CEDAR MESA, Utah -
Standing on a wide stone shelf, looking across the canyon as
mid-morning sun lit the opposite side, I stood in silence viewing Moon House for the first time.
I stared at the complex of 800-year-old rooms with multiple doorways. Here was an entire stone village with both McElmo
style and Mesa Verde masonry, Kayenta Anasazi-style granaries with rounded horse-collar shaped doorways, and jacal
construction of upright woven willows and adobe. In the canyon's quiet with a breeze moving the cottonwood leaves
below, I felt suspended in time.
A century ago, tourists to the Southwest could visit remote ancestral Puebloan sites and know that they were some of
the first visitors in almost a thousand years. Willa Cather wrote, Such silence and stillness and repose. ... I knew
at once I had come upon the city of some extinct civilization, hidden away in this inaccessible mesa for centuries,preserved in the dry air and almost perpetual sunlight like a fly in amber, guarded by the cliffs." I wanted that same
As I hiked down the trail, I was approaching one of the last, best backcountry Anasazi sites in the Southwest, but I
was still unprepared for what I found. It's that sense of self-discovery that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in its
Monticello, Utah, field office seeks to preserve with new January 2010 rules for visiting Moon House.
The magic of Moon House is not only the approach, the steep descent, and the route-finding up the other side, but also
the inner chamber with its protective curtain wall containing 31 intentional loopholes strategically placed to aim
arrows at intruders. Erected in 1262 A.D., as determined by tree-ring dating of wood samples, the wall shields a hidden
courtyard similar to features in medieval European castles built in the same time period.
Behind the stone wall a suite of rooms contains original 800-year-old plaster. Soot from ancient fires covers the
ceiling. Anasazi finger impressions remain pressed into the adobe wattle-and-daub walls with their painted white
symbols like downward pointing mountain peaks. In one of the rooms a painted white border, approximately 6 inches wide,with a top row of white dot thumbprints, includes the moon's phases in negative relief, hence the name Moon House.
Years ago I sat in the back of that womb-like moon room. I marveled that despite being snug inside, over the top of the
outer protective wall I could see visitors approaching from across the canyon and even hear their every word. So it
seems that many aspects of Moon House were designed for defense. Recently the BLM obtained a Save America's Treasures"
grant, and with the assistance of the National Park Service, mapped the entire 49-room Moon House complex that
stretches one-quarter mile in McCloyd Canyon. Volunteers carried in 750 pounds of sand to place on the rooms' floors to
absorb moisture from human breath, which can damage the delicate moon-phase paintings. For further protection, entering
the rooms is now prohibited.
Southwestern archaeologist William Lipe knew such rules were coming. To the west of Cedar Mesa is Grand Gulch
Wilderness Study Area, and Lipe wrote, In Grand Gulch we are moving into an era of managed remoteness, of planned
romance. I think that is probably how it has to be if we are to preserve the qualities of the area at all in an
increasingly mobile and exploitative society." He added, The challenge is to have effective management that does not
itself overwhelm the values it is designed to protect."
Because 3,000 visitors annually hike into Grand Gulch, backpackers must get overnight permits at the Kane Gulch Ranger
Station. Beginning in January, hikers will need day-use permits for a 1,600-acre 2-mile stretch of McCloyd Canyon; Moon
House lies in the middle, between two large sandstone pouroffs within the Fish Creek Canyon Wilderness Study Area.
Dogs, overnight camping and fires along the rim are not permitted. To maintain that sense of self-discovery," daily
visitation will be limited to 36 people including clients of commercial outfitters. Group size will not exceed 12.
Monticello BLM Field Manager Tom Heinlein, with 1.8 million acres to oversee, explains that Moon House is part of one
huge Anasazi cultural landscape" and at 49 rooms one of the largest sites on Cedar Mesa. Heinlein says, People come
from around the world to visit southeast Utah, and we must maintain that backcountry discovery experience where
eco-tourism success depends upon respectful visitors."
Heinlein's staff recommended that Moon House receive additional protections because, like other Cedar Mesa sites now
well-known due of the Internet, The land is being hammered." He continues, We're trying to be as flexible as we can
to balance the protection of these fragile resources, while accommodating an appropriate level of heritage
Occupied for only 40 years or a single generation and built in three distinct phases, Moon House is important to the
public because its wonderful preservation makes it easy for visitors to imagine what it would have been like to have
lived there," archaeologist Lipe explains. To Pueblo people today it is significant as a place where some of their
ancestors lived and because its pictographs and kiva features represent ideas and images still important to them."
Constructed between 1226 and 1268 A.D., Moon House is a poignant symbol of the end of Anasazi occupation in the Four
Corners region. BLM Ranger Scott Edwards explains that the inhabitants farmed on top of Cedar Mesa and built an almost
excessive amount of granaries to pool their corn against bad times." He states, These structures were some of the very
last. By 1260-1270 if you were still here most of your neighbors had gone."
Durango author David Petersen and photographer Branson Reynolds collaborated on the book Cedar Mesa: A Place Where
Spirits Dwell. The text begins, It has been proposed that North America has lost all of its sacred places to
'progress,' and that most Americans wouldn't recognize the sacred in nature if it slapped them in the face." Petersen
adds, but Cedar Mesa is a uniquely magical desert place." I agree.
So I've already paid $20 for my 2010 annual Cedar Mesa permit, or white plastic hangtag, to attach to my truck's
rearview mirror. Now I'll have to contact the BLM in advance to bring friends to Moon House. I sigh over the increasing
bureaucracy and the rules and regulations, but I have to respect the BLM's intentions. When manager Tom Heinlein says,We're trying to look forward, more tourism is coming," I know he's right.
The telephone number for permits from the BLM's Monticello, Utah, office is (435) 587-1510.
firstname.lastname@example.org Andrew Gulliford is a professor of
Southwest studies and history at Fort Lewis College.