Cold Spring Cave

A short hike to a picturesque amphitheatre with a cave well-stocked with ruins and rock art.

★★★

Wow factor

★★★

Overall rating

★★

Difficulty

★★★

Access road

Crowds

To the west of the 2WD (when dry) Butler Wash Road runs Comb Ridge. On a map you can see the many draws and saddles in this northern section of the ridge which form the ‘comb’. And it’s within many of these draws that you’ll find the relics of the Anasazi civilisation. You can combine this trip with visits to the Procession Panel, Monarch Cave and many others in the vicinity to see more ruins and rock art.

 

Take Highway 191/163 east from Bluff and turn right onto Lower Butler Wash Road close to the ridge. Set your odometer to zero. The road surface is mostly packed dirt with some light rocky sections. Please don’t drive this immediately before or after heavy rain as it can become slick and impassable, even for stock 4WD vehicles. After a few hundred yards you may see the remnants of the old route that went over the ridge. The undulating road gradually works its way towards the ridge. You may notice some dirt roads heading off to the right but you keep hugging the ridge. At mile 6.1 is a left turn to the Procession Panel Trailhead. Keep going. At mile 6.9 is another turn off, this time to the Monarch Cave trailhead. At mile 7.1, turn left to the Cold Spring Cave parking area close to Butler Wash.

 

From the unmarked trailhead, look across the wash to an obvious draw in the ridge almost directly opposite. There are a number of ways to access it but the easiest is to follow the old jeep road across a shallow wash for about a ¼ mile until an obvious trail runs off to the left which then crosses the deeper Butler Wash. There are plenty of tamarisks and mosquitoes here! After 0.8 mile from the trailhead you’ll find a fork in the trail and you should take the right fork into a wooded draw. After a few hundred yards you’ll enter the amphitheatre and see the huge overhang which contains the ruins. Like many Anasazi sites the ruins are in a poor condition but the wealth of good rock art more than makes up for that: multi-coloured handprints and lots of interesting petroglyphs carved onto boulders. If they’re still there, you’ll find stone tools and corncobs though I didn’t see much pottery. The ‘cave’ section is at the far end of the overhang and doesn’t disappoint. It’s deep and low with evidence of a seep at the rear. There’s a large kiva and stone walls protecting the entrance to the cave. Look out for a large boulder on which is carved ‘1892 Cold Spring Cave I.A.E.E.’ – evidence of the Illustrated American Exploration Expedition. The seven-man team from Ohio explored over 100 sites in the Four Corners region ‘in search of the lost race’. They were under funded, ill-equipped, had their burros stolen, and generally had a miserable time.

 

Thankfully you won’t with your 21st century gear. The views from the cave across the amphitheatre are scenic and you’re very likely to have the place to yourself which all adds to the overall ambience of this site.

© 2015-2020 Bob Palmer.