The Trail of the Ancients scenic byway through Southeastern Utah and Southwestern Colorado features many fascinating archaeological sites of the Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) people who occupied the Four Corners region many hundreds of years ago.
West of Blanding on highway Utah-95, the Mule Canyon Archaeological Ruin offers casual visitors a very convenient place to view the remnants of an ancient pueblo dating back almost one thousand years. The partially excavated pueblo consists of an L-shaped block of rooms (Photo, right), an underground kiva – a round chamber with a religious or ceremonial purpose, and a small tower whose purpose was unknown.
Mule Canyon Ruin is an open Anasazi habitation site consisting of both above- and below-ground structures. The site was first occupied briefly in the Pueblo I time period (about A.D. 750) but the main occupation was during the Pueblo II and Pueblo III transition period (about A.D. 1000 to 1150). The readily visible L-shaped block of 12 rooms and the masonry kiva and tower were connected by two crawlways (tunnels). A subterranean pithouse, dirt-walled kiva, and trash areas were also found.
The room block was used by two or three family groups primarily for sleeping and storage. They entered through roof hatchways with ladders, as well as through doorways. During good weather, cooking and other daily activities took place on the roof or in the plaza.
The underground kiva (Photo, left) was a focal point for ceremonial activities. From studying contemporary Pueblo Indians, descendants of the Anasazi, archaeologists believe these ceremonies were reserved primarily for males. The kiva was roofed over with logs (usually juniper), then covered with earth. Access into this kiva was through a hole in the roof using a ladder, as well as by tunnels which are uncommon in the area.
The circular tower (Photo, below right) was probably two stories high when in use. It’s function is unknown, but may have been solar observation, defense, communication, or storage. The linkage of tower to kiva by tunnel may indicate the tower was used for ceremonial practices. Mule Canyon Ruin is in direct line of sight with Cave Towers, one mile to the southeast, which may mean the towers were used for signaling between the two communities.
Botanical studies have shown that corns, beans, and squash were the staple foods. Those were supplemented with a variety of wild plant and animal foods. Pottery and architecture from this site indicate a strong influence from the Mesa Verde subculture of the Anasazi from southwest Colorado. However the Kayenta subculture influence from northwest Arizona is also apparent in numerous pottery fragments. Butler Wash Ruin, located six miles to the east has a square kiva which also indicates a Kayenta influence.
Because of its proximity to the highway and its excellent preservation, Mule Canyon Ruin was selected as an interpretive rest stop and developed through the cooperative efforts of county, state, and federal governments. In 1973 archaeologists from the University of Utah excavated the site, giving special attention to the structures and the trash areas. The ruin was stabilized by the National Park Service in 1973 & 1974. The Utah Department of Transportation constructed the parking loop, and the Bureau of Land Management built the kiva's protective roof, the trails and the rest rooms. San Juan County helped fund this interpretive display.
We hope you enjoy your visit here; please treat this site with respect so that others can also appreciate it...