. But if you are the adventurous type and want to explore nature's wonders, this is the place.

    Take yourself back in time and you will get a real understanding of how the early ones preserved, lived and survived in God's own wonderland — now called Lake Powell country.

  • Defiance House Rock Art

    Defiance House is located on Lake Powell.

  • Greenwater Ruins and Rock Art

    Greenwater is located along Hwy 276, just south of Halls Crossing on Lake Powell.

  • Lake Powell Anasazi Ruins and Rock

    Hiding in Plain Sight The Anasazi of Glen Canyon

    Green Spring Ruin

    One of my favorite Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) ruins is located along Hyw 276, just southeast of Halls Crossing Marina on Lake Powell. You can see it from the road, if you happen to glance in the right direction, but most people zoom by at a high rate of speed and never notice it is there.

    This ruin taught me to slow down and open my eyes. It has helped me realize how much I don't see when I look at the world. It's had a similar effect on other people I've taken there.

    Most people are preoccupied, reminiscing about the fun they had at the lake, or they are planning their next vacation or business deal, and they don't notice the crumbling stone walls of the multi-roomed cliff dwelling.

    A few stop and admire the site from the roadway, or hike to get a closer view. Their reaction is almost always the same. They look around with genuine interest and seem to enjoy the experience. But after about five minutes they get bored: "Neat old rock walls. Can we go now? I've got things to do."

    That's the feeling I had on my first visit. But it was a hot summer day and I wasn't looking forward to the short hike through the sand back to my vehicle and so I sat down to rest in the shade of the alcove. As I enjoyed the cool air and the red rock scenery, as I dismissed the cares of the day from my mind, I started to notice some of the more subtle wonders of the ruin. The cliff walls came alive with strangely shaped rock art figures: mysterious animals, geometric designs and monsters resembling hominoids. Some of the shapes are barely visible, pecked into the stone but covered by rich patina. Others were carved more recently - patina hasn't yet formed over the newer shapes. Some figures and handprints were created with white, black or red paint.

    Then I noticed eroded steps carved into the cliff above the ruin, leading to an area where god-like figures have been painted onto the wall.

    In the floor of the alcove I noticed rocks that have been hollowed by years of wear, as native workers ground corn or other grain. And it was at this site I first realized the ancient people intentionally hardened mud to create solid floors and foundations for some of their structures.

    Exploring a little, I discovered that the canyon walls on both sides of the ruin contain splendid panels of rock art - some of the best in the area. These things, taken together, seem to indicate that the site was used for many years by various groups of people.

    And, sadly, I noticed that many panels of rock art have been defaced by modern graffiti. Vandals have defaced some of the oldest figures and on one wall a layer of plaster is almost completely covered by modern names and dates.

    Each time I visit this site I'm rewarded by seeing more of the intricate details that are hiding here in plain site. It's a fascinating place.

    Nearby, Grand Gulch shelters a good number of famous Anasazi ruins. I have a friend who hiked down Bullet Canyon into Grand Gulch without seeing a single ruin or rock art panel. He was looking, but he wasn't able to identify the incredible ruins that were right in front of his nose. I teased him mercilessly, until I discovered this ruin and learned that I don't do much better.

    There are ancient ruins and rock art in many canyons in Lake Powell country. Two of the most impressive locations are Three Roof Ruin on the Escalante arm of the lake and Defiance House Ruin in Forgotten Canyon, up-lake from Bullfrog. These sites feature multiple-room cliff dwellings that have been restored, so visitors get an idea how they looked when Anasazi people actually lived there. Defiance House draws its name from the bold rock-art warriors painted on the cliff face, defiantly guarding the settlement. The figures are among the most impressive you'll ever see, anywhere.

    Both Defiance House and Three Roof are marked on maps. They are well worth searching out. You can boat up to the cliff below Three Roof Ruin. Right now the lake level is still low and so you have to hike about a half-mile to see Defiance House. As the lake comes up you'll also be able to boat up close to that ruin.

    There are other ruins and rock art figures in many area canyons. Some are easy to spot because they are visible from boats on the lake or vehicles on roads. Others can be seen from popular hiking trails. It is amazing how many people go by without noticing them.

    I'm sure the same is true for many of the wonders in this world: the birds and flowers, the rocks underfoot, the laughter of children. Perhaps we'd understand and enjoy the world to a greater degree if we would take the time to listen and see.

  • Lake Powell Greenwater Ruin

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    This is one of my favorite ruins for several reasons:

    • The ancient structures are impressive
    • There is fascinating rock art all around the alcove, and on nearby rock panels
    • The longer you sit and soak in the spirit of the place, the more you see

    This is clearly visible from Hwy 276 SE of Halls Crossing. Many people stop for a minute, but few spend the time to really see it. Take some time and enjoy this place.

    Here's what I wrote after one visit:

    One of my favorite Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) ruins is located along Hyw 276, just southeast of Halls Crossing Marina on Lake Powell. You can see it from the road, if you happen to glance in the right direction, but most people zoom by at a high rate of speed and never notice it is there.

    This ruin taught me to slow down and open my eyes. It has helped me realize how much I don't see when I look at the world. It's had a similar effect on other people I've taken there.

    Most people are preoccupied, reminiscing about the fun they had at the lake, or they are planning their next vacation or business deal, and they don't notice the crumbling stone walls of the multi-roomed cliff dwelling.

    A few stop and admire the site from the roadway, or hike to get a closer view. Their reaction is almost always the same. They look around with genuine interest and seem to enjoy the experience. But after about five minutes they get bored: "Neat old rock walls. Can we go now? I've got things to do."

    That's the feeling I had on my first visit. But it was a hot summer day and I wasn't looking forward to the short hike through the sand back to my vehicle and so I sat down to rest in the shade of the alcove. As I enjoyed the cool air and the red rock scenery, as I dismissed the cares of the day from my mind, I started to notice some of the more subtle wonders of the ruin. The cliff walls came alive with strangely shaped rock art figures: mysterious animals, geometric designs and monsters resembling hominoids. Some of the shapes are barely visible, pecked into the stone but covered by rich patina. Others were carved more recently - patina hasn't yet formed over the newer shapes. Some figures and handprints were created with white, black or red paint.

    Then I noticed eroded steps carved into the cliff above the ruin, leading to an area where god-like figures have been painted onto the wall.

    In the floor of the alcove I noticed rocks that have been hollowed by years of wear, as native workers ground corn or other grain. And it was at this site I first realized the ancient people intentionally hardened mud to create solid floors and foundations for some of their structures.

    Exploring a little, I discovered that the canyon walls on both sides of the ruin contain splendid panels of rock art - some of the best in the area. These things, taken together, seem to indicate that the site was used for many years by various groups of people.

    And, sadly, I noticed that many panels of rock art have been defaced by modern graffiti. Vandals have defaced some of the oldest figures and on one wall a layer of plaster is almost completely covered by modern names and dates.

    Each time I visit this site I'm rewarded by seeing more of the intricate details that are hiding here in plain site. It's a fascinating place.

  • Moki Canyon Anasazi: Ghosts of Lake Powell

    There are hundreds of Anasazi ruins and rock art panels in the Glen Canyon area. Some are in remote spots that are difficult to reach. Others are easily accessible — easy to spot if you are watchful. I enjoy seeking them out. Sometimes I'll explore a distant canyon just because I've heard it shelters an ancient site. These sites add to my enjoyment of the Lake Powell area. It amazes me that the Anasazi people lived — indeed, seemed to thrive — in the harsh and rugged environment of the canyon.

    The lake has turned the canyon into a play area, making it easy to zoom at full throttle into its distant reaches. Often, as we play at break-neck speeds, we fail to see or appreciate many of the subtleties of the area. For instance, Moki Canyon is one of the most popular on the lake. It's close to Bullfrog and it is very scenic, so it draws tremendous boat traffic. It offers good fishing and there are excellent campsites on sandy beaches near its end. People zoom in and out, fish and play, some never realizing there is an ancient Anasazi structure right at the water's edge — in plain view of those who know how to see.

    Anasazi lived in these canyons for centuries. Some of their rockwork has stood silent guard over the canyons for a thousand years. I'm awestruck by these enduring monuments. They make me wonder, "A thousand years from now, what will stand as a monument to our culture?"

    I love to play at Powell. I dash from place to place, trying to fit as much fun as possible into a short vacation. But sometimes, for a few minutes, I sit quietly and stare with wonder at the carefully crafted rock walls. How long did it take an Anasazi clan to construct a cliff dwelling? How long did it take the Colorado River to carve these scenic canyons? Why am I in such a hurry? Perhaps the best way to enjoy Powell is slowly and thoughtfully.

    Moki is one of the better canyons at Powell to seek out Anasazi ruins. The structure mentioned above is located near the back of the canyon, in an overhang on the north wall (left as you come up the canyon), just above the high water mark.

    Two impressive multi-unit complexes can be viewed by hiking a short distance up the canyon. It's an easy hike to the first ruin, about a half-mile from the water's edge, on the north wall.

    The complex is two levels up from the canyon floor. They can be viewed plainly from the trail, and those who want to brave a moderately difficult scramble can see them up close. Remember not to enter the structures, climb on the walls or haul pieces away. The structures have stood for 1,000 years — let's keep them around for a few more. It's against the law to disturb them. The next complex is about a mile up the canyon. It's on the south wall, again two levels up from the canyon floor. It's not possible to get up to these structures. The ancient people chiseled steps into the cliff face. They are plainly visible, but not adequate to allow any modern man to climb the wall. The site is well known, but has probably never been explored because of the impossibility of getting up the ledge. Moki Canyon can be hiked for miles. It offers other ruins, but they are not easy to find.

    Apparently, at one time a large population of ancient people lived in the canyon. Many structures were flooded by the lake. Others have eroded over time. The sandstone which forms the canyon walls is soft and erosion has been fairly rapid. The only structures which have survived are those which were built in protected spots.

    We noticed two small corncobs below one ruin, but no other artifacts. Not even pottery shards. Artifacts tumble down the hillsides to the canyon floor. But the floor has obviously eroded significantly in recent years; most artifacts have been washed into the area now covered by the lake.

    On a recent trip I wanted to explore the upper part of the canyon and so I hiked in. The canyon is only about a mile from Highway 276, which runs from Halls Crossing to Highway 95, below Hite. I parked at Cal Black Airport and hiked north until I reached the canyon. They I walked along the rim until I found a route down. It's an easy hike across sand dunes and slickrock to the canyon rim, and then a moderate scramble to the bottom. In the canyon, hiking is difficult in spots because of thick brush. It's often best to hike right up the stream.

    I also hiked down to the lake. It was a fun way to explore the canyon. I did it as a day hike, but the best approach would be to backpack and spend two days.

    There is a year-round stream in the bottom of the canyon, and so water is not a problem. However, all water should be treated or filtered before use. There are cattle in the upper canyon.

    There are also several impressive ruins plainly visible from Highway 276.

  • Temple Mountain Rock Art

    Temple Mountain, in the San Rafael Swell, is a popular playground to ride dirt bikes, atvs and to camp, hike and explore. The rock art is in plain site but most people are not aware it is there. They drive right by and never see it.