Walking Through Time

perfect kiva, bullet canyon
Perfect Kiva Ethereal : Prints Available

Ancient Puebloans, or Anasazi occupied southern Utah’s canyons for roughly 13,000 years, used kivas for ceremonies (mostly male) and sometimes habitation. Perfect Kiva is the one structure that visitors are encouraged to enter and is spectacular. Descending the ladder into the dusty confines, much warmer than above, I could feel a presence. So, I asked our friends on this backpacking adventure to move about during a long exposure to capture some of what I was feeling in this extraordinary place. Perfect Kiva is high in a drainage, beneath an alcove above Bullet Canyon. 

I had the map for about ten years, a dream trip into a network on canyons in Utah’s Cedar Mesa, south of Blanding, Utah with the highest concentration of ancient Native American ruins anywhere. A gathering of adventuresome hiking pals took us to Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch for a backpacking trip unlike any other. From ~ 12,000 BC to 1,260 AD, the Ancient Ones thrived in southern Utah’s canyonlands, leaving behind magnificent ruins, stories written on canyon walls in ancient hand, pieces of life in a harsh land, all wrapped in mystery. Long thought to have simply vanished, these Ancient Puebloans left the arid canyons in the 13th century to build a new life throughout the four corners region – these Natives of the southwest are still here. For those of us fortunate to visit, a rare glimpse into life before white Europeans awaits.

anasazi, puebloan
Metate and Mano : Prints Available

A metate holding corn cobs and mano stone used for grinding give visual clues into the life of Ancestral Puebloans. In the canyons of southern Utah, these ancient peoples, also referred to as the Anasazi, or Ancient Ones, invented irrigation to raise corn, beans, and squash – agriculture in an arid land that changed their hunter gatherer lifestyle. To visit these sites and imagine Native American life thousands of years ago is a gift.


Unfinished arrowhead, studied and returned to the exact location where I picked it up.


The Grand Gulch hiking experience follows the course of a stream, in and out of the streambed, through magnificent cottonwood gallery forests, and as my friend Jack Brauer told me – “if you think there may be a ruin, just look up, there probably is one.”


Headless figures and handprints petroglyphs in Sheik’s Canyon.


We climbed up steep sandstone to reach this ruin high above Bullet Canyon, a vertical landscape above the valley floor. The site was used for habitation, with a blackened ceiling, and likely for food storage where it could be protected and defended. Poking our heads inside, there are two rooms with a stone passageway. With the exhilarating climb and remarkable vantage point, this was a highlight of our journey.


Cottonwood gallery forests follow streams on the canyon bottoms. Here, Bullet Canyon runs from the bottom of the frame and Grand Gulch comes in from the right side at this important confluence.


Giant cottonwood trees seem to gesture and dance Along Kane Creek.


Each ruin has a midden, or trash pile where visitors are asked to keep off – there is plenty to be seen around the edges. Potsherds and arrowhead shavings show the craftsmanship of ancient artisans.


Roger shows a beautiful potsherd before returning it to the earth.


Water is life in the Utah canyonlands, and it’s important to know where to find reliable sources. We consulted with the ranger before launching, but this wet spring quenched both canyon and hikers with no difficulty finding water. The Ancient Ones lived through periods of extreme drought and food shortages. We would do well to learn from their experience as the Colorado River watershed is increasingly threatened.


Claret Cup cactus in full bloom.


In a very high alcove, remains of a ladder still dangle from Junction Ruin.


Our camp at the junction of Kane Creek and Grand Gulch before hiking out the next morning – rain began right after I made this image and continued all night, then cleared as we emerged from soaked tents to pack up. We hiked out in glorious sunshine, carrying memories of a walk through time.

29 thoughts on “Walking Through Time

  1. What an enchanted six-day trip with you and our amazing friends. You’ve captured the essence beautifully as always. I think I agree with Lucy on not being ready to leave the canyons, who needs a shower??? Thanks for a wonderful trip!

  2. Marla,
    Vicarious experience becomes extraordinary as presented by Dave. I couldn’t take my eyes off that hypnotic first photograph. Anasazi have always fascinated me with the spiritual “drag” their ruins gift.

  3. Wow, that kiva shots looks exactly like smoke; I would never have guessed it was a long exposure of people walking! And those neon green cottonwoods look so inviting. I miss the desert!

  4. I am utterly enchanted by the lack of a shower as you walk for days; it is of no concern. And then you come across the water sliding down the sandstone and the creek just deep enough too flip flop. I did that in the Sierras and stood up just in time to greet five coeds from Chico State: “Party school” they chanted as they walked on by.

  5. Dave, thanks so much for sharing these amazing pictures. It was a privilege to walk the miles within miles with you… enjoyed living those days again through your talented eyes! Gretchen

  6. Dave, thanks for a thoughtfully planned trip. The beauty and friendships forged on this trip will long be remembered. To Dave, Marla, Roger, Lucy and Gretchen it was a pleasure.

  7. Beautiful pictures, liked the historical aspect. The ruins were in very good shape. Thx for sharing

  8. Dave,

    Your Perfect Kiva image is truly magical… masterfully done!
    Thank you so much for sharing this adventure… my only regret is that I wasn’t able to accompany you folks on this wonderful backpack…


  9. Dave,
    I have been revisiting your blog. The descriptions and the story you tell are most interesting. I love the Kiva shot and all of them….you are a treasure of information.

  10. Hi Dave, I have walked many a canyon mile and visited many a ruin, but to see your wonderful photos just makes me want to do it all over again. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

  11. What a pleasure to revisit this trip through your lens, Dave! A magical week with wonderful friends.

  12. Dave,
    What a Magical photo tour and narratives. I actually thought the Perfect Kiva shot was infiltrated with orbs until I read how you brilliantly created it! My Favorite!! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing what really looked to be, a walk through time!

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