Saturday, February 28, 2009

Four Alcove Trail on Comb Ridge

The Four Alcove Trail is along one of the many creeks that flow east off of Comb Ridge into Lower Butler Wash in southeast Utah, about five miles west of Bluff. This isn't one of the better known trails in this unpublicized area, but a small ruins in a high alcove is visible with binoculars from the Butler Wash Road at about 5.5 miles north of the south gate.

This trail starts at short side road that has a loop and a campsite at the end, right on the edge of Butler Wash. It heads up a narrow gash in the Comb Ridge sandstone to an area that has two alcoves on the north and two on the south. There are cow trails leading across the wash and sage brush area to the creek. In the creek there are trail segments that cows and a few hikers use. There isn't a sign in box or other information for this route.

The small ruin that is visible is high in an alcove and comes in and out of view. In the area below the ruins there is another south facing alcove and also two north facing alcoves directly across. The high desert plants like Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper penetrate this creek area. There was some moisture in the upper end of the creek from recent rain.
To get a better view of the south facing ruins I climbed into the very large north facing alcove. Although this alcove is very large there were no standing structures, though there were several holes that looked like amateur excavations. I didn't see any easy way to get closer to the high level site.

The lower south facing alcove has a deep cave but quite a bit of sandstone has crashed into the area in front of the site. There is a small dry wall structure with what looks like an attempt at petroglyphs. The second and smaller north facing alcove also has a small dry wall structure.

I liked the views from this narrow gash of a canyon back down towards Butler Wash. Before the four alcove area there is a side trail leading to the left to a side branch of the creek that also has an alcove with a small dry wall structure and more good views.

I used about 1:45 hours here and this felt like about a 3 mile hike.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Wolfman Petroglyph Trail in Comb Ridge

The Wolfman Petroglyph Trail is a 1.5 mile round trip to an unusual panel in the Lower Butler Wash area on the east side of the massive Navajo Sandstone Comb Ridge in southeast Utah, about five miles west of Bluff. The trail head is about 1.0 miles north along Butler Wash Road.

The first part of the trail is a 4WD road that ends on slick rock at the edge of the wash. The Wolfman Petroglyph trail is one of the better known trails in an otherwise unpublicized area that has many small archaeology sites in a very rugged and scenic setting. There is a BLM sign in box and information kiosk at the trail head, but the information was not specific for this trail.

From the trail head, the La Sal Mountains are visible to the north and there are steep sandstone cliffs along the east side of the Butler Wash valley. There are a few rock cairns where the 4WD road ends leading to the south to a narrow notch that leads to a ramp down into the wash bottom.

From the rim there is a small ruins site slightly to the north that is probably most easily viewed from this elevated position.

At the bottom of the rocky ramp an alcove comes into view and the panel is just past the alcove. These figures are to the far right seem to be much smoother and carefully done than others in the region.

The bird figure next to the humanoid looks like an Avocet, or some other long billed shore bird and further to the left looks like a Great Blue Heron. These are wetlands birds that might be common in the bottoms of the nearby San Juan River. There are two carefully done canine prints and other figures appear to be flowers or parts of plants. One figure looks like Cattail, a common wetlands plant.

Closer to the alcove is another group of figures that includes what looks like an owl head, a fish skeleton, a catfish, and a jelly fish. The circular figure looks like an overhead view of a mushroom. It seems to have also drawn attention as a target. Many of the petroglyph panels in the region feature wildlife, but mountain sheep seem to be the most common.
The wash bottom here is narrow and seems unusual in that the sandstone rests on a layer of deep soil that erodes easily. From the distance, the small ruins here looks like it was constructed from mud bricks rather than sandstone bricks. I spent about 1:00 hour on this 1.5 mile hike.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Natural Bridges National Monument Short Trails

Natural Bridges National Monument is in the remote Cedar Mesa canyon country of southeast Utah and has three examples of giant natural rock spans. Traveling around the Bridge View Drive, there are trails leading down to each of the three Bridges.

Bridges are different from arches in that bridges are partially formed by the moving water of a stream, where arches are formed by frost action on seeping water. Bridges are also often hidden deep in canyons, whereas arches are eroded fins and are often perched up high and easy to see. These bridges are in the Cedar Mesa sandstone layer that is deeper than the layer where the stone arches of Arches Park occur.

The first trail head along the nine mile loop road is Sipapu Bridge Trail. The trail down there is only 0.6 miles but has a 500 ft. elevation change. There are wooden ladders, stairs, and hand rails to help you traverse the steep slippery sandstone. Sipapu Bridge is 220 feet high, 31 feet wide, and has a span of 268 feet with a thickness of 53 feet. Sipapu is an Ancestral Pueblo term referring to the place of emergence. The circular kivas found at many ruins sites have a symbolic Sipapu in the floor.

At the bottom it is lush and green and a different world from the desert conditions on the rim. This area of southeast Utah is rich in Ancestral Pueblo Ruins and these canyons have some, though you need to explore to find them. The Horse Collar Ruin that is visible from the rim is about one mile down canyon from Sipapu on the north side of the canyon. (There are also ruins up the canyon to look for.)

The Kachina Bridge Trail here was the longest of the three bridge trails at 0.75 miles down, but the elevation change not so bad at 350 ft. On the road to the Kachina Trail Head is an overlook for Horse Collar Ruin. The Kachina Bridge is 210 feet high, 44 feet wide, with a span of 204 feet and is the thickest here at 93 feet.

A lot of work had been done on the trail, cutting and arranging stones to make convenient steps down an otherwise steep route. There are some faint petroglyphs high on the walls of the Kachina Bridge. (Kachina Bridge is named for some of the petroglyph figures on the walls near the base of the bridge. Some of the figures are also of interest to those who believe that the Ancestral Pueblos lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.)

These bridges are so massive that it is hard to take pictures of them up close with your typical cameras. The dark streaks on the sandstone are desert varnish, a mostly manganese and iron deposit left from evaporated water. Again, it was much greener and moister at the bottom of the canyon and the place was alive with birds calling.

The Owachoma Bridge Trail is the shortest and easiest of the three bridge trails. This bridge is 106 feet high, 27 feet wide with a span of 180 feet and a thickness of only 9 feet. Owachoma translates as "round mound."

Owachoma Bridge is an example of an older bridge, perhaps near collapse. It is so old that the stream that formed it doesn't flow under it any more. It is easy to get to, only 0.2 mile and only a 90 foot descent. This one is on the cover of the park brochure, the highlight of natural bridges. It is possible to hike between each of these bridges through the canyons with connecting loop trail on the mesa top. A tour of all three bridges in one hike is 8.6 miles.