Press "Enter" to skip to content

Hidden in the Shadows of the Bears Ears

Thanksgiving Weekend | Cedar Mesa Chronicles: Chapter 2
Thursday – Sunday, November 26-29, 2020

This year for Thanksgiving we were originally thinking about changing up our typical plans and spending the long holiday weekend in northern New Mexico instead. However, with the pandemic essentially shutting down travel into New Mexico right now we decided it would be best for us to stay in southern Utah and return to Cedar Mesa like we usually do. While we would normally get a hotel room in Blanding for this annual trip, we were not really comfortable staying at a hotel this time around, so we decided to pack up our warmest gear and camp the entire weekend.

Canyon Light

It’s been over a decade since I last visited The Citadel, and to be honest, that ruin has gotten so popular since then I really had no desire to return. However, I still wanted Diane to be able to see it at least once, so last year we had planned to hike out to it on Thanksgiving Day, thinking that it would be one of the least popular days of the year for people to hike it. Unfortunately, we never got to test that theory since a winter storm changed those plans for us. Since we never got the opportunity last year, I figured we would try again this year, even though I suspected there would probably be more people around with the way COVID has affected outdoor crowds this year.

Land Bridge

We were in no hurry to get an early start on Thursday since I wanted to hike to The Citadel in the late afternoon to catch the sunset while we were there, so we slept in a little later and then left after breakfast. After making it up onto Cedar Mesa we first stopped by Natural Bridges National Monument to see if we would be able to find a campsite there. We have camped at Natural Bridges for Thanksgiving before, and the last time there was only one other occupied site in the campground. This time we set up in the only available campsite that was left when we arrived! Besides the campground being busier this time around, I guess you also now have to pay for campsites here in the off-season- the last time it was free camping during the winter. After getting camp set up for the weekend we hopped back in the Jeep and drove over to the trailhead for The Citadel.

Road Canyon

When we arrived at the trailhead for The Citadel there were a couple vehicles parked in the area. It appeared that some were just camping and some were already out hiking. As we hiked out to the ruins we passed two groups coming back and then didn’t see anyone else the rest of the evening. Although it was overcast when we first reached the ruins, we stuck around and the sun did come back out in time for a beautiful sunset! It was a perfect way to spend our Thanksgiving together!

Thanksgiving Evening at The Citadel

The Citadel Ruins


Canyon Shadow

Thanksgiving Cedar Mesa Sunset

Sleeping Ute Mountain View

Hiking Back

Back On the Mesa

Colorful Sky

Light On the Rim

Cedar Mesa Sunset

After spending our Thanksgiving at The Citadel we then spent the rest of the long weekend exploring other parts of Cedar Mesa. Temperatures during the day were excellent for hiking, but we did have to deal with the long cold nights at camp, but I think it was worth it. Enjoy the following photos taken during the rest of our weekend spent exploring Cedar Mesa In the Shadows of the Bears Ears!

This is such a great petroglyph panel!

Duckhead Petroglyphs

Tafoni Cove

Tafoni Cove

Yellow Rock Ruin

Yellow Rock Ruin

While exploring a couple shallow alcoves, I came across this old kettle and coffee tin.

Cowboy Coffee

Box Ruin

Box Ruin

The roof of Box Ruin was in really good shape.

Nice Roof

I don’t see this too often, but this wall has some very interesting design elements.

Interior Decorating

There’s even an impression of a corn cob.

Corn Cob Impression

I think this might be the largest petroglyph of an atlatl I have ever seen!

Huge Atlatl Panel

Navajo Rocks Ruin

Navajo Rocks Ruin

We saw some really nice petroglyphs this weekend!

Wide Panel

This is a ruin I’ve been trying to find for a while, and was happy to finally come across it.

Arch Alcove Ruin

It’s tucked away at the back of this alcove which also contains a nice arch. It appears there used to be a wall built up in the opening of the arch that has since fallen.

Arch Ruin

It has a very nice T-shaped door.

T-Shaped Door

Looking inside it appears that this may have been a square kiva, which are common in this area.

Square Kiva Interior

Ruin In The Sun

Ruin In The Sun

Long Necks

Long Necks

A great view of Comb Ridge from the edge of Cedar Mesa.

Comb Ridge View

We almost missed this petroglyph panel as we walked right by it. It was much harder to see when it was in direct sunlight.

Point Petroglyph Panel

Tafoni Sculpture

Tafoni Sculpture

This was our home for the weekend. Campsite #4 at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Natural Bridges Campsite

These are probably the best petroglyphs we saw all weekend!

Very Nice Petroglyphs

Alcove Eyes

Alcove Eyes

Three Ruins

Three Ruins

While pictographs of hands are very common, petroglyphs of hands are not, and there were a bunch of them right here.

Petroglyph Hands

Ruin Overlook

Ruin Overlook

I climbed up to an alcove because I thought I had spotted some ruins inside, but all I found was some cool tafoni.

Consolation Tafoni

A lichen-covered design.


Tower At the Edge

Tower At the Edge

These ruins were constructed with a mud mortar that is whiter than we usually see.

Ledge Ruins

I like the little paw print in this petroglyph panel.

Paw Panel

Tower Ruins

Tower Ruins

The following six photos were all taken in the same area and show petroglyphs where the creator utilized natural features in the rock as part of the final image. We thought this was really unusual and cool.

Hole In The Head

Belly Button

The Alien

Atlatl Panel

Climbing The Crack

Head Like A Hole

>> Cedar Mesa Chronicles 2 Photo Gallery


  1. Dianne
    Dianne December 13, 2020

    These are so pretty! I haven’t seen The Citadel looking better. Also, you had some great ruins I never saw! And I loved the rock art. Thanks so much! You take fantastic pics of the SW!! When will you do a book?

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat December 13, 2020

      This website will probably be the closest I ever get to doing a book.

  2. Harvey Halpern
    Harvey Halpern December 14, 2020

    Hi Randy,

    Wanted to thank you for improving my vocabulary. Had never heard the term “tafoni” before, looked it up and learnt something. We’ve always called particularly large and good examples of tafoni – “Ghouls Walls”. The best example of the thousands we’ve seen are a wall in upper Chimney Canyon in the San Rafael Swell.

  3. randy gerdes
    randy gerdes December 14, 2020

    What great shots! I appreciate the time you take to get good ones of the rock art, and these were incredible. Thanks for doing such a great job of “taking us with you.” I had a chance to hike into Lower Fish Creek in September. Hot, and thick with tall brush and reeds, but nice to visit and photography. Always interested in your posts. Thanks.

  4. Debra
    Debra December 18, 2020

    Such a beautiful area with amazing history. We’ve been to Natural Bridges NM & camped a short distance away. We definitely have a reason to revisit the area. Thanks for the great photos.

  5. Andrew
    Andrew November 22, 2022

    Hi! I saw this post which gave me some inspiration to visit the Citadel for sunset. While I brought my camera, it was pretty close to sunset so I was more intent on route finding than photography (amazing hike). I was curious – for your sunset photos at the Citadel, what camera settings did you use?

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat November 22, 2022

      I don’t really use any special camera settings…I typically just keep my camera in Aperture Priority mode at either f8 or f11 and let the camera figure out the rest. – “f/8 and be there”

Leave a Reply