Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Moon House Ruins (McLoyd Canyon) - Cedar Mesa - Bears Ears National Monument - 4/5/18

Moon House Ruins Site

Moon House Courtyard Ruins

2WD Moon House Trailhead (Bears Ears Buttes in Background)

Hiking the One Mile 4WD Approach
 The Moon House Ruins of Cedar Mesa in Bears Ears National Monument is the area's most famous archeological remains of the anasazi Basketmakers. A special permit (in addition to the day use parking permit) is required to be one of the twenty hikers allowed at the ruins each day. Advanced reservations for private groups are available through the Monticello Field Office Permit Desk. All permits must be picked up at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station the morning of the hike. Pets are not allowed and it is recommended that hikers are either experienced with this type of terrain or have a guide to help them safely through their day.

Gathering at the 4WD Trailhead
 In 1890, Charles McLoyd was one of the first excavators in these prehistoric sites. The canyon that Moon House Ruins reside in is called McLoyd Canyon. It lies north and parallel to Snow Flats Road; a dirt road bumpy with bedrock.

McLoyd Canyon
 The roads that we encountered on our week long excursion in Bears Ears on Cedar Mesa have been graded this year and they are in as best shape as they can be. The bedrock is, sometimes, somewhat high and improvable.

Dropping off of Rim

Approaching Pour-over Drop
To appreciate the Moon House Ruins to the fullest, some history is written in the free newspaper that the ranger stations give out; Cedar Mesa / Grand Gulch Trip Planner. The following information is taken directly from this newspaper:
  The Basketmakers, who lived here from 500 BC to AD 750 are the earliest well documented  human inhabitants of Cedar Mesa. This culture is thought to have derived from earlier nomadic hunters and gatherers, but artifacts from the Basketmaker period are the oldest yet found in the area. When these highly mobile people learned to plant and cultivate corn introduced from the south, they became more settled, and the Basketmaker culture evolved.

The Basketmakers constructed dwellings by excavating shallow pits. They then built up walls and a roof of logs and sticks and covered them with mud. They also used flint tools and wooden digging sticks. Their name was derived from the finely woven baskets they made. The most prevalent remains of the Basketmaker culture on Cedar Mesa are the rock art and their slab lined storage cists, which can still be seen on the mesa tops or on high ledges protected from the weather.

Girl Fun at the Pour-over
 A series of droughts apparently drove the Basketmakers to the surrounding mountains. When their descendants returned around AD 1050, they brought with them the influence of the Mesa Verde people to the east and the Kayenta people from the south. As time passed, the Mesa Verde influence dominated in the Cedar Mesa area.

The Trail heading around the Cliff
 The Baskermaker culture developed into the Pueblo culture, which is characterized by the making of fine pottery (some of it highly decorated), the cultivation of cotton and weaving of cotton cloth, and a high degree of skill in architecture and stone masonry seen in the cliff dwellings of the canyons.

Moon House Ruins across from Cliff

Bottom of Canyon below Ruins
 Check-dams and diversion canals, used in crop irrigation, have been found near Dark Canyon and other Colorado River tributaries. The kiva, an underground ceremonial structure found in the Cedar Mesa area, is still in use by the modern-day descendants of these people - the Hopi and New Mexico Pueblo Indians.

 Cedar Mesa also has a diversity of rock art panels consisting of petroglyphs (pecked into the rock) and pictographs (painted on with pigments) dating from archaic to historic times. As the figures do not represent a written language, their meaning is left to our imaginations.

 By the late 1200's, the prehistoric Puebloans moved south into Arizona and southeast into the Rio Grande valley of New Mexico, probably because of droughts in the 12th and 13th centuries, depletion of natural resources, and pressure from nomadic tribes from the north.

Scramble Up to Ruins
 A lot of books have been written about the Basketmakers and Puebloans. The people are a bit of a mystery and have acquired the general name of anasazi or, the ancient ones.

Arrival at Moon House Ruins
 Our group had obtained permits previous to the trip and we stopped by the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to pick them up. All of our cars already had the, also required, day use parking permits.

House Ruins near Courtyard

Inside one Room
 Six miles south on Highway 261 from the ranger station, Snow Flats Road turns to the left. Another 9ish miles east on this bedrock in laden dirt road and we reached the 2WD trailhead parking. The 4WD approach road is to the left and it really needs a high clearance vehicle to navigate. We started down the approach road, hiking for one mile. After reaching the 4WD parking lot, we hiked down the trail to the rim of McLoyd Canyon. Here, the trail begins dropping steeply until it reaches the slab of a pour-over. In the middle of the pour-over, there is a place to drop down where a large pile of rocks have been built up. One by one, we got safely down to the next level.

Details of the Area
 At the next cliff level, we turned to the left and hiked around the wide-ish cliff ledge. We could see the ruins across the canyon from here and began following a trail to the nearby aged rock fall/avalanche area. The trail follows the rock fall down to the bottom of the canyon.

The Tower Nearby
 We gathered again at the base of a toadstool tower. We saw, later, that the tower rises up right next to the main ruins above. Cairns showed us exactly where to begin our scramble up. The sandstone was steep but easily climbed.

Inside the Moon House Courtyard

Hiking along Cliff to Neighboring Ruins
 After climbing the steep slab, we came to a crack climb that required a skill or two to negotiate up to the ruins' cliff level. Once on top, our group began an hour of personal explorations. The main part of the site held an enclosed courtyard with smaller rooms coming off of this. The wall of the courtyard had 48(?) small holes in it; each pointed in a different direction of the canyon so that lookouts could see danger coming from any direction. One of the small rooms behind the courtyard had the phases of the moon painted on its wall. Thus, the name Moon House. As we climbed in and out of the courtyard, it was required to not touch the walls around the little door. For us mature folk, that was a challenge!

Wide Cliff Area
 A trail led around to the left of the courtyard ruin past the tower and, in the distance, we could see more ruins in the bend of the canyon.

Pristine Ruins at Moon House Site
 We wandered along the wide cliff to the right of the courtyard passing adjacent rooms then came to more ruins about 500 feet away. As you got further from the courtyard, the ruins seemed to get more pristine. Perhaps this architecture was newer.

View across to Old Rock Fall Trail

Ruins near Moon House Courtyard Ruins
 The furthest ruins along the cliff are seen in a panorama photo at the top of this entry. The trail down the old rock fall avalanche across the canyon was clearly seen from here. After our hour was up, we began trickling back toward the crack scramble. This was much easier to down climb! Then we gathered again at the bottom of the canyon. From there, we climbed the steep rock fall and traversed over to the pour-over. A few of us managed to get up to the next level without help but it wasn't very easy and a lot of mantling was required. Others gave each other a hand up and soon we were all climbing the steep trail up to the rim.

Scramble Drop off Moon House Cliff
 Three hikers from our group had opted to stay behind on the rim and they were waiting for us on our return.

Gathering at Canyon Bottom
 Next, we had to hike back out the approach road for one mile to the Snow Flats Road parking area.

Finishing Climb up Old Rock Fall

Difficult Scramble up Pour-over
 The Moon House hike was not a long hike. We could have also visited the ruins at the bend up canyon. But, at any rate, we saw what we came to see. The Moon House Ruins are really something special. And, it is a big deal to get there! Most of the group of hikers were tired after the long previous day and then adding today's scrambling antics but four hikers stopped by the Butler Wash Ruins on the way back to Blanding. This was a second day of hiking that will not be soon forgotten. Thanks to Keith and Beth for arranging a once in a lifetime opportunity!

4.5 miles; 700 feet elevation gain; 3.25 hours

Helping others up Pour-over

Ruins Rules and Regs

Bears Ears from Snow Flats Road

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