|Hiking||8.45 Miles|| 10 Hrs ||0.85 mph|
|2,000 ft AEG|
|20 years in the making
4 day long weekend
9 hiking trails
1 mountain bike trek
1 paragliding crash landing
Desert Rose Inn in Bluff UT as base camp
About 20 years ago I did a mountain bike weekend trek of Valley of the Gods in Utah. On that trip, I was made aware of an intriguing nearby landform called "Comb Ridge" and another named "Cedar Mesa". Photos of Anasazi ruins and ancient rock art only acted as a sirens' call beckoning me to explore. It only took 20 years to answer that sirens' call, but we did it!
Day 0 - Thursday May 15th - Planned a late evening rendezvous at Desert Rose Inn on the west side of the town of Bluff UT, east of Comb Ridge along Hwy 191/163. Recapture Lodge identified as our back-up choice. It seemed like we had a group of a dozen committed adventures, but when we departed work at 4:05pm our convoy consisted of one 4WD Ford F-150 and one 4WD Jeep Sahara. Needless to say both vehicles were packed to the gills and some redundant equipment and supplies were left behind in Phoenix.
Rush hour traffic cooperated with us and we seemed to be making good time when the yellow "CHECK ENGINE" light glowed on Mike's Jeep. Extreme hesitation and engine lurching after every gear shift seemed to point to a dirty filter or vacuum issue. We pulled off at Anthem to do the only thing we could - pull the air filter and dump some high octane fuel injector cleaner...
Back on the I-17, the hesitation seemed to be gentler and slowly smoothed out. By the time we climbed out of the Verde Valley, everything seemed to be operating as it should! Stopped at the Flagstaff Quiznos for dinner and placed a call to the Desert Rose Inn giving them a heads-up we'd be a late arrival. No problem, desk closes at 10pm, but they'd leave the keys for our 2 rooms under the front mat...
Made the late night crossing of Navajo Nation and needed some tunes and caffeine to keep us focused on the road. Gas and the worlds worst coffee was purchased in Kayenta and we put the radio on seek to find some tunes. Country and Western, Country and Western, or Country and Western all available on the only FM radio station we could tune in. We were introduced to "Drinking Bone" by Tracy Byrd;
"The drinkin' bone is connected to the party bone
The party bone's connected to the stayin' out all night long
And she won't think it's funny
And I'll wind up all alone
And the lonely bone's connected to the drinkin' bone"
Needless to say this became our theme song for UTAH Adventure 2008! Pulled up to the Desert Rose Inn at 11:30pm Phoenix time (12:30am Bluff time)...
Day 1 - Friday May 16th - Started the day off right with the best coffee in Utah courtesy of Comb Ridge Coffee located across the highway from the Desert Rose Inn. We soon started our 4WD trek north from Hwy 163 along Butler Wash Road (CR262 on topo maps) on the east side of Comb Ridge. Check out p.197 of the 4WD bible "UTAH Backcountry Adventures" by Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson (I'm sure most of us have their ARIZONA book). Side canyons of Butler Wash are riddled with numerous cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and other ancient artifacts.
Hike #1 - Wolfman Petroglyphs and Ruins (1.45 miles) - Made our way to the east rim of Butler Wash and were immediately greeted by the sight of cliff dwelling ruins located below the west rim. We made our way south along the rim looking for the cairns leading to ledge that appears blocked by a large boulder. Spotting the large boulder, we squeezed through between the cliff wall and the obstacle gaining clear passage to the canyon floor. We passed a small alcove with evidence of ancient footings (for a small granary perhaps?). Many petroglyphs could be seen in the desert varnish of the east side cliffs south of the alcove. Sadly, the larger glyphs have been defaced with bullet holes...
Hike #2 - Procession Panel Petroglyph Site (2.98 miles) - Further up Butler Wash lays the famous Procession Panel. You cross the wash and an open expanse of slick rock before ascending into a canyon with a large dryfall. From the top of the dryfall, note flat panels along the north cliff face covered with desert varnish. These panels are lined with rock art. As you angle upwards towards the top of Comb Ridge, Procession Panel comes into view. This panel is comprised of a conga line of 179 figures (no we didn't count them; I'm just reporting what's in the literature!). From the panel, we proceeded up to the edge of Comb Ridge to soak up the spectacular view and surf the stone wave rising 500+ feet above Comb Wash...
Hike #3 - Monarch Cave Ruins (1.49 miles) - After a PBJ lunch we headed to the iconic Monarch Cave. The canyon leading towards the cave is a picturesque riparian area with flowing water and cottonwood trees. David Roberts book; "The Sandstone Spine" describes the "discovery" of Monarch Cave Ruins by the Illustrated America Exploring Expedition of 1892 led by Warren K. Moorehead. We soon find the inscription left by the expedition near the castle-like ruins. Spectacular rock art examples, grinding pits, and other artifacts are readily found throughout the area. We also encounter our first group (and only encounter for the day) of hikers near the ruins - a couple visiting from Montana. After examining the ruins, we climbed down from the alcove to the water pool below. We noticed flat panels covered with desert varnish on the southern cliffs - a good indicator of rock art surfaces. As we scrambled towards the black walled cliffs we could discern some pecked images. Distracted, we hadn't noticed that we were standing within an expansive patch of poison ivy! A quick detour, we decided we'd had enough and headed back towards the trail head expecting to be in full itch at any moment...
Hike #4 - Fishmouth Cave Ruins (2.53 miles) - About 5 ½ miles to the north of Monarch Cave lays a canyon with distinctive looking Fishmouth Cave. Easily visible from CR262, we turned onto the 4WD track heading towards Butler Wash and the trail head. We made our way west along a well worn path that soon angled towards the north. Although the trail showed heavy usage, the continued northerly trek did not compute with the GPS coordinates I had for Fishmouth Cave. Convinced we were too far north, we doubled back and headed into a narrow canyon with an intermittent trail. This canyon correlated with my north coordinates, so we pushed on. The reward was quick as we came to first of four archeology sites within Fishmouth Canyon. The masonry work evident in the first two sites is remarkably precise. A plumbline had to be used to maintain this type of precision! After inspecting the first two sites, we angled up the slickrock towards Small Cave noted for the many pictographs pecked into the floor. From this vantage, we pondered how to ascend into gaping Fishmouth Cave. Steve and Mike remained at Small Cave as Paul and I descended back into the canyon and continued west toward Fishmouth Cave. Having ascended into the amphitheater, we could see that rock collapses from the cave roof has obliterated any evidence of ancient ruins. Tired and shadows engulfing the canyon, we headed back to the trail head and declared the area "Camp #1". Time to break out the BBQ to grill up some brats and beer....
Day 1 total mileage = 8.45 miles
Day 1 campsite at Fishmouth Cave Ruins trail head...
Day 2 - see Cedar Mesa http://hikearizona.com/photocodeZOOM.php?ID=5489
Day 3 - see Valley of the Gods http://hikearizona.com/photocodeZOOM.php?ID=5503
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