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Ancient Ones Of Beef Basin

Posted in Events on November 14, 2007
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I am Tawa. I am light. I am life. I am father of all that will come."The Anasazi Indians, also referred to as the "Ancient Ones," make up one of this country's greatest unsolved mysteries. Where did they come from and where did they go? How does an entire civilization simply vanish without a trace? An even more perplexing mystery is: Why? Why did an entire civilization simply vanish without a trace?

Among Indian tribes, there are numerous creation legends. These stories that are passed down from generation to generation attempt to explain the origin of Earth and the life it supports. Such legends can be found in abundance with simple Internet searches.

The following version of the narrative contains a little bit of several different versions while maintaining the overall structure as passed down to the Hopi Indians by the Ancient Ones.

Moving a fallen tree to open the road.

Creation LegendAll the mysteries and powers of the Above belonged to Tawa, referred to in all time as the Sun God. The magic of the Below was controlled by Spider Woman, referred to in all time as the Earth Goddess. There was only the Above and the Below without space or time. There was not Earth, not people, not man nor beast.

There came a time when Tawa and Spider Woman joined together in the Below and shared one thought to create the Earth and place it between the Above and the Below. And so they sat side by side, swaying their beautiful bodies and using the sound of their own voices to form the first magic song of rushing winds and flowing waters. It was a song of light and life.

Within the wind could be heard the sound of Tawa's voice singing, "I am Tawa. I am light. I am life. I am father of all that will come."

The route into the Manti-La Sal National Forest.

His song was followed by that of Spider Woman as her voice carried in the wind. "I receive the light of Tawa. I nourish life. I am mother of all that will come."

Tawa continued with thoughts that the Earth will have many kinds of birds that sail in the skies above, beasts that roam the lands, and fish that swim the waters.

Spider Woman chanted, "Let the thoughts of Tawa come to be."

Her long slender fingers picked up clay and the thoughts of Tawa began to take form. But they neither moved nor breathed.

Elk on the road.

Tawa looked down on Spider Woman's lifeless creations and decided it was not good for them to simply lie still. "We must join together, my beloved. We must make a mighty magic to create spirits for all that will live on Earth."

Using a magic blanket made of woven woolen fleece as light as a cloud, they covered Spider Woman's creations and joined in a mighty chant. The forms began to breathe and stir beneath the blanket and all of them took on life with their new spirits.

Tawa was pleased. "Now my beloved, we make those in our own image to rule over these lesser creatures."

The road to Showcase Ruin.

Spider Woman picked up the clay and made forms of man and woman. They placed the magic blanket over them and repeated the magic chant, but the forms did not take life. Spider Woman picked up the forms and hugged them to her breasts. Tawa stared upon the forms with his glowing eyes. They joined together and sang, creating the Song of Life, and the human figures breathed and took life with the spirits given to them.

Tawa was pleased. He declared that nothing new need be made. The living creations would multiply and flourish on the Earth once it was created.

Tawa returned to the Above, where he gathered water and formed Earth between the Above and the Below. He spent each day on a journey across the Above and went home at night to his wife. Each day his blazing sun burned water away until the land was exposed.

Showcase Ruin.

Spider Woman separated her creatures between those who would live below the surface of the land and those who would live above. The ones who would live above were led through the caverns of the Below until they reached a Sipapu Hole, which is an opening to the surface of the land exposed by Tawa's Sun.

Spider Woman then used her magic to create the Great Plumed Serpent (lightning) to fertilize the Earth. She created rain clouds so green things would spring up beneath Tawa's Sun to feed her children.

Spider Woman was pleased with all that was. She assured her children that she and Tawa would watch over them and help them to multiply.

Her children looked upon her shining beauty. She raised her hand and began to spin in whirlpool fashion as she became one with Earth and disappeared from sight.

This legend is as it was passed down by the Ancient Ones.

Tower Ruin.

Lone Writer has been tracking the Ancient Ones for two decades. His favorite discoveries are the cliff dwellings, especially the ones that served as home to large groups. Visiting and revisiting those special places provides Lone Writer with many hours of backcountry entertainment.

Lone Writer arrived in Blanding, Utah, on a Tuesday evening. He went into a steak restaurant for dinner and met four other members of the unorganized Internet group that refers to itself as the Lone Riders. In this case, Sundance, Happy Jack, Boss, and Mongo were the drivers. They had been in the area for several days exploring trails near Lake Powell and were on their way to Moab. When Lone Writer told them where he was going, they decided to tag along.

The journey began with a turn off Highway 95, east of Comb Ridge. Tawa was completing his daily journey across the sky and was disappearing behind the Western horizon. Spider Woman's canyons were dissolving into the shadows. The group pulled off the road and followed a faint trail to the bottom of a deep valley and camped beside a small creekbed.

The following morning, the Lone Riders began the 20-mile journey to the intersection that would take them across the Manti-La Sal National Forest to Beef Basin. The first obstacle to overcome was a tree that had fallen across the road. Lone Writer signaled Sundance to back his Blazer up to the tree. A strap was tied to the tree, and the roadway was quickly cleared.

The climb into the Manti-La Sal Mountains provided endless scenic views into gorgeous canyons and valleys. One crossing called Big Notch connects two mountains with a narrow passage that drops 1,000 feet on both sides. The Lone Riders found themselves quickly filling the memory cards of their digital cameras.

Wildlife sightings came in abundance. Wild turkeys, elk, deer, and a variety of hawks and eagles all took the time to check out the visitors. The topping of every hill and the turn of every corner brought another reason to snap more photos.

Farm House Ruin in Ruin Park.

Shortly past noon, the Lone Riders arrived at the Beef Basin registration box. They made a left turn and then another to enter Beef Basin Wash. A short distance later, they arrived at the parking area for the cliff dwelling Lone Writer calls "Showcase Ruin."

In getting to this point, they had already bypassed dozens of small cliff dwellings. Nearly every road in Beef Basin leads to some sort of structure left behind by the Ancient Ones. Some were no more than storage rooms where grain could be kept for future use. Others were used as lookout towers, and others were used to simply protect the Ancient Ones against the environment created by Tawa and Spider Woman.

The hike to Showcase Ruin is a strenuous one. Those with a sharp eye can bring it in close with binoculars from a position in the center of the valley. Due to a thick stand of trees, Showcase is not visible from the parking area, but numerous trails are worn into the landscape from those who have climbed the rocks to get a closer look.

Bobby's Hill.

Lone Writer led the way up the steep cliffs while the others followed. One by one, the followers dropped out until the only one reaching Showcase was the leader. He took some photos and leaned back on a huge rock to think about the people who had built it. Where did they go?

By the time Lone Writer returned to his car, the others were anxious to go. They took the road back to the registration box and stopped by a dwelling that was shaped like a tower or silo. It once had more than one floor and included a kiva with a sipapu hole from which Spider Woman led mankind in the beginning and to which all spirits eventually return.

The next stop was Ruin Park. This structure was the headquarters for a huge farming community. A historic marker dates it back to the year 1100.

For anyone not interested in driving his 4x4 over some serious rockcrawling, Ruin Park should be the point to turn around and head for Blanding. Simply return to the registration box, turn left, and follow the signs.

Lone Writer welcomes rockcrawling challenges. The rest of the group voted to follow him into Canyonlands and over Elephant Hill. Navigation points are not required. Simply follow the signs.

Entering Canyonlands National Park.

The first obstacle the Lone Riders reached is known as Bobby's Hill. Its condition varies significantly with every heavy rain. A sign at the top warns that 4WD is required and that anyone who continues does so at their own risk.

Careful maneuvering was required to avoid banging the underside of the stock vehicles, but everyone made it down the hill without sustaining any damage. From Bobby's Hill, the Lone Riders entered Bobby's Hole and followed the narrow path across grassy valleys and through numerous rocky passages.

They eventually reached SOB Hill and found it had been recently repaired to the point that no extra care was required to pass over it. A rock art panel left behind by the Ancient Ones sent everyone reaching for cameras.

The next major obstacle was Silver Stairs, and then came the infamous Elephant Hill. Both require careful maneuvering to keep from banging a vehicle's underside. In both cases, the line of travel must be calculated before pushing ahead. Getting a tire a few inches in the wrong direction will cause loss of traction or banging the underside of the vehicle. If that happens, the only solution is to pick another line and try again.

Asphalt has been added to Silver Stairs and to Elephant Hill in recent years to reduce the threat of damage and lessen the strain on vehicles. Even so, the challenge can be off the chart for an amateur who does not have an experienced coach to guide the way.

By the time the Lone Riders crossed Elephant Hill and stopped at the parking lot to rest, Tawa had once again completed his journey across the sky and was settling on the horizon. Some of the group decided to go to Moab and look for a motel room with hot showers. Lone Writer, Sundance, and Happy Jack decided to find a campsite near Indian Creek. They were considering a trip to another famous rock art panel left behind by the Ancient Ones. It is often referred to as Birthing Rock. The back way to Birthing Rock goes by way of Lockhart Basin... but that's another story.

Larry E. Heck is the author of numerous backcountry adventure stories dating back to 1985. An e-book about the Ancient Ones is available for downloading at his website, For additional information, write to or call (303) 910-7647.

PhotosView Slideshow
PhotosView Slideshow
From Blanding, Utah, take Highway 95 west. At the 115 Mile Post, turn right going north.
0.0 37 33.7732 109 35.0175 Turn right at 115 Mile Post off Highway 95.
7.9   Left on South Elks Road.
19.5 37 40.5694 109 47.8458 Turn right on North Elk Ridge toward Gooseberry.
34.3 37 50.4156 109 46.4464 Left fork on County Road 224.
37.5 37 52.7351 109 47.5098 Right fork. Sign for Beef Basin 14 miles.
39.9 37 54.3545 109 47.4453 Left turn at sign on County Road 104.
49.1/0.0 37 58.7898 109 52.4068 Registration box for Beef Basin. Left goes to Showcase Ruin. Reset trip meter.
1.8 37 {{{57}}}.4457 109 53.0744 Left onto County Road 199.
4.9 37 56.8171 109 50.5551 Right fork.
5.1 37 56.7794 109 50.7211 Park for ruin hike. It is west of the parking area at the top of the cliffs. Numerous hiking trails lead to it. Take a bottle of water.
  Return to the registration box.
0.0 37 58.7898 109 52.4068 Registration box for Beef Basin. Reset trip meter.
2.9 38 0.3824 109 53.8534 Left goes to the tower-shaped ruin.
3.9 38 0.6916 109 54.5838 Left to Farm House Ruin.
4.5 38 0.5764 109 55.0635 Farm House parking.

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