Ruins and rock art are plentiful in SE Utah and these roadside ruins are a place to stretch your legs, enjoy the incredible natural surroundings, and visit ancient cliff dwellings, ruins, and rock art.
Southeast Utah was once populated by the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) who lived in interconnected communities spread across the four corners area. Once numbering in the tens of thousands, these first residents left the ruins and rock art that fascinate us today. National parks and monuments like Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, and Chaco Canyon offer well-developed explorations of cliff dwellings and rock art. However, many smaller sites are easily accessed and offer a less-developed experience to visitors.
Anyone who has driven the roads of Southeast Utah knows that while the landscape is spectacular, the roads are long and a chance to take a break is always welcome. These five Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) sites are right on or just off the highway making them perfect for quick stops and short breaks.
Sites along US 191
US 191 runs from Canada to Mexico through spectacular western landscapes. In Utah, it runs from the northern to southern borders and is the major highway through east-central and south-east Utah. US 191 passes through Moab, Monticello, Blanding, and Bluff before crossing the San Juan River into Navajo Nation lands and on to Arizona.
US 191 provides great access to areas that are rich with prehistoric sites. However, only a few sites are close to the highway.
Little Westwater Ruin is in Blanding, UT where US 191 is called Main Street. The Little Westwater Ruin access road is 1600 South Street at the south end of town and after about 2 miles the road ends in a parking area with views of the ruin.
There are great views of Little Westwater Ruin from the parking area and, with good binoculars, you can see a lot of detail. If you want a bit of exercise you can visit the ruin. Although the canyon is steep, it’s an easy hike down to the bottom and up the other side.
The Sand Island Petroglyphs showcase the amazing rock art found in the area. Stretching 100 yards, the panel depicts art from archaic to modern times. The petroglyph panel is inside the BLM’s Sand Island Recreation Area located on US 191, 3 miles west of Bluff, UT.
There are vault toilets, the petroglyphs are right in the parking lot, and, it’s right on the highway. There’s no reason not to stop here for a break if you are driving by.
Sites Along Utah Highway 95
Utah 95 heads west from US 191 just south of Blanding, UT and is the only road running through much of southcentral, UT. Running through Bear’s Ears NationalMonument, the road crosses Comb Ridge, the northern end of Cedar Mesa, and passes Natural Bridge National Monument before heading toward Lake Powell and Beyond.
UT 95 takes you past the canyons and mesas that hold thousands of sites and some are right on the road. These are a few excellent places for a quick stop to visit the ancients.
Butler Wash Ruins on UT 95 southwest of Blanding, UT is a great place to stretch your legs. The Butler Wash Ruins access is a well-signed parking area on UT 95 at mile marker 111. This is 10.5 miles west of US 191. A well-maintained 1/2 mile trail leads to a fenced interpretive area overlooking the ruins. The Butler Wash Ruins was once a small community and it’s a great place to see Anasazi ruins in a natural setting.
Mule Canyon Ruin, also known as Mule Canyon Indian Ruin, is a partially developed and restored Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) ruin located on UT 95 at mile marker 101 – 20 miles west of US 191. A large paved parking area and vault toilets make this a welcome stop and even hurried travelers can get a better understanding of the area and its earliest inhabitants.
Cave Canyon Towers goes by many names including; Cave Tower Ruins, Mule Canyon Towers, Seven Tower Ruins, and Five Tower Site. The site features crumbled towers perched around the head of Cave Canyon – a short steep side canyon of Mule canyon. This undeveloped site is accessed near mile marker 102.5 on UT 95 and is a great place to observe towers constructed by the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi).