comb ridge

Sep. 6th, 2018 06:40 pm
ilanarama: profile of me backpacking.  Woo. (hiking)
[personal profile] ilanarama
The long Labor Day weekend is for us an excuse to get out of town, and this year we headed out to Utah in our Sportsmobile. It's still a little early for the desert, but rain was forecast for the mountains, and given the choice we opted for hot over cold and wet. Spoiler alert: excellent choice.

Because I'm still a bit injured, backpacking or mountain biking was off the table, so we went to Comb Ridge, where there are many relatively short dayhikes to ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and rock art panels. Comb Ridge is part of Bears Ears National Monument, and actually it's one of the few areas within it that is still protected as a national monument, which yay. It's about two and a half hours to the accesses to the dirt roads which run up each side of the dramatic rock ridge, so we left on Saturday morning to give us time to do some hiking that day.

We started by going up the road on the east side of the ridge, which runs along Butler Wash. Our first hike was to Wolfman Panel, where there were also some cliff dwellings:

Wolfman! petroglyphs

trail? cliff dwelling

Then we returned to the van, and after lunch we drove to the trailhead for Procession Panel. This was likely named for the petroglyphs which seem to show lines of people streaming away from a circle (maybe a sipapu, the navel of the earth from which all life springs?). Most of the figures are very simple, but a few are waving their hands like, "Hi, mom!"

Procession Procession Panel

There was also this funky dragon-man:

Do the funky dragon

The panel was nearly at the top of Comb Ridge, so after looking at the art we continued all the way up...where we got an excellent view of an approaching storm. (It turned out to be "only" a dust storm, so we didn't get wet, but it got super windy and I got sand in my eyes!)

Comb Ridge approaching dust storm

The next morning we drove a little farther up Butler Wash to hike to Monarch Cave, which not only had some beautiful ancestral Puebloan ruins and petroglyphs, but also some striking desert varnish, a natural phenomenon in which water pouring over rock deposits dissolved minerals into streaks of color.

Monarch desert varnish

colored hands red hands

There must have been some seeping springs in the back of the cave, because there was a lot of creeping ivy (fortunately not poison ivy!). Directly below the cave was a permanent pool, wet even in this dry year; it must have been a useful spring when the canyon was inhabited. Despite being quite pretty, it detracted from our enjoyment, because the entire cavern complex was filled with mosquitoes, and despite some hastily-applied bug dope we were both soon covered in bites.

walls pool

We hiked back to the van and drove the short distance to the trailhead for Split Level Ruin. This time we packed a lunch, though again we were plagued by mosquitoes and we had to work to find a place where we could sit and eat in peace. The cliff dwellings were quite nice though we could only find a way to access the lower set of ruins.

split level ruin lower walls of split level ruin

After returning to the van, we drove back to Highway 163, where we drove west through a dramatic cut in Comb Ridge. This cut was originally one of the few passes over the ridge, used for years by Navajo and called Navajo Pass. The trail was mentioned by William Henry Jackson of the Ferdinand V. Hayden Survey in 1875; a road was built there in 1910 at the cost of $1500, and the first automobile crossed it in 1917 - though it had to be pulled by a team of horses! The road was rerouted and widened several times, and eventually paved, and our Sportsmobile made it across without any horses other than the metaphorical ones under the hood. (History taken from Steve Allen's Utah's Canyon Country Place Names, which we bought years ago but only remembered to actually bring with us to Utah for the first time on this trip! We had a lot of fun reading passages to each other in the evenings.)

Just past the ridge is another 4WD road, this one going up Comb Wash. We drove up to the trailhead at Fish Creek to camp for the night, and got a glorious sunset that lit up the back of the ridge. (While driving up the road we tried to identify other passes across the ridge, but most of it looked completely impassable to our eyes.)

making our own shade sunset on comb ridge

We had been in Fish Creek eight years ago, but had hiked the more popular Fish Creek-Owl Creek loop from a starting point on Cedar Mesa, above and to the west of us. This overgrown trail at the bottom of Fish Creek was clearly very lightly visited, and we hit our first obstacle just a few hundred yards in, where the normally small, clear creek had turned into a raging muddy river due to the previous day's rain somewhere upstream.

creek crossing

Okay, actually it wasn't all that bad. But we did have to wade across barefoot, carrying our hiking boots - we left our sandals behind. (On the way back, the stream had dropped enough that we could vault across with our hiking poles!) We hiked up the canyon for about two miles before spotting the ruins - two cliff dwellings about half a mile apart - which were marked on our old USGS map. The trail recrossed the creek near the ruins at a shallow rock shelf, and we were able to walk across in only a couple inches of water - nice to have waterproof boots!

cliff dwelling four window ruin

pottery shards hands over the wall

All in all, it was an excellent way to spend a long weekend!

34 photos (more than are in this post) in my Flickr album


ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)

April 2019

14 151617181920

My running PRs:

5K: 21:03 (downhill) 21:43 (loop)
10K: 43:06 (downhill)
10M: 1:12:59
13.1M: 1:35:55
26.2M: 3:23:31

You can reach me by email at heyheyilana @


Page Summary

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags