Bighorn Ruins

Round Trip Distance: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5922 - 6151 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Slickhorn Canyon East Fork
Fee: $5/person/day, $10/week
Attractions: cliff dwellings, rock art

The Bighorn Ruins are located on a bench above a branch of the East Fork of Slickhorn Canyon in the Cedar Mesa area of Bears Ears National Monument west of Blanding, Utah. Besides the pictographs of a couple of bighorn sheep the site includes a half dozen or more cliff dwelling ruins and granaries that most of which are in near perfect condition. There are other less perfect ruins nearby that are also interestingly constructed and worth seeing. Besides the two bighorn images there is another nice anthropomorphic pictograph just around the corner and near an old rockshelter are several painted hands. Further west a few hundred feet on the same bench is a panel with over a dozen painted hands and another panel of three white ghost looking images. Higher up on the next bench above is a large boulder with some remnant walls on its very top and a spire that serves as a good landmark for finding the Bighorn Ruins.

For turn by turn directions you can enter 'Slickhorn Canyon East Fork' into your driving app being aware that Google doesn't have the greatest sense of what roads in the area are still in use and sometimes pointts out obviously bogus turns on UT-261. Basically, from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, head south on UT-261 for about 10 miles. At the Cigarette Springs sign turn right onto the unmarked Slick Horn Road. There is a pay stations near the 1 mile point where you can register and pay the usage fee.

Stay left near the 2.6 mile point where the road to the Government trail branches off on the right.

Continue for another 7.2 miles where the road reaches an expanse of slickrock and there is this very noticeable ring of rocks at the otherwise unmarked trailhead. In dry weather 2wd vehicles can normally make it okay up to this point depending on how long it has been since it was graded. Beyond this point the road is high clearance 4wd and somewhere enroute becomes the Point Lookout Road depending on what map you are using.

From the slickrock trailhead the Bighorn Ruins are just over 1 mile to the WSW. There isn't an official trail so each group of hikers takes a slightly different route making use of segments of other trails made mostly by elk which can be seen in the area from time to time. Having coordinates or our GPX file loaded into your handheld GPS device or phone app is almost indispensable although we were lucky enough to blindly reckon our way straight to the ruins.

Following the route that we took we reached an easy to bypass spillover above a side branch of the main side branch of the East Fork right at one mile from the trailhead. The ruins are just around the corner to the right on the second bench below this point. There are multiple easy routes that you can pick out for yourself to get down the slickrock. It is probably much easier than this photo makes it look. We hiked to the ruins on the lower bench and came back on the middle bench after visiting the boulder top ruin that is on that level.

As you hike around the corner on the lower bench the Bighorn Ruins come into view up ahead. Enroute to the Bighorn Ruins there are others that were built around two fallen boulders. The construction of the ruin beneath the boulders is worth seeing.

We probably should have taken the time to touch this photo up a bit but it does show most of the well intact ruins and the iconic bighorn images for which the site gets its name.

Bighorn and 'Little Bighorn' ha ha.

When you zoom in on this photo the segments in the image seem to have been intentional as though they depicted vertebrae. That doesn't explain the segmented arms but who can figure out the mind of every artist?

The rooms and granaries are in almost perfect condition other than one room in the middle and an older room on the far left that looks more like a rock shelter.

This granary is constructed with several large flat slabs of tightly sealed rocks standing on end.

The opening for the slab granary is through the roof.

Here is another granary that has a side door with lots of mortar packed around the inside maybe to help with the seal.

The last intact room on the far left is much larger and has some very interesting features.

Little designs made by embedding small rocks into the mortar can be found to the side and below the doorway.

Besides a small square geometric image there are these distinct corncob impressions that are rather unique.

To the right of the corncob impressions is a cute little bear paw about the size of your fist.

Just to the left of the big room and near what looks like an old rock shelter you might notice some painted hands. Even further to the left on the other side of some large boulders a hundred feet or so further down the cliff is a more noticeable panel of painted hands.

Even further down the cliff right before a huge house sized boulder is this interesting panel of three white ghost like figures. Names that occurred to us were the Three Ghosts or Three Goonies.

There is actually a lot to see on the benches around the Bighorn Ruins. Back near the trailhead near the head of the main branch of the East Fork of Slickhorn Canyon there is another nice little cliff dwelling that is worth seeing while being so close. We have hiked to it but haven't posted it yet. It is marked on the map as East Fork 1st Ruin for lack of any other name. It is only about a quarter mile from the trailhead although it is completely hidden from sight at that angle. That ruin is about 20 feet below the rim on the west side of the canyon and a choice of several scrambling routes will get you there. As far as the Bighorn Ruins go, if you would like to see them for yourself all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.