Easy canyon hike on Cedar Mesa
Cedar Mesa, in southeastern Utah, is one of the most ruin-ridden places in the entire southwest. While most people flock to the Grand Gulch drainage system and its myriad of ruins, rock art, and stunning canyon scenery. Other canyons score Cedar Mesa, however, and all of them hold Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs, pictographs, and general canyon country beauty, if you know where to look. Many of these canyons are much less visited than Grand Gulch.
Mule Canyon is one such canyon. Most folks who have traveled Utah Route 95 between Blanding and Lake Powell are familiar with the name, as there are some excavated and partially restored ruins that are signed along the road. Those ruins, and their trail, is described elsewhere here. Running just north of the Mule Canyon Road Ruins lays the South Fork of Mule Canyon. South Fork runs into North Fork just south of Route 95, and then drains into Comb Wash, at the foot of Comb Ridge, visible to the east from most of Cedar Mesa.
The trail begins at a dirt-fill crossing of South Fork. The dirt embankment is easily scaled on the west side, with a well defined trail leading down to the trail register.
From the trail register, the trail drops across a narrow arroyo, and then back up onto the other side, before crossing a grassy meadow at the bottom of the canyon. The arroyo and road embankment are the most serious elevation changes to contend with for a basic Mule Canyon hike.
For the most part the South Fork of Mule Canyon runs west-northwest for most of its course, with no real side canyons to speak of. At about 1.8 miles, there is a small draw on the north cliff face that can be used to access the mesa top between North and South forks, and can be used as a route to get to North Fork if one desires a loop or backpacking trip. The canyon bottom is flat, with very little of the steep arroyo cutting that marks Grand Gulch. The hiking is very easy, and the trail quite simple to follow, until about 3 miles from the trailhead. The trail deteriorates quickly then, and most turn back here. This is the figure I used to calculate the round-trip distance. In the spring there is often a flowing stream at the canyon bottom, and there are also seasonal springs up on some of the terraces of the canyon. Check with the Kane Gulch Ranger Station for the latest water information, though - the canyon is generally dry during the summer except for flash floods.
Mileage can quickly add up exploring ledges and such for Anasazi traces. The canyon has a fair amount of ruins and rock art, so the pursuit of such will not be in vain. One famous ruin in South Fork of Mule Canyon is Flaming Roof, or House on Fire, Ruin. This cliff dwelling, from the late 1200's, is well preserved and not a far hike from the trailhead. In fact, a quick hike to the canyon rim from the Mule Canyon Road Ruins shows the location of Flaming Roof quite well. I won't give away the specifics, though - discovery is half the fun, and its not terribly hard besides.
Lots of other ruins await the explorer in Mule Canyon. Once you have explored what you feel is enough, or have gone to the end of the trail, you return to your vehicle by the same route you came.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.