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Aztec Butte - Canyonlands National Park

        Aztec Butte rises above the Island In The Sky plateau in Canyonlands National Park. It is a prominent landmark visible for miles and must have been well used by the Anasazi who once occupied this region. This entire area was heavily used by various Indian tribes and according to the maps there were some Anasazi granary ruins on the top of the butte. Most of the Anasazi ruins found in Canyonlands are not easily accessed but Aztec Butte provides an exception. The parking area for Aztec Butte is right off the main Park road and this is a very popular trail. The trail to the top of the Butte is only about a mile long (2 miles round trip). However, I suspect that a lot of hikers fail to reach the top.
Aztec Butte trailclick photo to enlarge

     From the paved parking area the trail is very obvious, beginning in a typical type of Utah desert habitat. There is a lot of vegetation - grasses, cactus and small trees and lizards abound. The trail runs straight toward Aztec Butte and is fairly level and mostly sandy until we get close to the butte. As we approach closer to the butte the hike changes dramatically, beginning with a climb up a long sloping section of slickrock. This is a great hike up a long rock slope and as we climb up I notice that the hikers above us seem to be stalled just below the top.  In fact, one couple has turned around short of the top and is
Striped Whiptail Lizardclick photo to enlarge
    Plateau Striped Whiptail - The blue tipped tail makes it easy to identify this common lizard. 
starting back down. As we climb higher the trail gets tougher and we soon pass the couple heading down and see that the second couple has also turned around short of the top. As we continue up we quickly arrive at the steep rock face that has stopped the others. I scout it quickly and determine that it is well within my abilities so I head up and encourage my wife to follow. She scrambles up with a little difficulty and is genuinely glad to be on top. However, her pleasure is short lived as she begins to think about having to scramble back down this section of near vertical rock.
Aztec Butteclick photo to enlarge
    As we approach the top it becomes obvious that we will need to follow the broken rock ledge that slants upward to the right.

       The top of the butte offers great views in every direction. It is easy to imagine that the early Indian inhabitants of this area used this spot to watch for activities at a great distance.  There are a few badly reconstructed ruins on the top of Aztec Butte. Although I didn't expect much, these ruins were a disappointment. However, the trail continued across the top of the Butte until it reached the North facing edge. Here I was able to easily scramble down to a ledge below the rim where there are a few other rock walls. Having visited many other back country sites I find this one to be very unimpressive.        
Descending Aztec Butteclick photo to enlarge
    Descending the steep rock wall
       Fortunately, the views are outstanding and make the hike to the top of Aztec Butte a great experience. After soaking in the views, we head back across the top of the butte to the point where we need to climb back down the steep rock wall. I scrambled down and was followed by my wife who found that getting maximum body contact with the rock wall is her most secure position and she eased herself down to the small ledge where we began the climb. From here it is a great easy hike back down the slick rock and across the sandy desert back to the parking lot.

        I recommend that anyone spending a day in the Island In The Sky District of Canyonlands consider adding a hike on the Aztec Butte trail to their schedule. Its a short easy trail that travels through some interesting habitats and provides some great views. If scrambling up the rock wall is not your thing, hike up the trail as far as you are comfortable. If you have never hiked on slickrock this is a great trail  for a first experience.
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