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|May 2021 — Exploring Southern Utah: Arches, Bridges and Ruins|
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Copyright © 2015 - 2023 Larrie Easterly
Ruins — Photo Galley
Leaving our campsite from the previous night we headed into the Bears Ears National Monument on our way to Natural Bridges National Monument. We traveled on a well maintained gravel forest service roads, a welcome change from the roads in the Maze, as we passed through the monument. Bears Ears gets its name form the two peaks that look like the ears on a bear from a distance, of course you have to be in the right place to see the resemblance.
The view from the road down from the pass between the ears is spectacular. There were a few people camped at the vista points that had a commanding view of the Manti-La Sal National Forest below.
At the pavement we turned right towards Natural Bridges. The monument was created in 1908 as Utah’s first national Monument. There are three bridges in the monument as well as ruins from the people that occupied the area 700 years ago.
Our first stop was the visitors center and gift shop where we got maps and historical information about the monument. We learned that natural arches and bridges may look similar they are formed differently. Bridges are formed by water erosion and are always over a wash or what was once a river or stream. Arches are formed by the freezing and thawing of water in the rock that cause chunks of rock to break away.
Sipapu Bridge — Photo Galley
Horse Collar Ruins — Photo Galley
Kachina Bridge — Photo Galley
Owachomo Bridge — Photo Galley
Heading east from the monument we started looking for a place to camp. On the way we stopped at the restored Anasazi village called Mule Canyon Ruin. There is the outline of a 12 room structure, a tower and a kiva at the site.
Cave Tower Ruins — Photo Galley
The ruins consist of seven round rock structures, in different states of decay, that have a commanding view of the head of Mule Canyon. As we walked around we saw a small fenced area. We have seen similar fenced areas on previous trips that were protecting grave sites. We think there were two graves in this one too.
The following day we drove back to Utah Highway 95. Once we regrouped at the highway we went a short distance west and turned off on to Arch Canyon Overlook Road and then turned off on to the Trail of the Ancients, a four wheel drive only track that took us down into Dog Tanks Draw. The track was was rough and there were two sections where we needed to stop and guide each over over some rocky and difficult terrain.
The trail eventually led us to a nice camping area. From there we heading up Arch Canyon Trail crossing and recrossing a wash that ran through the bottom of the canyon. We were surprised to find quite a bit of water flowing in it. We slowly worked our way up Arch Canyon on the eight mile drive to a pair of arches at the end of the road.
Petroglyphs — Photo Galley
Angel Arch — Photo Galley
The following morning the two of us packed up and headed south to Highway 95 and followed it over the Comb Ridge Pass to visit more ruins and cliff dwellings.
Comb Ridge gets it name from the escarpment on its west side and the comb like fingers that descend from its top into the Butler Wash on the east side. The fingers and the caves within them made excellent places for the Pueblo and Anasazi to build their settlements, grow their crops and provided a good defense agains invaders.
Our first stop was at the Butler Wash Ruins. A one mile round trip hike brought us to the ruins overlook. Unlike the Arch Canyon Ruins these were on the other side of the canyon and there was no hiking trail to them, Curts binoculars came in hady. The site was built by the Ancestral Puebloans, also called Anasazi Indians, in about 1200 AD. It was abandoned about 700 years ago. Corn, beans and squash were farmed in the wash bottom.
Continuing on we worked our way south on the well maintained gravel Lower Butler Wash Road to the first of four ruins that we stoped at. There is a parking area at the trail head for each ruin site about a quarter mile from the main road turn off. From the parking areas it is about a 1.5 mile round trip hike to each of the ruins.
Artifacts — Photo Galley
The final ruin we visited was at the south end of the 80 mile long Comb Ridge. Once again this ruin was across the canyon like the Butler Wash Ruin. It was difficult to make out even with the help of binoculars. We did not take the hiking trail down off top of the ridge overlook into the wash and back up to the ruin site.
Our next goal was to find a camping spot on the San Juan River. The first order of business when we got to the river was to get into the cold water and rinse off some of the hiking grime from our bodies. The wind was blowing so instead of camping next to the the river we headed to the Sand Island campground to get a spot for the night and to see the Sand Island Petroglyphs.
Sand Island Petroglyphs — Photo Galley
Arch at Ruins Site — Photo Galley
Granary — Photo Galley
A bit further up the road we stopped at the Three Kiva site. It was the largest site that we visited that day. It has one restored kiva with several rooms around it. I went down into the restored kiva. It had a very low ceiling and was obviously not built for someone my size.
The drive through Montezuma Canyon is beautiful. There are sections of rock walls and there were other sections were we were driving through areas of huge Fremont Cottonwood trees in a park like setting.
Cliff Dwelling — Photo Galley
From there it was on to Monticello for fuel and then on to Moab for the night before heading for home in the morning. I really enjoyed the this portion of my trip to southern Utah and visiting all of the ruins.
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