We always have a week or so of awesome weather in the beginning of March, and this year we were lucky to have just over two straight weeks of warm, sunny days! On the first weekend of our stretch of nice weather, it got up to about 60 degrees in Monticello, which meant it was at least 5-10 degrees warmer everywhere else around us! My family had been out of town the previous week, and after returning home, the only thing I could think about the rest of the week was making it to the weekend so that I’d have a full day to just clean, put things away, and get our house back in order, but when we saw that the weather was going to be that nice, we couldn’t not get out to take advantage of it! So at the expense of a clean, organized house, we decided to head out to Cedar Mesa (part of the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument) for a hike.
We decided to go with some friends who also live in Monticello. They have a 3 year old and a 1 year old, and my son is now 4 1/2 years old, so we had 3 little ones with us on the trail that day. At one point I think the four of us parents seriously questioned whether we’d actually make it out of the parking area and onto the trail at all. Of course, it didn’t help that as we were lathering ourselves and our kids up with sunscreen, packing lunches, snacks, & water, putting kids in child carriers, etc., we watched another vehicle with 4 or 5 adults in it (no kids) pull up, everyone got out, they took about 3-4 minutes to grab backpacks, and they were on the trail.
I remember asking my husband and our friends if they remembered when hiking was that easy… I can’t remember what everyone’s answers were, but I do know that question came up several more times throughout the day as we did our best to keep our little ones entertained and happy as we attempted to make it down the trail.
The main trail is relatively flat, which is great for hiking with kids, but each of the spur trails that branch off leading to Target Ruin and Ballroom Cave are very steep. But wouldn’t you know it, after my son had wanted to be on my husband’s shoulders from the second we left the parking area, those were the parts of the trail that the kids wanted to walk themselves! Sometimes they had to get down on all fours, but they both made it, which I think is great for such little kids!
After making it up the steep part of the trail, you descend a little bit right as you come to the ruin. Sometimes I feel like I’ve seen so many ruins, that it takes a lot to really impress me, but I was definitely impressed with this one! It’s an amazing ruin! It looks like it’s in pristine condition, and I’m sure the fact that it’s located up high in an alcove that’s not easy to reach helps a lot.
Not only was the ruin itself amazing, but the location was perfect for kids. Target Ruin is located in the end of a little canyon that’s mostly open slickrock with a few little potholes filled with water, (they had water when we were there anyway) so it was the perfect place to sit down for lunch and let the kids play.
I had to laugh a little bit when we decided that this would be our lunch place since it’s only about 1 mile down the trail! But again, this goes back to the hiking with kids thing- we got a later start than we had planned, we had an unexpected kid-related emergency stop on the drive there, (I won’t even go into that!) it took forever to get packed up at the trail head, and it was pretty slow going on the trail. I think my husband and I have accepted the fact that our old way of hiking (8-10 mile hike every weekend) is a thing of the past. For now anyway… I’m hopeful that we can slowly work up to that in the next several years.
We all finished our lunches and a few of us climbed up the rocky area on the southwest side of the ruin to try to get a look at the namesake pictograph- a target painted on the side of one of the structures just inside the outer wall. You can’t see it when you’re standing on the ground looking up at the ruin, but once you climb up that rocky area, you are pretty much eye level with the ruin, if not a little higher, so you can then see about half of the target pictograph. (In the photo above you can see the target on the side of the structure with logs sticking out of the roof)
Once you’ve climbed the rocky area, you can see that there’s a small alcove up there with some rock art, ruins, and a couple metates as well. I didn’t see it at first, but my husband pointed out a couple target petroglyphs on the wall of the alcove, so it seems that there was some kind of significance with the target symbol at that site.
After climbing back down I walked over so that I was just under the ruin, and on the wall beneath it and just to the left (south west) a few more pictographs were visible including the handprint pictographs in the photo above.
I really liked the angle from just under the ruin, and tried to take my son’s picture there, but as you can see- he wasn’t very cooperative. (This should give you a good feel for his cooperation level, or lack there of, that day) With kids you just never know what you’re going to get! Some days he’s an awesome, cooperative, independent hiker, and some days… not so much!
We made it back to the main trail and continued on another 1/4 mile or so before we came to Ballroom Cave. You really can’t see much more than an alcove from the trail, and even as you get closer you still can’t see the caves. It’s not until you’re actually inside the alcove at the very top, that you are finally able to see that there are two caves up there, and one of them is HUGE.
The larger cave is on the left (south) side of the alcove, and it’s a little hard to get to due to all the loose rock that has fallen from the ceiling of the alcove. Once you climb up and over the pile of rocks, you can finally start to see how big the cave is.
The back parts of the cave were really dark. The photo above really doesn’t show how dark it was, but if you look at how close the kids are standing to my husband, that should be an indication that it was dark enough that they were scared to go too far by themselves. 🙂
The kids had so much fun exploring the cave! It was really nice and cool in there, so I can only imagine how good it would feel to be able to take a break in there on a hot day. All of us had been to the cave before, but my husband and I hadn’t been there since before our son was born, so it had been at least 4.5 years, (although I think we did that hike soon after moving to Utah, so it was probably closer to 7 or 8 years ago) and we almost felt like we were seeing it for the first time. This hike has definitely made my Top 10 list- at only 2.5 miles round trip (or only about 2 miles if you just visit Target Ruin) it’s the perfect length for hiking with kids or anyone who only has time for a quick hike.
**Archaeological Site Etiquette**
As always, I want to remind readers to please be respectful when visiting our archaeological sites. Please refrain from touching or entering ruins, if hiking with your dog, please don’t let it enter ruins, and please leave any artifacts you may come across where they are. Something as simple as picking up a pottery sherd and moving it, takes that artifact out of context and archaeologists are no longer able to get the information from it that they would have been able to, had it been left in place.
Here’s a really informative video that goes over some basic archaeological site etiquette… (If you’d like to view the rest of the videos in the ‘Visit With Respect’ series, please click HERE.)
From Blanding: Head south on Hwy 191 for 4 miles and turn right (west) on Hwy 95 toward Natural Bridges National Monument & Hanksville. Continue on Hwy 95 for approximately 10.5 miles until you see a pullout on the right side of the road near the sign for the Butler Wash Ruins. The trailhead is located at this pullout. (If you reach the turnoff for the Butler Wash Ruins you’ve gone too far!)
For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386
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