The whole of southeastern Utah is covered with Anasazi ruins from three major branches. These branches are modern creations, based on archaeologists' analysis of construction traits, cultural items like pottery designs, and the like. In the past, when people were inhabiting what is now the southwestern United State, these "branches" may have been as closely related as the villages of Hopi, or as distantly as Zuni and Taos. They may not have even shared a common language. They certainly didn't call themselves Anasazi, which is a Navajo word. But it is certain that among what we call the Anasazi today, there existed significant cultural differences. The three represented in southeastern Utah are the Kayenta, Mesa Verde, and Chaco branches. Chaco Anasazi structures are generally older than the Mesa Verde and Kayenta sites in a given area, and are characterized by their massive public works, such as Bluff Great House and Edge of the Cedars.
The Kayenta Anasazi have their nexus in northeastern Arizona, around the Tsegi Canyon system, and their buildings generally lack the fine stonework of either Mesa Verde or Chaco. In Utah, Kayenta Branch sites can be found all over Cedar Mesa and west towards the Colorado River.
Mesa Verde Branch sites usually have nice, solid block walls, and a unique pottery style. The core of the Mesa Verde Branch lies to the east, in Colorado, but their sites are also found in Utah as well.
Why is all this important? Well this little hike straddles the boundary between two of these groups. Comb Ridge, the massive anticline that you are hiking up, forms the general boundary between the Kayenta and Mesa Verde Branches. This was the border between cultures in the late 1200's.
The hike starts in the parking lot. There is a pit toilet, but no water available. Make sure you bring enough water for the hike with you. There is very little shade.
The trail heads briefly north from the parking area, and then heads west-northwest across a pinon-juniper stand. The ground is slightly sandy, but not very hard to hike on. The slope you are hiking up is the backside of Comb Ridge. At the crest, it drops 750 clear down to Comb Wash, with hardly a break between its origin on Elk Ridge and the San Juan River, some 30 miles away.
This is the barrier to cultural interchange that made Comb Ridge the border that it was 800 years ago. The slope steepens as you hike further. After about a quarter of a mile, you leave the PJ forest and start crossing a slickrock slope. The slope is relatively gentle, and well-cairned. Keep an eye out for the next cairn, and you won't go wrong. If for some reason you loose sight of the trail, head west. Eventually you will reach the rim of a small canyon - it is across this side canyon that the Butler Wash Ruins lay.
Butler Wash itself extends all along the east side of Comb Ridge down to the San Juan river, and ruins are numerous. These are essentially the westernmost Mesa Verde Branch site in Utah. Butler Wash ruin itself is in rather poor shape, having been well-known to locals and out-of-town ruin hunters for many years. Still, it is interesting to look at. A few kivas dot its alcove, and some granaries are visible downcanyon in small openings in the cliff. On my last visit there was a sign at the overlook, explaining the ruin in some detail - I am not sure if it is still there.
This hike can be extended by hiking around the head of the canyon to reach the ruins and gently exploring. Once you are done viewing or exploring, return to the parking area by the same route. - Dec 25 2007 Rob del Desierto