The wide open space at the center of the Colorado Plateau is home to Blanding, the gateway to the Trail of the Ancients. The trail encompasses a roughly defined loop from blanding, west to Natural Bridges National Monument, south to Goosenecks State Park, east to Hovenweep National Monument, and returns north to Blanding. The trail can take several days to complete thoroughly but can also be done quickly in one day.
Edge of Cedars
The first stop on the Trail of the Ancients is Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum, located within the community of Blanding. The Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum houses the largest display of the ancient Pueblo artifacts in the Four Corners area. The museum also displays the history of San Juan County through the Navajo and Ute cultures to the Euro-American settlers.
Four miles south of Blanding US Highway 191 intersects with Utah Bicentennial Scenic Byway 95. About ten miles west of the community lies Butler Wash Rest Area and Ruin. The trail here is about one mile across sand and slickrock to an overlook of a small Pueblo cliff dwelling. Use your imagination to visualize what life would have been like in this canyon hundreds of years ago. Mule Canyon Ruin is roughly thirty miles farther along the same route. The well preserved surface ruin found here is over 700 years old. The ruin includes a block of rooms as well as a stabilized Kiva & tower. Interpretive signing and vault toilets are located at the site which is accessible to everyone, including the physically challenged. Natural Bridges National Monument, along and in White Canyon, is 47 miles from Blanding along the Bicentennial Highway. The first Anglo visitors to White Canyon arrived in 1883 and President Theodore Roosevelt designated it as the first National Monument in Utah in 1908. The Monument features three natural bridges; Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo. Short trails lead the each bridge or you can take more time and hike the entire canyon. The Park Service operates a visitor center and campground at the Monument.
Accessible from Natural Bridges, Forest Road (FR) 088 travels onto Elk Ridge through the Bears Ears, a feature visible for miles in every direction. The road passes Arch Canyon Overlook with a view into the canyon overlook where forces of erosion have sculpted massive sandstone formations. continue on FR088 to the intersection with FR092 and turn left following FR088 to reach Little Notch and the intersection with FR089 which is access into Dark Canyon Wilderness Area via Kigalia and Peavine Canyons. FR089 intersects with Kigalia and Peavine Canyon foot trails. FR089 is high clearance 4WD and a detailed map is recommended. continue on FR088 ten miles to The notch, a narrow strip of land affording dramatic views 1000 feet down into Notch Canyon. Dark Canyon Trailhead is on the west. Seven miles beyond this point you intersect with FR095 and two miles east is the intersection with FR106, South Cottonwood Creek, which travels south to Bicentennial Highway 95 to complete a loop. Or continue on FR095 and return to Blanding from the north, passing the Reef Rocks, Chippean Rocks, Maverick Point Overlook, The Causeway, and Skull and Crossbones, all on are near the road. You will pass the intersection with FR079, access to USFS Nizhoni Campground.
Each year in April and October Chrysler Corporation sponsors the Jeep Jamboree near Blanding. In the spring the group explores Arch Canyon. In October the Jeeps Climb and plunge along the Hole-in-the-Rock pioneer trail. Interested parties can contact the Jamboree office at (916)333-4777. Hovenweep National Monument is 39 miles southeast of Blanding. Drive south on Highway 191 to Highway 262 and east on 262 to Hovenweep. It is well signers. Six groups of ruins await. Hovenweep is most noted for its towers. A visitor center is located at Square Tower house. Outlying ruins are also accessible and the rangers at the Monument will provide maps.
Four miles north of Blanding on US Highway 191 Recapture Reservoir is suitable for fishing and boating. Camping is permitted along the shore. A gravel road on the north shore of the lake leads west into the National Forest(FR084). This route returns to Highway 191 near the Forest Service Devil's Canyon Campground via FR084 and FR085. It is particularly pleasant during the fall when the aspen trees are at their golden best!
The Dinosaur Museum is located across Highway 191 from the Comfort Inn and one block behind Parley Redd's Foodtown market. The museum offers a glimpse into the very distant past and features life size realistic dinosaur models, fossils, and skeletons. Walk through the history hall of Hollywood Dinosaurs and see a 275 million year old tree. The gift shop offers dinosaur treasures for children of all ages. Gain a regional perspective as you tour the uniquely comprehensive displays presented at the museum. The doors are open from 9:00-5:00 Monday through Saturday, April 15-October 15.
The Nations of the Four Corners Cultural Center features four home sites typical of the area's different historic cultures. A pedestrian entrance is open at all times, allowing access with no admission fee. A map near the Friendship Pavilion will start the visitor on a self-guided tour along the one-half mile trail that leads to a Navajo hogan, a Ute teepee, a Mexican Hacienda, and pioneer log cabin complete with old wagons and farm implements. An observation tower is also located along the trail providing a spectacular view of the surrounding country.