House on Fire Ruins - A Photographer's Dream

While planning this trip, we stumbled upon Internet photos of House on Fire Ruins, just one of many, many unmarked Indian ruins in Southern Utah. The photos we saw of this one really stood out so, of course, we wanted to see it. Precise information for getting to this cliff dwelling wasn't, however, easy to find online. I'm about to change that!

It is near Blanding, Utah, unmarked but not far off the highway. The trail is short (less than a mile) and easy. You could hike to it in time for late-afternoon-sun photography, stay another hour, and still be back at your vehicle well before dark.

House on Fire Ruins

Gee, wonder how it got its name?

House on Fire cliff dwelling

The cliff dwelling is easy to access to take a peek in.

Utah House on Fire Ruins

Low afternoon is best for the "flame" effect.

Don't wait for sunset before you hike to it - you may miss your shot. The ruins is in a fairly narrow section of the canyon and the sun sets behind the wall a little bit early. Even mid-day, the "flame" effect is very obvious and easy to capture. (If we could do it, anyone can.)

How to Get There

If you'd like directions and the coordinates at the ruins, scroll down to bottom of the page.

The Week in Review: Randy Works a Miracle


The miracle-worker himself

The very first thing I need to tell you about his week is that I screwed up. Each week, I download the photos from the camera to the laptop in preparation for this blog. It is, by now, a familiar routine for me. I do the download, check the first and last photos, make a second copy to an external usb drive (just in case), then delete the camera's memory card so it's fresh and ready for another week. This week, something went wrong in the middle of the download but somehow I missed this fact. I'm going to blame it on being very tired and wanting to do this one last task before going to bed. I proceeded as usual and then, on the camera, pressed DELETE ENTIRE MEMORY CARD - are you sure? YES. And I went to bed.

Randy stayed up later and did something he never does - opened the computer to look at the photos. He was particularly interested in those of "House on Fire Ruins" but, they weren't there! Not only were these photos missing but, by morning, I verified that more than half this week's photos had somehow not been made it to the laptop (or to the back-up drive). The file transfer must not have been completed when I presumed it was. And now they were gone from the camera's memory too - never to be retrieved. Or, so it seemed.

Although miracles are not his specialty, Randy was able to pull one out of his arse(enal) that morning. In fact, he reached into his back pocket to retrieve a usb stick from his wallet. On it, he had a copy of "O&O" - a data recovery program that he had thought to bring on the trip (just in case). Believe it or not (I still hardly can), he was able to recover all the deleted photos on the camera's memory card.

I admit that I'm often guilty of wondering why he spends so much time researching "obscure" software, etc. etc. but I'm sure you can imagine the "hero worship" on my part during the remainder of that day!

The Rest of the Week Could Hardly Live up to That!

But it came close! At Capital Reef we found a hike in the park, Capital Gorge, that we were surprised we had never done on previous visits. It was an easy hike that offered some great rewards: a great narrow canyon, petroglyhs and historical pioneer signatures, natural water tanks, and a short, easy climb into the domes level of the park.

Castle Rock, Capital Reef National Park

Castle Rock: a classic Capital Reef view.

Capital Reef National Park

Does this not remind you of German Chocolate Cake?

When I mentioned German Chocolate Cake to Randy, he didn't know what I meant. That's it- we need to find him (and me) some - real soon. Yum!

We Went to the Slots (Canyons, that is - Not Slot Machines)

Our next destination was the San Rafael Swell where we hiked two slot canyons: Bell and Little Wild Horse. The latter is barely wider than five feet and often only shoulder-width for nearly a full mile of its length.

Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon

Little Wild Horse - a really fun slot hike

Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon

Barely shoulder-width, this is one of the narrowest slots in all of Utah.

Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon

In places, there was barely room to put one foot in front of the other.

There were a lot of little kids (five years and under) in the canyon on the day we were there and, as you can imagine, squeeling with delight. It made me wish I could wisk our grandbabies here to join us. What a treat for kids (of any age). By the way, we were surprised that Little Wild Horse Canyon is now even more accessible - there is a paved road all the way to the trailhead.

Natural Bridges

Natural Bridges National Park has the highest concentration of natural bridges in the world - yet there are only three in the park.

A rare occurence for us: the forecast for the entire week was for cold and rainy weather. We were concerned at first that it could interfere with our plans. After all, most roads that we camp on are marked "Impassable When Wet". It took us a couple of days to realize the most threatening clouds only seemed to produce a "sprinkle" of rain. This happened daily and we had to put on a coat a few times but within a few hours, the sun poked through and we would be back in shorts and a T-shirt.

Natural Bridges National Park

Kachina Natural Bridge

Scenes from Camp

We're on a real roll since we entered Utah. We've camped in amazing scenery every single night and have paid for camping only once.

Near Goblin Valley

This campsite was guarded by goblins.

Near Goblin Valley

And had another neat feature: a secluded patio area.


When the campground at Capital Reef filled - they sent the RV-4-Rent crowd to boondock with us.


Comb Ridge - as seen from our campsite (after the rain).

Directions for House on Fire Ruins

First of all - credit where it is due: We had only a vague idea of the location but we got good directions from a ranger at Natural Bridges National Park.

House on Fire Ruins is in Mule Canyon, which cuts through Cedar Mesa. The road to the trailhead is approximately 23 miles west of Blanding, Utah on the north side of Hwy 95. There are two forks to Mule Canyon - you want the south fork. At the trailhead, there's a trail register for Mule Canyon (but the words "south fork" are not mentioned).

  • West of Blanding, a steep hill on Hwy 95 crosses a very distinct feature, Comb Ridge. Approximately 6 miles west of the pass, there is a sign for "Mule Canyon Ruins" that points to a small rest area with ruins and a rebuilt kiva at a short paved loop and parking area on the north side of the highway.
  • This is not the road to this ruins. The road you want is unmarked and immediately east of this and also on the north side of the highway.
  • After you leave the highway, a small sign indicates this is Rd #263, a dirt road.
  • Geographic coordinates at the Hwy 95 intersection: N37.53691 - W109.73732
  • Enter Rd 263 and, immediately, you'll see a BLM sign and a fee box. Monticello District BLM requests a $2.00 access fee for Cedar Mesa which, you may decide not to pay.
  • Park in a large clearing immediately to the right or drive a few hundred yards on the dirt road to the bottom of the hill where there's roadside parallel parking for only four or five passenger cars. This is the first wash/canyon that crosses this road and the trailhead for the hike.
  • Geographic coordinates at the trailhead: N37.53739 - W109.73203
  • Climb down the embankment to the left (west) to the trailhead register and follow the trail to the ruins.
  • Walk west following the wash/canyon floor. In places the trail splits into two or three trails (on either bank of the wash) but they all go to the same place so, as long as you stay in the canyon, you can't go wrong.
  • After you've hiked just under a mile, the canyon bends to the right (north) around a massive, high sandstone wall. Just around this bend look up over your right shoulder to see House on Fire Ruins. Watch for the short steep cutoff from the main trail that goes uphill to your right and climbs to the ruins. Near the bottom of the sandstone hill is a metal box containing a register and some information (although none that is specific to this ruins).
  • Geographic coordinates at House on Fire Ruins: N37.54376 - W109.74461
  • We didn't hike beyond this spot but, apparently, there are more ruins farther in the canyon.

Trail of the Ancients Route

We're now in the southeastern-most part of Southern Utah, where the highways are marked on my map as "The Trail of the Ancients". Up until now, this trip hasn't included as many Indian ruins as usual because we haven't been seeking them out. I'm sure we'll encounter more of them but finding House on Fire Ruins was indeed the highlight of the week (aside from the miracle, of course).

Days on the road on current trip: 118

Total camping costs to date: $133.00

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Appreciate the help 
Thank you very much for the extremely detailed directions. I tried to find the ruins in spring of 2012 and we had no luck. And as you mentioned the directions …

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