Colorado's Mesa Verde is more stunning with its multistory buildings nestled into the cliffs. Chaco Canyon, in New Mexico, stands out for its imposing ruins.
Range Creek will not win any beauty contests, but for sheer archaeological value, it may stand alone.
"Simply stated, Range Creek Canyon shares many similarities with the world-famous Nine Mile Canyon just to the north, but without the 100 years of overt vandalism, visitor wear and tear, and the impacts of intensive ranching," researchers wrote in a proposal to survey the Book Cliffs site.
Renee Barlow, a Salt Lake Community College archaeologist, said researchers have surveyed a fraction of the site's hundreds of acres and have not begun to dig.
"We're still trying to figure out what we have," she said.
There are circles of stones that once formed pithouses, and petroglyphs, which are painted, and pictographs, which are carved, are found along the canyon.
While vandals have struck some sites, especially ones outside the former ranch's gated areas, hundreds of others deeper in the canyon still hold their secrets, Barlow said.
"We are united in our opinion that the archaeology of Range Creek is a national treasure and are committed to doing everything possible to protect it," said Duncan Metcalfe, curator of archaeology with the Utah Museum of Natural History and a lead researcher at Range Creek, in a March 2003 e-mail. State archaeologist Kevin Jones and Uinta Research, a private research firm, are also involved.
The site was protected for more than 50 years by the Wilcox family. In 2001, Waldo Wilcox sold his family's 4,000-acre ranch to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which this year transferred the site to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Though archaeological expeditions have passed through periodically since the 1920s, the ruins at Range Creek remained mostly unknown. In June, a few months after the state took over the site, national media reports brought a flurry of attention.
Mesa Verde, first documented by explorers in 1859, is a different story. Collectors spent years mining the sites for artifacts before it became a national park in 1906.
Range Creek is as close to mint condition as archaeologists are likely to find these days. "We feel like this is an amazing opportunity to work here," Barlow said.