Edge of the Cedars structure w kiva

Edge Of The Cedars: Ancient Structures And Artifacts

The name Edge of the Cedars does not conjure images of an Ancestral Puebloans archaeological site, or that of a museum of ancient artifacts. And yet, this is what you’ll find at this Utah state park.

A significant archaeological site of the Four Corners, Edge of the Cedars Pueblo was home to the same Ancestral Puebloans who built Chaco.

The Story Of The Site

A Great House community, the site was home to Ancestral Pueblo people. Its architecture shows the same features as Chaco, though on a smaller scale. This makes it a Chacoan outlier, one of many found in the Four Corners.

Archaeologists use the term Chacoan outlier to denote ancient sites showing the influence of Chaco. They were built as great house communities, same as Chaco, only on smaller scale.

Chaco’s influence extended throughout the San Juan basin and even farther. Edge of the Cedars is 200 miles from Chaco, yet it clearly shows the same architecture and set-up as any Chacoan great house community.

Part of this widespread network of Ancestral Puebloan communities influenced by Chaco, Edge of the Cedars was in fact a small village, first settled in 825 AD. Like they did with most ancient villages in the Southwest, its inhabitants abandoned it about 150 years later.

However, this one didn’t stay empty for too long. Eventually, a new set of people used it until 1125. More experienced than their predecessors, they built on to the existing structures. They added the Great Kiva, the central pueblo, and the surrounding smaller units.

Edge Of The Cedars Today

Recognizing the site’s archaeological significance, in 1970, Edge of the Cedars was designated a State Historical Monument, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1974, the Utah Navajo Council donated it to the Division of Utah State Parks and Recreation.

The state park system opened Edge of the Cedars Museum in 1978. The park incorporates both the museum and archaeological site on the grounds of the ancient village.

It also serves as the primary storage site for the archaeological materials excavated in southeastern Utah. So, it is no wonder this is the place you’ll find the most extensive collection of pottery in the region. Besides all this, the museum also includes a research center, a place of new discoveries even today.

Visiting Edge of the Cedars State Park

Edge of the Cedars State Park Entrance
Sculptures exhibited at the entrance to the museum.

Though we had several trips planned this summer, driving through the Four Corners area was our first one. We started out with the first stretch of our road trip from Phoenix to Durango. From there, we explored the forests of Colorado and the high deserts of Utah and New Mexico.

Though the high mountains of Colorado make a perfect summer getaway, it is not the case with the high deserts of Utah. However, when in the area, we always make a side-trip to some of the ancient ruins of the Four Corners. Eventually, we ended up near Blanding, so we finally visited Edge of the Cedars State Park.

We started the visit with the museum, then eventually walked outside to see the ancient Great House pueblo.

In the Museum

The Edge of the Cedars museum houses the largest collection of Ancestral Puebloan pottery in the Southwest. Indeed, I did notice that it is much more extensive than most others I’ve seen in the Four Corners area, showcasing a vast number of pottery, everyday objects, and several unique artifacts.

Pottery …

Most of the museum is filled with pottery from several different sites in the region. To help identify the differnt styles used in the region, pottery pieces are grouped by the sites they were found.

The Pottery Exhibit in the Edge of the Cedars Museum features ancient pots from several different sites in the area.
The Pottery Exhibit in the Edge of the Cedars Museum features ancient pots from several different sites in the area.

Besides the place, you can also read about the time/era the specific pots originated, like the below Owl Canyon jar, dated from between 1150-1300 AD.

Mesa Verde style jar in the pottery exhibit at the Edge of the Cedars Museum
Mesa Verde style jar in the pottery exhibit at the Museum

But you’ll see the largest number of pottery pieces in the Visible Storage, a combination of exhibit and laboratory space. Though no one was working there at the time of our visit, the exhibit allows visitors to see the curator at work. Even without a curator there, the exhibit is the most impressive one at the museum, displaying over 400 pots, besides several other artifacts.

The largest collection of ancient pottery in the Southwest is at the Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum
Visible Storage: part of the largest collection of ancient pottery in the Southwest

Unique artifacts

A scarlet macaw sash at a Utah site proves a connection between the Ancestral Puebloans of the Four Corners and the ancient inhabitants of Mexico...
A scarlet macaw sash

The most unique exhibit at the site is the scarlet macaw sash, elaborately woven to showcase the gorgeous colors of the bird native to Mexico. Not the only one, but the artifact still in the best shape among those made of macaw feathers, the sash helps prove a connection between the Ancestral Puebloans and the Aztecs in Mexico, thousands of miles away.

The sash dates from 1150 AD, and is extremely well preserved, suggesting that it was used only during ceremonial events. The technique of tying the feathers into cords was often used by the Aztecs, but it is also connected to Basketmaker sites in the Four Corners area. So, they may have traded either the birds, the feathers, or the full cords. Either way, they traded with people from thousands of miles to the south, in the area of today’s Mexico.

Since archaeologists found remains of macaws in other Ancestral Puebloans sites, like Salmon Ruins, among others, it is likely that they sometimes traded the live birds. This also suggests that they made the sash locally.

The Archaeological Site

The Great House at Edge of the Cedars
View of the Great house Structure from the trail

You’ll find the archaeological site behind the museum, where a paved trail leads through the ancient village. The preserved or reconstructed buildings include several multi-room, one- or two-story buildings, but the highlight is a kiva, fitted with a ladder, so visitors can enter it.

It’s a small Great House site, since it was a farming community. Even so, if you visited Chaco or some of its other outliers, you’ll recognize the style of the two-story, multiple rooms structure, similar to both Chaco and Aztec Ruins, on a smaller scale.

Edge of the Cedars 2
A closer look at the structure

The highlight of the short walk among these ruins is the kiva. Though a small one – compared to those in the larger sites – it is worth entering it. After I descended to the small circular room, I stood there, thinking of the lives of the ancient people who built it.

Inside the kiva
Inside the kiva

What’s in a name?

The name, ‘Edge of the Cedars’, came from the title of a book written by Albert R. Lyman, founder of Blanding.

According to his book, cowboys from Bluff camped here in the late 1800’s and called the site Edge of the Cedars because it sits on the edge of a natural boundary, separating a heavily forested region and a treeless landscape to the south. Cedar is a term locals use for the Utah juniper tree.

Tips for Visiting Edge of the Cedars State Park

You’ll find Edge of the Cedars in Blanding, Utah, in the Four Corners area of the US Southwest. Though it gets sunny, especially in the summer, the site is a over 6,000 feet in elevation, making it a bit more pleasant.

Besides the permanent exhibits, you’ll always find temporary exhibits on the first floor of the museum.

Though the archaeological site is small, the museum makes up for it, since it houses the most extensive exhibit of ancient pottery in the area.

Besides the museum and ruins, you’ll find a short paved trail landscaped with native plants and outdoor sculptures, a picnic area, and restrooms.

FAQ

  1. What is Edge of the Cedars?

    Edge of the Cedars is a state park featuring an Ancestral Puebloan archaeological site and the adjacent museum.

  2. Where is Edge of the Cedars State Park?

    Edge of the Cedars State Park is in Blanding, in the Four Corner area of Utah.

  3. When was the Edge of the Cedars Pueblo built and occupied?

    The Ancestral Puebloan village we call Edge of the Cedars was built in 825 AD, and occupied by several different groups until about 1300.

  4. Why is Edge of the Cedars called a Chacoan outlier?

    Along with several other Ancestral Pueblo sites in the Four Corners area, Edge of the Cedars is a Chacoan outlier, meaning they were influenced by Chaco, built as Great House communities.

  5. Is Edge of the Cedars State Park worth visiting?

    Though the archaeological site is relatively small, its Great House is worth a look, and it has a kiva you can enter. But it is the museum that makes the visit worth it, as it showcases the largest collection of pottery in the region, along with several unique and spectacular artifacts.

Edge of the Cedars State Park

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