Butler Wash Road / Comb Wash Road

The two roads used to access the ruins and rock art of Comb Ridge are scenic in their own right.

★★★

Wow factor

★★★

Overall rating

Difficulty

★★★

Access road

★★

Crowds

Comb Ridge is a 120 mile long by 1 mile wide monocline tilted at 20 degrees that towers over the plains below. Much of it lies within the Navajo Reservation, but the section north of the San Juan river is the most popular amongst canyon hikers for its ease of access and wealth of ruins. The geology of the west side of the ridge gives Comb Ridge its name, while the east side is a succession of short box canyons that ascend the ridge, many of which contain Anasazi ruins and rock art. There are probably 10 well-known sets of ruins here, each accessed from its own trailhead. Wolfman Panel, Monarch Cave, Fishmouth Cave, Procession Panel and Split Level Ruin are some of the more popular ones. Hiking is relatively easy though there are few cairns so you need to be practised at route-finding.

 

They’re all accessed from Butler Wash Road which runs between UT95 in the north (about 11 miles west of Blanding) and UT163 in the south (about 3 miles west of Bluff). This good dirt road is relatively smooth but some of the washes can be bumpy, particularly after heavy rains. Most cars, carefully driven, can make it in the dry but after rain the surface can be very slick and difficult even for 4WD vehicles without off-road tires.

 

You can also drive the east side of the ridge on Comb Wash Road which is in a similar condition to Butler Wash Road. If you’re not hiking this is the most scenic route to view the ridge with the vertical cliffs beside the road. There are a few rock art panels along this road so if you see a turn off or pullout the chances are there’s something worth checking out in the vicinity. You may also see some ‘Moki’ steps carved in the cliff face. Take a minute to imagine what it was like for the Anasazi to climb these sheer rock faces.

 

The best time to view Comb Ridge is at sunset when the ridge is bathed in golden light. Some of the best views at this time can be seen from the highways north and south of the ridge. It’s one of my favourite places in the southwest and I’ve probably hiked here a dozen times. And I still haven’t seen everything.

© 2015-2020 Bob Palmer.