16 Room Ruin - near Bluff, Utah
Ever had that moment when you wanted to explore an archaeological site without the crowds? Although I was enjoying my spring break trip to places like Canyonlands National Park, I wanted some time in a less traveled location. During my exploration of things to do in southeast Utah, I was pointed in the direction of 16 Room Ruin near the town of Bluff.
Late afternoon sun on one of the dirt roads we traveled.
This Pueblo III ruin used to be easily accessible from a footbridge over the San Juan River. However, the bridge washed out in 2007, and has not been rebuilt. While the ruin is still accessible from the river, to drive to it is quite a journey. We researched online and found some rather convoluted directions, and set off with perhaps more optimism than sense to see if we could find this ruin. It sounded simple enough, but we almost turned back at several points as we traveled far south of the ruin to find various dirt roads leading back to it. At times, the directions I had seemed to contradict themselves, and I wondered if we would ever find the place!
View of 16 Room Ruin
Apparently this ruin is known by many different names (like 16 Room House, 17 Room Ruin, etc.). For sake of consistency, I am referring to it as 16 Room Ruin. Curved under a massive rock overhang, the ruin blends with the rock wall. We could see it tucked in the alcove far above the road, so we parked and scrambled up to it. There was no trail that I could see, although when the bridge was intact, this ruin received many more visitors.
Gap in the exterior wall of the ruin.
There was a sizeable gap in the exterior wall of the ruin allowing us to enter. I must confess even though I knew this place had been depleted of any artifacts long ago, I found it exciting to be here. We were careful to not disturb any walls, and only explored rooms where low walls and gaps made it possible to enter without climbing or putting our weight on the fragile walls. To preserve this ancient home for future generations, utmost care must be taken to prevent further damage to these delicate remnants. That being said, this was one of my favorite places on our trip.
Inside 16 Room Ruin
Once inside, I marveled at the tiny rooms. I wondered how tall the former residents were. How many rooms here were used for living space, and which rooms were used for storage? How many people could live in a place like this? Two or three families? One large extended family group? With all signs of occupancy stripped from the site, I could only speculate.
Room with a view.
Fields stretched below us, with the river bottoms in sight. What a view! 16 Room Ruin faces north, unusual in a Pueblo site. But the alcove contains a perfect, sheltered ledge on which to build, and the rooms feel very safe and defensible. With water and flat land suitable for cultivation nearby, it is not surprising that these rooms were constructed here.
Interior of 16 Room Ruin
Of course, hundreds of years ago these rooms would have been roofed. The rocks used to form the walls lacked any uniformity of size and shape, but since the walls were still intact after all these years, the construction method was obviously effective. I could see small holes in some of the lower walls, and wondered if they were used as peepholes to see out, or if they provided ventilation.
Holes for seeing out, or for ventilation?
The east side of the ruin has a series of holes along its interior, where logs could have been placed to create a floor for a second story. It is highly possible that this section of the ruin had two stories. Not only are there holes to support a second floor, the walls above that area differ in construction style. Since there are not many possibilities for outside entrances in the existing walls, there may have also been roof entrances for these buildings.
Uniform row of holes on the left could have held logs for a second story.
Late afternoon was beautiful up here, and very peaceful. We took our time just looking at the remnants of an ancient society. I doubt anything would remain of my current home in 1,000 years, and it is amazing that so much has survived.
Handprints above 16 Room Ruin
Handprints are etched in the rock wall that rises above the ruin. Are the reddish spots naturally occurring, or were they placed here by the original residents? Coming to a place like this raises more questions than it answers. I wonder how many early residents of Bluff took home a souvenir from this place. What remnants used to rest on these dirt floors? What secrets do these walls hold?
This eastern section of the room appears to have had two stories.
Back outside, we prepared to scramble down the steep, overgrown slope. I didn't see signs of anyone coming up here recently, and I was glad there wasn't a well-traveled trail. It preserves the solitude of this wonderful place.
Rooms on the western end of 16 Room Ruin.
We did not access all areas of this ruin, as we did not want to damage any of the walls. I have no idea if there really are 16 rooms, or where this count originated. I suspect any such count must include second story rooms. The alcove just isn't that large.
Rocks on the way down the slope.
As we picked our way down the slope back to the parking turnout, we spied many smooth, rounded rocks. They look as though they tumbled through the river many years ago. Smooth and colorful, we chose rocks that fit comfortably in our hands, and then, we set them back on the slope, taking nothing with us from this place.
Eastern section of 16 Room Ruin
Having traveled much further than we anticipated to reach the ruin, we were later than we had planned heading back to Bluff. We stopped at the Twin Rocks Cafe, and ate delicious fry bread with our dinners. After eating cinnamon ice cream for dessert, we were refreshed and ready for the short drive back to Blanding, Utah. What a wonderful day!
Just east of the alcove where the ruin rests.