Little Westwater Ruin – Blanding, Utah

Little Westwater Ruin, also known as Five Kiva Ruin, is an undeveloped ruin that is easily accessed and interesting to visit. The cliff dwelling is located in the Westwater Creek Canyon just outside of Blanding, UT. Blanding is in the homelands of the Ancestral Puebloans and this ruin is practically part of the town. In fact, many residents tell stories of childhoods spent playing in the ruins all summer long.

Directions to Little Westwater Ruin

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Getting to Little Westwater Ruin begins right in Blanding, UT. Highway 191 (Main Street) runs north/south through much of the city and the turn to Little Westwater is right off the highway. Look for 1600 South Street which is at the south end of town by the truck driving school/facility.

Turn west on this paved road and in a short distance you’ll pass a state facility where the road narrows slightly but remains an excellent paved road. Continue on for less than two miles until the road ends in a turn-around and parking area. Westwater Creek Canyon is narrow here and Little Westwater Ruin is readily visible straight across the canyon.

Photo of Little Westwater Ruin
The alcove that holds Little Westwater Ruin has been occupied for much of pre-history. It’s likely that the Basketmakers had structures here which gave way to Pueblo II buildings that were torn down to create the Pueblo III ruin that stands today,

You get great views of Little Westwater Ruin from the parking area and, with good binoculars, you can see a lot of detail. However, the best way to see the Ruin is to hike to it. Although the canyon is steep, it’s an easy hike down to the bottom and up the other side to the ruin. Structures are scattered on the other ledges near the ruin but the main ruin is in the large alcove.

Occupation of Little Westwater

The first significant development here was probably during the Pueblo II period. However, this general area was inhabited from Archaic through Pueblo III times and it’s likely the alcove was used by the Basketmakers. Evidence shows there were structures here from the Pueblo II period. However, that site was destroyed in the late 800s or early 900s. Reconstruction began in the early 1200s during the Pueblo III time. It’s believed that most construction of Little Westwater took place between 1212 and 1214.

The layout of the ruin is typical of the Pueblo III period. The broad flat plaza of the main central area was the location of the kivas with the housing and storage rooms in room blocks behind. Notice the remains of two-story rooms in the back of the cave and the rooms tucked into the ledge above. The construction here is somewhat different from the typical Mesa Verde Ancestral Puebloan style. However, the masonry and design are similar enough that there is no doubt that Little Westwater was occupied by Mesa Verde Anasazi.

Mesa Verde Style Kivas

In the area to the west of Westwater Canyon Ancestral Puebloan sites show an obvious blending of the Mesa Verde and Kayenta Anasazi. The Butler Wash Ruin and the Ballroom Cave Ruin have both Kayenta and Mesa Verde style kivas. However, the Little Westwater Ruin has only Mesa Verde style kivas. Most Mesa Verde style kivas are dug into the ground but at Little Westwater, they are built up from the rock ledge. The five kivas at Little Westwater are all typical round Mesa Verde-style kivas. They served as the center of life in the pueblo and each was accessed through their roofs.

Photo of ropund Kiva in Little Westwater Ruin
This round kiva was built above ground and is typical of the Northern San Juan branch of the Anasazi. There are five kivas here in total. Little Westwater Ruin has been heavily impacted by generations of locals who have enjoyed exploring the ruins.

Take Care When Visiting

Unfortunately, the easy assess to Little Westwater Ruin combined with its close proximity to town means that this is not a well-preserved ruin. Although there has been some stabilization done, this ruin shows the signs of overuse. Look carefully and you might find small corn cobs or a few pottery shards. Unfortunately, this well-used ruin has not always been respected.

Photo of the alcove and ledges where the Little Westwater Anasazi Ruin is located
Little Westwater Ruin is located in the large alcove in this photo. Most of the ledges in this photo have the remains of structures in them.

Little Westwater Ruin is an easily accessed site that allows you to experience Ancestral Puebloan environments without crowds, rangers, or other controls. If you’re in the Blanding area it’s certainly worth a visit. Even though the site has been impacted it’s still a unique place to experience.

Respect the site – don’t climb on walls or ruins, don’t remove anything from the site, and take only photos and memories home with you. It’s up to us all to protect these special places.