Grand Gulch: On the Trail of Utah's Secret Kivas

By Phillips, Jeff | Sunset, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Grand Gulch: On the Trail of Utah's Secret Kivas


Phillips, Jeff, Sunset


Specks of dust dance in the solitary shaft of sunlight streaming into Perfect Kiva. The opening darkens as Laura Lantz of the BLM slowly climbs down a ladder. Cedar ceiling timbers frame this precarious entry. They are still blackened by smoke from ancient ceremonial fires, whose sooty evidence has been preserved by the dry southeast Utah air.

As our eyes grow accustomed to the gloomy light inside Perfect Kiva, built at least 700 years ago by the Anasazi, Lantz points out the faint scrawl of C. Graham on one of the hand-formed mud walls. "Graham came through here in the 1890s and was the first to raid this archaeological site," she says with a shake of her head. "The artifacts he took are now in the Field Museum in Chicago."

Lantz takes a dim view of anyone who removes baskets, pots, even pottery shards, from the ruins scattered through the tangle of canyons that are part of the 37,580-acre Grand Gulch Primitive Area. As a seasonal BLM ranger, she's seen what looting by modern pot hunters can do to an archaeological site.

Climbing back into the cool, sweet morning air, we walk through the rest of the ruins tucked under a smooth, red wall of overhanging sandstone. In the loose dirt are grinding rocks, broken shards, a strand of yucca twine woven with rabbit fur, and tiny dried corn-cobs. "The ground here used to be carpeted with shards like this," she says, putting a painted fragment of clay back where she found it. "Last year some 7,000 people hiked into these canyons. Think what will be left in a few more years if everybody takes just one."

Perfect Kiva isn't the only ruin in Grand Gulch. Archaeologist Dale Davidson of the BLM's Monticello office says that the Cedar Mesa region - of which Grand Gulch is the centerpiece - is one of the richest archaeological troves in the nation. …

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