Ancestral puebloan site.

photo by: Donald J. Rommes

August 17, 2015

Ancestral Places of Southeast Utah

Exploring the Historic Sites and Stories of the Colorado Plateau

Stretched across the Colorado Plateau are a plethora of sites sacred to Native American tribes and other peoples.

Encompassing nearly eight thousand square miles, the Ancestral Places of Southeast Utah are home to a diverse array of sites sacred to the Navajo, Hopi, Pueblo, and Ute tribes. Throughout the area are archaeological sites, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and trails that are a visual narrative dedicated to twelve thousand years of human history and traditions.

Detail of pictograph panel

photo by: Donald J. Rommes

Site with sheep pictographs.

photo by: Donald J. Rommes

The Moon House (below), named for the pictographs displaying the phases of the moon painted inside the building, has been remarkably well preserved and still retains many of the original timbers. Built by the Ancient Puebloans in the thirteenth century, the site has been stripped of artifacts but is thought to have once served as a ceremonial place.

Current access to the site is allowed only with a permit to limit large volumes of visitors to the site at any one time and stem the further disintegration of this sacred site.

Moon House interior with snake pictograph.

photo by: Donald J. Rommes

Butler Wash site in Butler Wash.

photo by: Donald J. Rommes

Tucked into cliff sides are the remains of other dwellings, such as those at Butler Wash.

Alkali Ridge is the only site within the Ancestral Places of Southeast Utah that is registered as a National Historic Landmark. However, many sites have been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

But these Ancestral Places do not tell only the history of Native Americans. In 1879, Mormon pioneers headed westward for new opportunities. The path they made across the Colorado Plateau is known today as the Hole in the Rock Trail.

Cliff Dwelling at sunset in Eastern Cedar Mesa.

photo by: Donald J. Rommes

Defensive wall.

photo by: Donald J. Rommes

Cliffside dwellings are among the many sites in Southeast Utah. Many are remarkably intact, while others are threatened by the stress of excessive visitation. Requiring permits to visit limits the number of people exploring the sites at a given time, helps to curb the damage, and keep the sites intact for future research and enjoyment.

Named a National Treasure in 2013, the Ancestral Places of Southeast Utah are a stunning array of history and natural beauty. Most of the Ancestral Places are on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management which works with partner organizations, including the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to protect these sites for future generations.

Kirsten Hower is part of the National Trust’s social media team. When she’s not helping save places, she’s using social media to help stop art crime.


This Preservation Month, take action to save, celebrate, and discover places that reflect the breadth of American history.

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