Defiance House

A circular dwelling made of layered sandstone nestled against canyon wall.
Defiance House

NPS Photo


Ancestral Puebloans

People have been coming to the canyon country around Glen Canyon for thousands of years. The earliest people known to have migrated into the area, around the end of the last great ice age, were hunters and gatherers. They became experts in the many plant, animal, and mineral resources of the region and would migrate through the area on a seasonal basis, depending on which resources were available in different locations during different times of year. Although they did not build permanent structures, they left behind rock writing, stone tools, and even basketry that is preserved in dry cracks and natural rock shelters.

Between 2000 and 1500 years ago, people in the region began to cultivate crops including corn, beans, squash and cotton, and live in larger, permanent villages supported by farming. These farmers are known as Ancestral Puebloans to archaeologists today. Famous village sites like Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde and Keet Seel in Navajo National Monument are examples of their impressive architecture.

The Ancestral Puebloan people lived across much of the Colorado Plateau until the end of the 13th century, when most Ancestral Puebloans migrated away from these areas. Just as their hunter-gatherer ancestors used migration as a strategy to thrive in the harsh landscapes of canyon country, the Ancestral Puebloans of the 13th century migrated to new homes. Climactic changes like drought may have led people to decide to move, or perhaps they were attracted to easier farming conditions and growing communities in other areas.

The Ancestral Puebloans migrated South and East, to places that are still home to their descendants today– the Rio Grande Valley, Western New Mexico, and Hopi mesas in Arizona. Other Ancestral Puebloan people may have remained on the Colorado Plateau, adapting their ways of life to the changing conditions and integrating with other cultures, such as the ancestors of the Ute and Paiute people who remain in the region to this day. Modern day descendant groups still remember the places their ancestors lived, and many see the cultural sites on this landscape not as abandoned, but as living places that are still relevant to their culture today.

Two ancient figures are painted on the cliff wall. they hold shields and appear to be fighting.
These pictographs of men apparently brandishing clubs and shields led to naming the site "Defiance House"

Defiance House

The Glen Canyon area was on the outskirts of the Ancestral Puebloan world. Few large communities were built in this area, but evidence of people here is still plentiful. People used the canyons as corridors to travel across the otherwise harsh and challenging landscape, and farmed along the beds of the canyons where water could be found. They collected the natural resources found here, continuing to use the knowledge developed by their early hunter-gatherer ancestors. Cultural sites that can teach us about the people who lived here during that time include petroglyphs and pictographs, storage structures used by farmers to store their crops, places where people came to extract and process stone for tools, and, of course, the places they lived.

Large raptor soars above the canyon.
As large raptor soars above Forgotten Canyon near Defiance House


Defiance House, three miles up the middle fork of Forgotten Canyon, is one of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan dwellings in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Defiance House was discovered by archeologists in 1959. Surveying the area that would soon by flooded by the rising waters of Lake Powell, University of Utah archeologists followed a dangerous hand-and-toehold trail up the sandstone cliff and were delighted to find an Ancestral Puebloan site where "most of the roofs were still in place, and... two perfect red bowls still had scraps of food in them." They named the site "Defiance House" for the large pictograph panel painted in white pigment on the wall, which appears to show three defiant figures with shields.

Defiance House was occupied from about 1250 to 1285 AD. The site is protected from the elements in the winter and is shady and cool in the summer because it was built in a natural alcove. The conditions that made it an attractive place for its inhabitants to build are also what has kept it so well-preserved until it was found by archeologists. Because Defiance House is located above the full pool level of Lake Powell, it wasn’t destroyed when the lake filled like many other sites in the area. This makes Defiance House especially unique and irreplaceable. Please help us preserve Defiance House and any other cultural sites you visit by being respectful, leaving what you find, and practicing Leave No Trace.

The structures and rock art are very old and are fragile. Please do not sit, lean or stand on walls. Do not touch or deface rock art or carve graffiti.

DESTRUCTION OF ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES IS ILLEGAL. To report disturbances, notify the National Park Service at visitor centers, ranger stations or marinas.

Last updated: August 14, 2023

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 1507
Page, AZ 86040


928 608-6200
Receptionist available at Glen Canyon Headquarters from 7 am to 4 pm MST, Monday through Friday. The phone is not monitored when the building is closed. If you are having an emergency, call 911 or hail National Park Service on Marine Band 16.

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