This spring break I spent several days in southeastern Utah with my friend Jeff. Jeff wanted to explore native American ruins and see new areas, and I wanted to see new areas and just be on the Colorado Plateau again. Though I’ve been to a lot of places in southern Utah, hiking, backpacking, and river running, I’d never done more than drive across Cedar Mesa and had not been in Butler Wash. The native Americans of the area are sometimes called Anasazi, but that name calls up the discredited idea that they disappears, so Ancestral Puebloans is better since is recognizes that they migrated many times and are now in the Rio Grande Valley and Hopi Mesas.
We started at Goosenecks State Park outside Mexican Hat, but discarded it as a camping place – great view but no water, no shelter, and a fee. We headed up the Moki Dugway on UT 261 to Kane Gulch Ranger Station where we got information about day hikes and permits. We then hiked upper Owl Canyon, a precipitous downhill into the beautiful canyon, with a few ruins. Next we hiked the top several miles of Kane Gulch, down to the Grand Gulch Primitive Area boundary, where the canyon really starts to deepen. Most unusually, aspens are scattered out through the upper canyon, something usually found at a higher elevation. Kane Gulch is the primary entry point into the primitive area. We camped the night off Deer Flat Rd east of Natural Bridges, in the wash of upper White Canyon.
Next day we explored South Fork Mule Canyon, just north of UT 95 on the east slope of Cedar Mesa. This canyon has a number of ruins, and we visited four of them. All are tucked into alcoves on the north side, south-facing, of the canyon. The canyon bottom trail is gentle, but since the Cedar Mesa sandstone is rising quickly to the west, the wall rise quickly and the alcoves are further and further above wash level. Apart from the interest of the ruins, the canyon is a delight, the ledges and slopes of Cedar Mesa sandstone and rich vegetation including a thick growth of willows, with cottonwood, ponderosa pine, Gambel oak and Douglas fir. We spent the night at Natural Bridges National Monument campground, fortunate to grab the last site, and Jeff was very happy.
We stopped by Kane Gulch again for some guidance on Butler Wash, went into Blanding for gas, ice and cell phone coverage (which varies from no service to weak in the area) and then south in Butler Wash, which is on the east side of Comb Ridge. Comb Ridge, a steeply east dipping ridge of Wingate sandstone, Kayenta formation, and Navajo sandstone is cut by a number of east draining canyon that produce the scallop of the crest and the name Comb Ridge. Many of these canyons have ruins, and we explored several. At the time we didn’t really know the names, and the trails are now signed with names, but looking afterwards on the Internet, I think the places we went are Fishmouth Cave, Monarch Cave, Wolfman panel, and another location that I won’t be able to pin down until I get my photos uploaded. Fishmouth doesn’t have much in the way of ruins, but has a spectacular view back down the canyon and over Butler Wash.
We camped at the end of the road/beginning of trail to Monarch, and I walked up canyon in the afternoon. Monarch has some ruins, petroglyph panels, a slope where crops were grown, and a plunge pool formed beneath the pour-off of the box canyon.
The next morning we drove south to Wolfman. Wolfman has more traditional petroglyphs on dark desert varnish, more like those found other places in the Colorado Plateau, though it also has some unique designs. This panel and the small ruin across the creek are in Butler Wash itself, not a side canyon. The wash has seen several cycles of aggradation and degradation, with high mud walls lining much of the canyon.
The moon was waxing toward full the time we were out, so good stars were only available in the late night, but fortunately (or not) I woke up every night to enjoy them. After the first day of perfectly clear skies, there clouds built every afternoon, with cumulonimbus clouds and virga around the horizon. We didn’t see any lightning or hear any thunder, but it certainly looked like thunderstorms.
This trip has reminded me that I want to backpack Grand Gulch, which I’ve been thinking about for more than 40 years, so my next trip over to southeastern Utah will be a backpack. Now I need to find someone up for a long backpack trip and who has a car. Thought there are some parts of the Colorado Plateau one can get to on public transportation, the backcountry of southeastern Utah is not. There is now private bus service between Salt Lake City and Blanding (Elevated Transit), so maybe doing that and hitching the 30 miles from Blanding would work.
Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/sets/72157651341939179/