Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Just a Small Taste of Bluff, UT

Bluff is a tiny south eastern Utah town in the San Juan River valley founded in 1880 by 70 Mormon families. These families had spent the previous winter making a harrowing 250 mile journey from Parowan, UT to the San Juan River valley, overcoming enormous obstacles in order to answer their calling. We learned their story, from their descendants, at the Bluff Fort Historic Site.

Hans and I first heard of Bluff from our friends John and Pam, who have visited twice and rave about the fascinating hiking among ancient ruins in this area. Before the Mormons arrived, the area was inhabited for hundreds of years by Native Americans and the remains of their home sites can be found in numerous canyons all across south eastern Utah.

We only had two nights in Bluff, but that gave us one full day to get a feel for the area and gain an appreciation for the endless opportunities for exploration around here. One can drive a lot of miles seeking ancient ruins in Utah but we chose to stick close to town and explored the Butler Wash area immediately east of Comb Ridge.

Comb Ridge is a huge monocline running 80 miles from Kayenta in northern AZ to the Abajo mountains near Blanding, UT. The west side of the Ridge is a sheer cliff but the east side is split by numerous box canyons, some with flowing springs...perfect habitat for ancient peoples to thrive.

Butler Wash road is a decent dirt road with a number of known Native American sites to explore, but you need details to find them...details such as exact mileage to the trail head. Once you arrive at that exact location there are no signs saying you've reached the location of a particular site, there might be a single fiberglass trail sign without any specific details. We used this link to find the three sites we visited, but a detailed book about the area would be much better.

We visited the Wolfman Petroglyph Panel, Monarch Cave Ruins and what we thought would be Split Level Ruins but turned out to be some other minor ruins. We learned that the canyons are full of dense foliage and long pants would be ideal for future explorations of the area, there can be lots of bushwacking! It is easy to see that we could pick a different canyon or two every day and work our way up Butler Wash Road...and that is just one small part of a huge area full of ancient ruins to find!

View up Butler Wash with Comb Ridge on the left.

Ancient ruins in the wall of Butler Wash near the Wolfman Petroglyph Panel.

We scrambled along the edge of the wash wall to reach the Wolfman Panel.
We saw very few people on Butler Wash Road, this site is closest to the highway so it gets the most visitors.

The Wolfman?

These are thought to be made by Basketmaker Anasazi.

Moving on down the road we came to what we hoped was the Monarch Cave Ruins trail. We were happy to see a trail sign, even though it had no site information, and an actual trail. The foliage was dense as we made our way into the canyon.

No details, just a trail marker, it'll lead us to something...

At the head of the box canyon we found Monarch Cave Ruins!

Looking back up the canyon from the site.

There were lots of pot sherds, corn cobs, grinding holes and metates.

Most of the pictographs were hand prints.

Next we drove to what we thought would be Split Level Ruins trail. We had a trail marker and a trail to follow, though it did not lead us to the expected ruins. Not a problem, the walk was beautiful and it was fun to explore a canyon not knowing what you might see around each turn!

Heading towards Comb Ridge.

Very dilapidated ruins.

It was a gorgeous day for exploring.

We stayed at Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff. It's a nice little park that was nearing the end of its season, with only a handful of sites taken. Full hookups and a picnic table at each site. We had okay 4G Verizon signal with our booster, the parks wifi was useless.

Much time can be spent in this corner of Utah searching for ruins among the dramatic landscapes. In the future we'd likely hop around to different areas such as Bluff and Blanding and Cortez, CO, spending a little time in each exploring. A high clearance or 4x4 vehicle is needed to really get into the back country around here.

Next up: a brief stopover in Flagstaff.


  1. So sorry you only had a day to explore. But now you have a tiny taste of what the area has to offer and can make plans to visit for a much longer time. Seeing the Monarch Cave Ruins really gave you an idea of what various sites can contain. Very few ruins have any objects left. Most are just structures. But no matter what canyon you end up in, there always seems to be a few ruins. Butler Wash has at least seven sites.

    1. Yes indeed there is a LOT to explore! Keeping our stay here and in Flagstaff to two nights gave us (and Rosie) a nice day of rest/exploration between drive days, since we have to be in Sedona on a certain date. With possible rain pending we also didn't want to drive the Moki Dugway all the way to Grand Gulch area on this stay.I think in future visits we might try to find a place to stay (even dry camping) closer to Kane Gulch so eliminate that long day trip.

    2. It was good to see that people had beeen respectful of the area. It looks fabulous. Have fun in Flag and Sedona.

  2. Wonderful country! I wish I could've spent a longer amount of time in Utah. Very cool to come upon the old ruins and petroglyphs.

  3. We actually have friends from Moab who work the month of October near Blanding. They have offered us an invitation to come explore so we might just have to take them up on it next year. The one draw back is the long rides to get to the ruins. I do think exploring the ruins would be quite the adventure!

  4. That looks like fun. I'd love to explore the ruins.

  5. Those petroglyphs are really cool. Never seen ones like that.

  6. It looks as though we've missed you by just one day! We pulled into Bluff this afternoon and are staying at Cadillac Ranch. We were first here in 2012 and have been wanting to come back for more adventures. We're going to revisit some favorites (did Wolfman Petroglyph this afternoon) and have many new adventures on our list. Monarch Cave Ruins was one of our favorites -- in fact, one of our header photos was taken there. Your photos are wonderful!

  7. Another place to explore. I have been to Bluff three times (Bob once), but didn't know there were ruins nearby! Thank you for the tour and photos.

  8. The ruins and the canyons are so similar to what we explored today at Canyon de Chelly. We made a long road trip here as Steve wants me to see the canyon. We also saw a lot of ruins through a guided tour for we are in Navajo land.
    Great pics of the canyon and your discoveries!

  9. I guess we will have to check that place out next time through...

  10. Really do have to get one of those high clearance 4X4s before I head back out west. What beautiful scenery and so exciting to be just discovering as you go..Ruins and petroglyphs would be my very favorite things to discover. Beautiful pictures.

  11. Love petroglyphs and ruins and these are amazing. Love the color you captured from the walls - just beautiful! Love the dilapidated ruins the best :-))))

  12. Great photos of a wonderful place. It is so much fun to see other folks feelings about a part of the world that I love.