Almost immediately after my husband and I moved to Monticello, we started to notice that every time we met someone and told them we liked to hike, they would tell us that we had to hike to Moon House Ruin. It took us about 9 months, but in December of 2009 we finally made our way to Moon House- as I’m writing this now, nearly 3 1/2 years later, I can’t believe we haven’t been back yet!
Moon House, estimated to have been built around 1262, is located on Cedar Mesa in McCloyd Canyon- just south of the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. At the time that we visited in 2009, a permit wasn’t required, but in March of 2010 the BLM designated this site a ‘special recreation management area’, and now a permit is required and there is a daily limit of 20 visitors a day. During the high-use season (spring-fall) visitors must stop at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to obtain a permit. During the off-season, permits are available at the trail head on a first come, first serve basis.
I remember that it was really cold the day we decided to go out to Moon House, but I think we picked that day because we had heard that the county had just graded Snow Flat Road- the road leading out to the trail head. We were still new to Utah at that time, and still completely in awe of some of the unpaved ‘roads’ that we had encountered. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but coming from Montana, to us ‘unpaved’ meant gravel. Out here ‘unpaved’ could mean lots of thing, but you’re lucky if there’s gravel! So I think we decided that going right after the road was graded would give us the best road conditions possible, and we decided we should take advantage of it and get out there!
Since there was no limit to the number of daily visitors to Moon House at the time we visited, a special permit wasn’t required so we made our way straight out to the trail head that’s located about 8 miles down Snow Flat Road. The BLM website describes the hike to Moon House as a ‘strenuous’ 3 mile hike, but I think I’d consider it to be more moderate than strenuous. It’s a pretty steep hike in/out of McCloyd Canyon, but the fact that it’s only 3 miles round-trip keeps it in the moderate category in my book.
After some scrambling to get down into the canyon from the rim, the hike gets much easier and soon you’re able to get your first glimpse of Moon House. I remember being completely blown away by how large it was when I first saw it, but it’s not just the size that makes this ruin so impressive. The unique layout with an outer wall that creates an open breezeway running in front of several small rooms, and the plastered ‘Moon Room’ that the ruin was named after, are what makes Moon House so spectacular.
When you get right up to the ruin you can see that you’re able to enter through a small doorway. You’re usually not allowed to enter ruins, but as you climb through you will see that you are not entering the rooms themselves- just the walled-in hallway that runs in front of the rooms.
I don’t remember seeing any pottery at Moon House, but there were still some corn cobs laying around. I’m always amazed when I see them, but I guess things last a long time in such a dry environment like we have here in the southwest.
The Moon House complex is made up of 3 sections and includes rooms that were used for residential, storage, and ceremonial purposes. I think the most spectacular part of the complex has to be the pictographs inside one of the rooms that appear to represent the changing phases of the moon. I’m always completely in awe of how these ancient civilizations were so in tune with things like that! I don’t even usually notice when there’s a full moon- that’s how out of touch I am with astronomical events!
If you walk both up and down the canyon from Moon House, you will come across several other structures nearby. I think they are mostly storage structures, but some of them are up too high to get a good look at.
Moon House is hands-down my favorite ruin I’ve ever been to. I always tell people that I wish I’d waited longer before I visited Moon House because it kind of ruined me for other ruins! (no pun intended!) We’d been to Mesa Verde, and while it’s AMAZING, there’s something so much cooler about being out in the middle of nowhere and experiencing a ruin like this without anyone else around. It almost makes you feel like you’re discovering it, which is something that you will never feel when you’re on a guided hike at Mesa Verde!
**I wanted to share this informative video put out by Friends of Cedar Mesa, which is just one in a series of ‘Visit With Respect’ videos that they’ve developed. In the excitement of visiting a new ruin it can be easy to forget how easily ruins can be damaged, and these videos offer helpful tips on how to ensure that our amazing archaeological sites like Moon House, can be enjoyed by future generations. If you’d like to view the rest of the videos in their Visit With Respect series, please click HERE.
Directions to Moon House Ruin:
To visit Moon House Ruin, you will first need to stop at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to get your permit. The Ranger Station is located on Hwy 261 approximately 4 miles south of the junction with Hwy 95.
After obtaining your permit, head south on Hwy 261 for approximately 6 miles until you reach Snow Flat Road. (it will be on your left if you’re heading south) Follow Snow Flat Road for about 8 miles, until you come a kiosk which marks the trail head. The hike is approximately 3 miles round-trip.
*Please visit the Monticello BLM website for current permit fees, on/off-season dates, and other information for planning your hike.
Distance from Moon House to lodging in San Juan County, Utah:
- Mexican Hat: 25 miles/ 40 km
- Bluff: 40 miles/64 km
- Blanding: 42 miles/68 km
- Monument Valley: 46 miles/74 km
- Monticello: 63 miles/101 km
- La Sal: 104 miles/167 km
For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386
Or e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org