Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 25, 2011

The ruin that keeps its secrets

A well-preserved ruin in Grand Gulch Primitive Area

Turning sideways and ducking, I wormed my way through the T-shaped masonry opening on the cliff ledge. This quasi-doorway was a defensive piece of construction, intended to ensure that only one person at a time could gain access to this habitation site. Brilliant. It also told me that the people who lived here were short and small. I sat and studied it for some time, impressed by their ingenuity. The odd shape may have allowed load-bearers to pass through more easily.

Backcountry etiquette discourages revealing the names of the more fragile ruin sites, so I will say only that I stumbled upon this one in a side canyon in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area. It sat fifty feet or so up a cliff wall, daring me to find a route up to it, beckoning me to get close enough to study its features from arm’s length. I picked my way far past it until a hump of sandstone created just enough ramp for my boots to grip. Ascending carefully along the exposed edge, the thrill of having made it here made me smile in disbelief. I had overshot this canyon on my way downstream and despaired of even finding it before the threat of darkness ruined my plans. Eleven miles of solo hiking brought me to my reward.

Its food storage granaries were almost intact, complete with stone slab doors. The wattle-and-daub walls still stood, and I dug in my pack for my headlamp to see the interior construction. The lashings used to hold the sticks in place were still doing the job every bit as well as they were eight centuries earlier, to my utter astonishment. Skillful craftsmanship was evident everywhere. Unusual green pigment was painted on exterior walls with much artistry.

I sat and ate a smashed Snickers bar to celebrate my find; the bottom-of-the-pack treats are always the best. Meanwhile, hiking partner Tara was at another alcove site, marveling at her find of the day: a well-worn but complete human molar. Everywhere we turned, evidence of ancient dwellers was waiting to be discovered, and we were the designated explorers. What a supreme treat.

Just now when I went to retrieve a photograph of this spectacular place, every shot of that ruin is gone from my photo library. Tara saw ALL of them on my camera three days ago and I find that mystifying; no other photos are missing. I wonder if the place wants its privacy? Enjoy this photo of a nearby ruin.


  1. Exquisite! Glad you two are getting after it.

    Comment by Ed Oak — April 26, 2011 @ 12:23 am | Reply

  2. if i recall, the ancient dwellers had nothing but disdain for binary items such as digital photos. you are probably correct in your assumpption. VERY COOL

    Comment by john — April 26, 2011 @ 6:10 am | Reply

  3. OH NO! Photos have mysteriously disappeared? How strange and utterly frustrating. Needless to say, Kathryn, you should write a memoir. I am so glad you had that smashed Snickers. I bet it was glorious.

    I found the part in The Cliff Dwellings Speak where it discusses “Choke Points” … I’m going to have a fun time reading this book and learning ways to define what we see! Time to plan another adventure…

    Comment by Tara Beresh — April 27, 2011 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  4. Strange things can happen with photography. Glad to hear the ancient dwellers are uncomfortable with 21st century electronics, too. Thought it was just me! Some inexplicable things can happen on/around Lake Superior, too.

    Comment by chrisyoungman — April 28, 2011 @ 8:18 am | Reply

  5. Oh, Kathryn,

    This is so great. I love learning about ancient peoples. I’m so bad that I go into antique stores and look at a hat and wonder who wore it and where? Being at such a mysterious site must’ve been so intriguing. What history! That’s crazy about the photos!

    Comment by Lindsey K. — May 6, 2011 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  6. Great hike, story, and picture.

    Comment by Jeff Mark — December 29, 2011 @ 5:08 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Jeff. It was a remarkable trip in so many ways.
      P.S. I removed the name of the archeological site from the other comment you posted, just to keep it on the down-low. It’s a protected site so we don’t use its name. Superb place, like Grand Gulch.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — December 29, 2011 @ 10:54 pm | Reply

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