Saturday, August 29, 2009

Monarch Cave Trail at Comb Ridge

The Monarch Cave Trail is one of the better known trails of the otherwise obscure group of trails on the east side on Comb Ridge in southeast Utah.

Comb Ridge is an 80 mile long wedge of Navajo Sandstone that was an historic barrier to travel during the pioneer era. In the Ancestral Pueblo era the eroded east side offered south facing alcoves that were used as foundations for building sites.

The trail head area is 7.2 miles north of the south gate along Butler Wash Road, then left on a short side road. There are no signs to aid visitors in this area. The Butler Wash Road is a few miles west of the town of Bluff. There seem to be two turnoffs within 0.1 miles of each other. I turned at the first one I came to, when I reached 7.2 miles, but the second one is in better position.
The canyon to look for has a south facing high level alcove that is visible once you get through the thick vegetation at the bottom of Butler Wash. The trail follows along the bottom of the canyon. Since I started a little south of where I should have I had to hike north along the sandstone to the edge of the canyon and look for the trail.

I was lucky to see other hikers below and made my way down to the right track. The trail in late August was somewhat overgrown with vegetation but was otherwise easy to follow. The Monarch ruins site is at the head of the canyon a little past the overhead large gash of an alcove.

The ruins site can be approached from the right or the left. Along the right side canyon wall there are quite a few minor petroglyphs. Closer to the ruins there are even some glyphs on the floor. The disadvantage to the right approach is short section where a slip might lead to fall down a steep slope.

There is also most of a large grinding stone on display along with some pottery shards and corn cobs. The large trash midden has a chain marking it off. There is a pool of water in front of the site, but it is hard to view.

To add to the impressive features here are numerous hand print pictographs, I didn’t enter the site from the treacherous right side. I looked at the easier looking left approach but that way appeared to be guarded by large patches of Poison Ivy.

The view from the ruins back down the canyon is lush with some large trees. I spent about 2:00 hours on this hike. The return without stopping took about 30 minutes. It was about 85 F degrees at mid day in late August and I carried 2 liters of water. It was a hot day but the distance is only about 1.5 miles round trip. There is shade from trees along the trail and comfortable places to sit in the alcove next to the ruins site.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fish Mouth Trail at Comb Ridge

The Fish Mouth Trail is located on the east side of the massive sandstone of Comb Ridge in southeast Utah a few miles west of the town of Bluff. The Fish Mouth alcove is probably the largest in the immediate area and one of the largest in the region.
  It is about a 1.0 mile hike from Butler Wash Road up the curving small canyon that descends from below the gaping mouth. The trail head is about 12.6 miles north of the south Butler Wash gate and the Fish Mouth is easily visible from the road. There are four Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites to find along the Fish Mouth Trail. The first site is small and along the right in the first 10 minutes of the hike.
The trail is somewhat braided with cow paths and in late August the lush growth obscures some of the sections. There are two large alcove ruins sites almost side by side, both facing toward the south.
The first of the two sites has parts of several structures still standing. There seemed to be a large amount of soot on the ceiling of this site. The structures on the left side of the site seemed a little unusual.
After viewing the first of these two I couldn’t see where the trail continued up the small canyon, but saw a side trail that climbed up on the bare sandstone and climbed up toward the Fish Mouth. Looking back at the alcove, I saw a wall section on top of the canyon rim, a little to the left. The upper wall section seemed to be by itself, no other rubble near it.

There is a deep chasm between the good view point and the Fish Mouth that I didn’t try to cross. I couldn’t see any ruins structures inside Fish Mouth despite the very large size. Moving over to the edge of the canyon and looking back I saw the second of the two alcoves.

I made my way back down to the canyon bottom and worked further up the canyon to the second alcove site. This site didn’t have as many structures and seemed to have less soot on the ceiling. I didn’t see any rock art at either of these sites. The trail continues up toward the base of the Fish Mouth, but I chose to return. My return hike from the alcoves took about 20 minutes and my total hike for the 2 mile round trip was 1:40 hours. It was about 90 F degrees on a late August afternoon and I had 2 liters of water.