Moab History & Museums: Moab Utah Cliff Dwellings

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Cliff Dwellings

Cliff dwellings are found throughout the Desert Southwest around the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona and provide a window into these ancient people’s past.

  • Climb down a ladder into a 1000 year-old kiva at Edge of the Cedars State Park.
  • Take a hike to view ancestral Puebloan ruins and cliff dwellings in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.
  • View the most notable and best preserved cliff dwellings in North America at Mesa Verde National Park.

Overview

Nestled in cliff walls and shallow caves, ancient people flourished on the Colorado Plateau from 300 A.D. to 1300 A.D. Originally, these people were nomads, living off the land eating wild plants and animals. Starting about 2000 years ago, the hunter-gatherers began to domesticate animals and grow crops. Formerly known as Anasazi, these early farmers are called the ancestral Puebloan and Fremont people. They grew maize, squash, beans, raised turkeys and kept dogs. By about 1300 A.D. it is believed that drought drove these people south leaving the dwellings untouched until the 19th century. There are many places you can view these dwellings.

Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum
Site of ancient Puebloan Village built between 825 and 1125 A.D. There are six habitation and ceremonial sites and a museum that houses the collection of pottery and artifacts not only for this ruin but for all southeastern Utah.

  • Location and Seasons: 75 miles south of Moab via US 191 in Blanding, Utah. It is open all year.
  • Activities: Climb down a ladder into a 1000 year-old kiva. Visit the museum where you can view Anasazi artifacts and additional exhibits displaying cultural materials and information about Navajo and Utah Indians. There is a short, paved interpretive trail around the ruin, landscaping with native plants and outdoor sculptures. Enjoy a picnic at the picnic area.
  • Contact Information: 660 West 400 North, Blanding, UT 84511. Visit their website http://www.stateparks.utah.gov/parks/edge-of-the-cedars. Reach them by telephone: (435) 678-2238

Canyonlands National Park
This vast national park is divided into three districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. Ancestral Puebloan ruins and cliff dwellings are found in the Needles District. Granaries and dwellings are scattered throughout the park as well. Examples of these structures can be seen at Roadside Ruin in the Needles, Aztec Butte on the Island in the Sky and along backcountry trails.

  • Location and Seasons: Each district has its own visitor center all of which are open all year. From Moab, Highway 313 leads to the Island in the Sky, and Highway 211 leads to the Needles. Roads to the Maze are a mixture of graded dirt and 4WD.
  • Activities: Mountain bike the White Rim Road or rock climb in the Island in the Sky district, take a float trip on either the Colorado or Green river, take a hike to view ruins in the Needles district and stop by Newspaper Rock on HWY 211.
  • Contact Information: 2282 SW Resource Blvd. Moab, Utah 84532. Visit the park website http://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm. Reach them by telephone: (435) 719-2313. For backcountry information, call (435) 259-4351.

Mesa Verde National Park
Home to 4000 known archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park is worth the 2.5 hour trip from Moab. Ancient people made this area their home for 700 years between 600 A.D. to 1300 A.D.

  • Location and Seasons: Located in Mesa Verde, CO. All cliff dwellings are open during summer months. During winter months, very few dwellings are open. Check the park website for closures http://www.nps.gov/meve/planyourvisit/hours.htm.
  • Activities: Visit the Far View Visitor Center (open mid-April to mid-October). This is where you will obtain tickets to visit the cliff dwelling sites. There are 5 cliff dwelling areas and 3 are guided only. Visit the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Hike Petroglyph Point Trail (2.4 miles round trip) to view petroglyphs and Spruce and Navajo Canyons.
  • Contact Information: Mesa Verde National Park, P.O. Box 8, Mesa Verde, Colorado 81330. Reach them by telephone: (970) 529-4465. Visit the park website: http://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm

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