Cedar Mesa and Bears Ears Cultural History

Lodge-based hiking and history exploration in Utah's canyon country

The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa regions are remote and strikingly beautiful, and this guided archaeology trip is a great opportunity to take in the vastness of the desert while learning with our guest experts.  This program is for people looking to expand their archaeological and cultural knowledge and are capable of moderately challenging hikes.

Guided Archaeological Exploration

This three-day, lodge-based trip is located in the Cedar Mesa and Bears Ears National Monument of Southeastern Utah. Each day, you’ll travel from Recapture Lodge, sometimes on 4WD roads, visiting agency-approved cultural sites with guest archaeologists and local experts. In order to access certain cultural sites, this seminar involves hiking on routes on uneven terrain.  We cover 2-4 miles round trip on hikes each morning and afternoon.  Please ask if you want to be sure this trip is for you. 

The trip starts with a private, behind the scenes tour of the Edge of the Cedars Museum, led by head curator, Jonathan Till. We will hear stories, learn the basic timelines of human habitation, and see artifacts not available to the general public.

All Inclusive Trip

After a day of active hiking and natural and historical insights, the evenings bring free time to explore the town of Bluff, relax at the Lodge, or wander down to the San Juan River. All meals, snacks, and lodging is covered by your trip fee. 

The entire experience was mind, heart and soul opening. It was a terrific group of people and group cohesion isn't always easy but I felt we really gelled as a group. I learned so much and, looking so far back into humanity, I felt a little less anxious about our fate as humans – not that I won’t continue on with all my own engagements to make the world a better, safer and life sustaining place! Thank you again, you do great work.

– Anne, Berkeley, CA

Based in Bluff, UT
October 22, 2024 through October 25, 2024
3.5 days and 3 nights
Group Size:
Minimum: 6, Maximum: 8
2024: $1990 plus $10 BLM Special Area fee
Recapture Lodge

This is how we rate the challenges you might face on a CFI trip.

Level 1 - Easy

  • Low level of physical activity, minimal movement required
  • 0 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking or walking 0-2 miles per day

Level 2 - Moderate

  • Medium level of physical activity, some movement required
  • 1-4 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking up to 4 miles per day
  • Flatwater or mild whitewater rapids

Level 3 - Active

  • Medium or high level of physical activity
  • 1-5 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking up to 5 miles per day
  • Class I - III whitewater rapids

Level 4 - Challenging

  • High level of physical activity
  • 1-6 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking 5 or more miles per day
  • Class IV whitewater rapids
CFI's Essential Eligibility Criteria outlines specific challenges that you may face on CFI trips. Please consult the EEC for information on responsibilities of participants.
  • This trip includes three nights in a motel, paired with another trip participant. Reach out to CFI to be paired with a specific participant. You may request a single room occupancy for an additional fee.
  • A $300 non-refundable deposit is required to reserve your spot which applies to the total trip cost.

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Trip Narrative

Day 1

Meet the rest of your fellow adventurers at the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding, Utah. Here we will start the program with an exclusive backroom tour of the museum. The curator will highlight significant material culture from this region as well as the process of curation. We will also venture outside to examine a restored Great House and discuss the role of astronomical alignments in archaeology. After the tour, our group will continue on toward the Lodge in Bluff, UT to check in and get settled before dinner.

Days 2 and 3

Each day, we will travel in CFI’s 4WDrive vehicles to several points of interest. We will generally spend time on short or medium hikes to BLM cultural sites including prehistoric Great House and kiva, occupational dwellings, ancient road traces, and rock art panels. More recent Anglo and Native history of the area, geological formations, plants and wildlife will be covered as well. Each year, we vary the actual sites depending on guest scholar expertise, tribal input and agency regulations.

During late afternoon free time, you will have time to walk to the San Juan River from the Lodge, or choose to visit the Bluff Fort or various trading posts before we meet for dinner.

Day 4

We visit the Bears Ears Education Center for a short recap of current issues and how to get involved in stewardship activities. We visit capstone sites close to Bluff, have closing remarks by our experts, and return to the Lodge by 2:30 p.m.  As you drive away from this experience, you’ll have newfound understandings, renewed spiritual connections, and a desire to learn more about this iconic area. 

Guest Faculty


Ralph “R.E.” Burrillo currently works as a district archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Tucson, Arizona. His previous work was for PaleoWest, a cultural resource management firm in Salt Lake and in Phoenix. Burrillo received an undergraduate degree in Anthropology at Northern Arizona University and then earned a master’s degree from the University of Utah, with an emphasis on behavioral ecology and paleodietary reconstruction. While in graduate school Ralph became involved in the archaeology of the Bears Ears area, working on the Manti-La Sal National Forest, undertaking research, giving public presentations, and becoming involved in conservation efforts. Ralph served as guest faculty for CFI in 2022 and 2023. He has authored numerous scholarly articles and has two books, Behind the Bears Ears: Exploring the Cultural and Natural Histories of a Sacred Landscape and The Backwoods of Everywhere: Words
from a Wandering Local.

Jonathan Till is the curator at the Edge of the Cedars Museum, a Utah State Park and authorized repository.  Jonathan holds an M.S. in Anthropology and has worked as an archaeologist for private, state, tribal, and federal organizations and led field seminars for CFI, Crow Canyon and other educational groups. He has done extensive field research in this this region with a particular focus on Chacoan-era prehistoric roads.

Accessibility and Safety

For any CFI trip, please consult the Essential Eligibility Requirements to determine if this trip is right for you. You can also reach out to CFI at info@cfimoab.org to ask any questions. 

CFI trips generally happen rain or shine, with some modifications possible depending on the weather. Regardless of the time of year, please bring all items suggested on the packing list, including rain layers.

Lodge Stay:

During the Cedar Mesa Bears Ears trip, we will stay at the Recapture Lodge. Visit their website for more information on the facility.


We will spend most of our day or driving in vehicles to and from trailheads. Physical activity is consists of longer hikes, ranging from 1 - 5 miles per day across sandy washes, up and down hills, and through varied desert terrain. 

Guide Training and Emergencies:

Every CFI guide has either a Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder certification. Your trip leader will have a Wilderness First Responder certification. Anyone working with youth has passed a background check, and drivers are insured with clean driving records.

Backcountry trips carry In-Reach satellite communication devices for emergencies. All guides have been evaluated by Canyonlands Field Institute as possessing the judgement, skills, and disposition required for mitigating risk in the field. 

Additional Information

CFI is a non-profit organization and fees are not taxed. By choosing CFI, you are supporting our efforts to provide lifechanging outdoor experiences for hundreds of children per year.  Scholarships are available on an as needed basis.