Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Arch Canyon to Comb Ridge Trail

The trailhead area for the Arch Canyon trail is 2.5 miles north along the BLM road that is just west of Comb Ridge along Utah Scenic Route 95. This area is west of Blanding in southeast Utah.

I started my hike over Comb Ridge from the Arch Canyon parking area and followed the BLM road north, crossing the mud hole formed by the Arch Canyon Creek.

In the first five minutes back on the road north, there is a hilltop rubble pile ruins site visible. Not much has held together at this site, but there are good views up the Comb Wash and back toward the mouth of Arch Canyon.

It appears that the mouth of Arch Canyon has three ruins sites that guard the approach. Walnut Knob and this hilltop site provide elevated lookout points and the large rubble pile below directly guards the entrance.

It took 1:10 hours to climb to near the top of Comb Ridge. This trail is the old road that was in use before the engineered notch that Highway 95 uses. The road is very rough but probably usable by ATVs. I didn’t see any vehicles on the trail while I hiked, though there were vehicles on the better roads at the top. At the point where the trail crosses the head of a short side canyon there are pictographs and petroglyphs to find.

The pictographs are in a sheltered alcove above some steep cliffs. There are many hand prints and other figures, including a white star and a reddish human figure with large hands and feet. From this angle there isn’t a way to climb up closer.

From the same view point for the pictographs a jug handle type arch is visible. The arch is directly above the trail and is visible from only a narrow angle.

A short distance past the pictograph is a petroglyph panel. There is a trail that allows a close view. The side trail starts about 150 yards further up the main trail and comes back along a ledge. The side trail isn’t marked but is clearly visible.
Flute player images are fun to find. This one doesn’t seem to have a backpack or any headgear.

At the top of the trail there is a side road with a San Juan County marker. Some maps show this road as Posey’s Trail. I continued past this road to a faint ATV trail and turned south. Along this ATV trail I could see the alcove that contains the Tower House Ancestral Pueblo ruins site. I found a way down into the Butler Wash and continued to the ruin along the wash, but this isn’t the common way to arrive there.

There is a second faint ATV trail about 0.2 miles further east that also leads south and has a rock cairn marked trail that continues. There aren’t any signs for the trail along the road. It took me 2:25 hours to arrive at the Tower House site. I hiked on a mid September day that was 60 F at 9:30 AM and 82 F at my 2:15 PM finish. I carried and drank 3 liters of water.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tower House Ruins Trail

The Tower House Ruins Trail starts as an unmarked vague ATV trail and then is marked with rock cairns down into the head of Butler Wash in southeast Utah. I arrived by hiking up the west side of Comb Ridge from the Arch Canyon trailhead parking area. You could also drive to the trailhead by driving on forest roads from the east. (Find the post on Posey's Trail for information on the roads to this area.)

The tall tower to the left is the most eye catching structure along with the smaller structure to the right.

The building style of the lower level seems to use flatter stones with more mud mortar than many of these sites. The upper level seems to use larger stones. One could guess that the upper level was built at a later time or by different builders.

Between the two structures are a several examples of rock art. The human figure to the left with large hands is somewhat similar to a large hands and feet pictograph I saw while hiking up from the west side.

The alcove continues to the right of the main structures. Down in the shady area there is a circular structure sunk into the alcove floor.

Some of the brickwork of the kiva is still in place. On the alcove wall between the two sections of alcove there are more rock art examples and several places that were used to shape and sharpen stone tools. The eye catching rock art includes some red hand prints.

In the area in front of the alcoves there are some Cholla cacti that provide some color. The area about 200 yards downstream from the alcove has a couple of Ponderosa Pine trees growing at the bottom of the wash.

Cottonwood trees also grow close to the wash bottom in an area that otherwise has Pinon Pines and Utah Junipers. There are more alcoves in the area, but I didn’t see any other structures. I spent about 0:25 minutes at the ruins site and it took 0:20 minutes to climb back up to the road.