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Moki Canyon Anasazi: Ghosts of Lake Powell

There are hundreds of Anasazi ruins and rock art panels in the Glen Canyon area. Some are in remote spots that are difficult to reach. Others are easily accessible — easy to spot if you are watchful. I enjoy seeking them out. Sometimes I'll explore a distant canyon just because I've heard it shelters an ancient site. These sites add to my enjoyment of the Lake Powell area. It amazes me that the Anasazi people lived — indeed, seemed to thrive — in the harsh and rugged environment of the canyon.

The lake has turned the canyon into a play area, making it easy to zoom at full throttle into its distant reaches. Often, as we play at break-neck speeds, we fail to see or appreciate many of the subtleties of the area. For instance, Moki Canyon is one of the most popular on the lake. It's close to Bullfrog and it is very scenic, so it draws tremendous boat traffic. It offers good fishing and there are excellent campsites on sandy beaches near its end. People zoom in and out, fish and play, some never realizing there is an ancient Anasazi structure right at the water's edge — in plain view of those who know how to see.

Anasazi lived in these canyons for centuries. Some of their rockwork has stood silent guard over the canyons for a thousand years. I'm awestruck by these enduring monuments. They make me wonder, "A thousand years from now, what will stand as a monument to our culture?"

I love to play at Powell. I dash from place to place, trying to fit as much fun as possible into a short vacation. But sometimes, for a few minutes, I sit quietly and stare with wonder at the carefully crafted rock walls. How long did it take an Anasazi clan to construct a cliff dwelling? How long did it take the Colorado River to carve these scenic canyons? Why am I in such a hurry? Perhaps the best way to enjoy Powell is slowly and thoughtfully.

Moki is one of the better canyons at Powell to seek out Anasazi ruins. The structure mentioned above is located near the back of the canyon, in an overhang on the north wall (left as you come up the canyon), just above the high water mark.

Two impressive multi-unit complexes can be viewed by hiking a short distance up the canyon. It's an easy hike to the first ruin, about a half-mile from the water's edge, on the north wall.

The complex is two levels up from the canyon floor. They can be viewed plainly from the trail, and those who want to brave a moderately difficult scramble can see them up close. Remember not to enter the structures, climb on the walls or haul pieces away. The structures have stood for 1,000 years — let's keep them around for a few more. It's against the law to disturb them. The next complex is about a mile up the canyon. It's on the south wall, again two levels up from the canyon floor. It's not possible to get up to these structures. The ancient people chiseled steps into the cliff face. They are plainly visible, but not adequate to allow any modern man to climb the wall. The site is well known, but has probably never been explored because of the impossibility of getting up the ledge. Moki Canyon can be hiked for miles. It offers other ruins, but they are not easy to find.

Apparently, at one time a large population of ancient people lived in the canyon. Many structures were flooded by the lake. Others have eroded over time. The sandstone which forms the canyon walls is soft and erosion has been fairly rapid. The only structures which have survived are those which were built in protected spots.

We noticed two small corncobs below one ruin, but no other artifacts. Not even pottery shards. Artifacts tumble down the hillsides to the canyon floor. But the floor has obviously eroded significantly in recent years; most artifacts have been washed into the area now covered by the lake.

On a recent trip I wanted to explore the upper part of the canyon and so I hiked in. The canyon is only about a mile from Highway 276, which runs from Halls Crossing to Highway 95, below Hite. I parked at Cal Black Airport and hiked north until I reached the canyon. They I walked along the rim until I found a route down. It's an easy hike across sand dunes and slickrock to the canyon rim, and then a moderate scramble to the bottom. In the canyon, hiking is difficult in spots because of thick brush. It's often best to hike right up the stream.

I also hiked down to the lake. It was a fun way to explore the canyon. I did it as a day hike, but the best approach would be to backpack and spend two days.

There is a year-round stream in the bottom of the canyon, and so water is not a problem. However, all water should be treated or filtered before use. There are cattle in the upper canyon.

There are also several impressive ruins plainly visible from Highway 276.