See our Citadel photo album.
Road Canyon juts east from Cedar Mesa, opposite Grand Gulch (its larger and more famous neighbor). All of the canyons in this area shelter good numbers of ancient Anasazi Indian ruins. Road, in particular, has some I find astounding. Road has long been a favorite destination when I want to disappear into uncharted beauty and mystery. I’ve hesitated to write about it; hoping it would remain obscure and thus protected from the hordes of hikers who overrun Grand Gulch and other nearby areas.
But, alas, Road Canyon has been discovered. Photos and descriptions can now be found on other websites. On a trip into the canyon last weekend I was surprised to find a well-established hiker path leading to the spectacular Citadel Ruin.
Road has been discovered! People are coming. It’s impossible to hide such treasures from the world. The only hope is to educate and encourage people to act responsibly when they visit these areas. So here I go, offering up the Citadel.
Anasazi people thrived in the Four Corners area from about 200-1300 AD. For reasons unknown, they chose to live in this starkly beautiful but harsh desert canyon country. They raised corn, domesticated turkeys and hunted on the nearby hills. They learned to work with native rock, building multi-room homes, large kivas for religious ceremonies, towers and storerooms. They also created beautiful pottery and intricately woven baskets.
Large groups lived in the area we now call Cedar Mesa, in SW Utah. Many well-preserved structures can be found there, along with artifacts like pottery shards, corncobs and grindstones. Many dwellings were built under alcoves, into the shelter of sheer canyon walls, where they have survived more than a thousand years.
The Anasazi, it seems, where mostly peaceful throughout their long history. But the Citadel and some other ruins suggest they went to great lengths to protect themselves from enemies. The Citadel is a formidable ancient fortress, a retreat that was virtually impossible to attack.
The ruins were built just under the rim of a towering rock formation at the end of a peninsula extending out into Road Canyon. Sheer walls make it impossible to reach the site from the canyon below. The only access is by scrambling down a rocky slope and then crossing the narrow neck of the peninsula. The remains of rock walls can be seen along the narrow neck, built as check points to control access to the fortress. Any attacker would be fully exposed to deadly arrows and other weapons used by the defenders.
I think the Anasazi lived in and farmed the surrounding area, and retreated to the Citadel when they felt threatened.
The ruins and associated artifacts are some of the most impressive in the region.
Early Anglos carried thousands of pots, baskets and other artifacts from these canyons. Many went into museums and private collections. The BLM, which manages the area, now tries to control access to preserve the ruins and relics. Happily, the hordes of people visiting adjacent canyons are well behaved, for the most part. There is almost no litter in these canyon and most hikers resist the temptation to put pottery shards into their pockets.
However, there is a growing danger that these areas will be loved to death, harmed by the vast number of well-meaning enthusiasts who visit the area. It is vital that hikers here learn to enjoy without impacting the environment. If you want to explore this area, learn about the rules and get proper permits. You need a permit to day hike or backpack into these canyons. BLM’s website has info.
The hike to the Citadel is relatively short. The trail is easy where it follows the canyon rim, but becomes moderately difficult where you have to scramble down the rocks to get onto the peninsula’s narrow neck. If you choose your route careful, the hike is safe even for children. However, if you don’t pay attention you could easily get ledged or exposed to danger on the edge of sheer cliffs. This is not country for casual hikers.
I’m not giving specific instructions for hiking the Citadel. If you know how to ready a topographic map, you can find it without much trouble. If you don’t know how to read such a map, you have no business hiking here.
If you want an easy, controlled introduction to the region, make the short hike to the impressive ruins in nearby Butler Wash.