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  Little Westwater Ruin
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  Moki Dugway

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South Fork Mule Canyon in SE Utah

      The South Fork of Mule Creek is a great hike. It's a fairly easy hiking trail that is easy to access. The trail is easy to find and follow and is never too rough or steep. There is often water available along the trail and, to top it all off, it's the home to many accessible Anasazi ruins.

      The South Fork Mule Canyon trail is very easy to access. It is a short distance off UT 95 between Blanding, UT and Natural Bridges National
Ruin in South Fork Mule CreekClick to enlarge
    This kiva is a good example of the typical construction of these unique Anasazi structures.
Monument. To get to the trailhead take UT 95 to about mile 102.5 where you will turn north onto San Juan County Road #263. This is a well maintained gravel road that is suitable for all vehicles. Just follow the road for about 1/4 mile to where the road dips down to cross the South Fork Mule Canyon. At this point the canyon is quite shallow and there are good parking places along the sides of the road. There is additional parking and suitable camping found further along the road and it is only a short distance to the North Fork Mule Canyon..

      After parking along the road you will easily find the tail that leads down to the canyon bottom. There is a BLM registration kiosk at the trailhead and the South Fork Mule Canyon is in the BLM fee area so you will need to pay the modest fee. From
Anasazi ruin in South Fork Mule CanyonClick to enlarge
     Called by some the "Wall Ruins", these ruins are in a short steep side canyon to South Fork Mule Canyon. Located on the north side of the canyon, this side canyon is about 4 miles in from the trailhead.
here the trail is obvious as it heads across the broad flat canyon bottom heading up. At this point the canyon is shallow with poorly defined, low canyon walls. Hiking is easy but rather boring for the first 15 or 20 minutes after which the canyon quickly gets deeper with steep cliff walls rising on both sides.

      After no more than 30 minutes of hiking you can begin to spot the ruins that are scattered throughout the canyon. The ruins are mostly found in the alcoves located along the ledges on the north side of the canyon. The Cedar Mesa sandstone that makes up most of the exposed rock in South Fork Mule Canyon easily erodes into these south facing alcoves making them ideal locations for dwellings. The ruins you find will mostly be Mesa Verdean in style although the Kayenta influence can be seen in a few places. While there was Anasazi occupation of this area for many years, most of the ruins date from the Pueblo II - Pueblo III period. One of the most photographed ruins in the area is the "House on Fire" Ruin which is one of the first ruins you will
Water pool in South Fork Mule CanyonWater hole in South Fork Mule Canyon 
encounter when hiking the South Fork Mule Canyon.

      As you hike up the canyon keep a close eye on the ledges that appear above you. These are the places to find the ruins so look up for the ruins. The tail works its way up the canyon until it peters out near the steep head of the canyon. There is a significant side canyon that enters the South Fork Mule Canyon about 4 miles from the trail head. If you travel up this canyon you will be able to view the remains of an interesting ruin that are on the cliff wall. Sometimes called the "Wall Ruin" the structures are not found in a typical alcove setting.

South Fork Mule Creek RuinsClick to enlarge
     There are many ruins throughout the South Fork of Mule Canyon. Most are located on the south facing walls of the canyon where many alcoves have been eroded into the rock layers. These ruins are fairly high above the canyon floor and are easily spotted if you pay attention.
      I have never tried to hike out of the South Fork Mule Canyon and have read differing accounts of the practicality of doing so. It seems like a great loop hike could be made by hiking out of the South Fork and into the North Fork Mule Canyon for the return. However, this could prove to be a difficult or impossible task as both the South and North Forks are very steep in their upper ends.

      South Fork Mule Canyon, is part of the large collections of Anasazi ruins found in the Mule Canyon drainage. Mule Canyon begins on Cedar Mesa north of Hwy 95. The canyon begins with the two forks, the South and North forks. each of these is about 4 miles in length and the two come together a short distance above the point where Mule Canyon passes under Hwy 95. Below the Highway there are ruins in the canyon and on the canyon rim. Most notably, the Cave Canyon Tower Ruins sit on the rim a short distance below the highway crossing.
Ruin in South Fork Mule CreekClick to enlarge

      It's likely that much of the mesa top was occupied and there are the remains of many surface ruins in the area. one of them, the Mule Canyon Ruin has been developed into a fine roadside interpretive ruin. The lower sections of Mule Canyon drain into Comb Wash and the ruins in this section of the canyon can be accessed from the lower end.

      In summary, the South Fork Mule Canyon is a great place to visit. The trail is easily accessible, easy to hike and full of interesting sites. Since the hike is an in-and-out hike it can be as long as you like to fit any time schedule. I highly recommend this hike for all Anasazi Country visitors.


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