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Upper Butler Wash Near Comb Ridge

      Butler Wash drains the eastern slopes of Comb Ridge, joining the San Juan River a bit west of Bluff, MT. About 30 miles to the north, Butler Wash disappears where Comb Ridge blends into Whiskers Draw. The major section of Butler Wash is between Utah 95 on the north and US 163 to the south. I consider Lower Butler Wash to be that section south of US 163 where Butler Wash travels a short distance to it's junction with the San Juan River. The middle section between the highways I refer to as Butler Wash. The section of Butler Wash north of UT 95 is what I consider to be Upper Butler Wash.

     Upper Butler Wash is one of my favorite easy access/easy hiking places in SE Utah. It offers a variety of terrain and has a number of interesting archaeological sites. Several of these are well know sites, including Butler Wash Ruins, Ballroom Cave Ruin and Target Ruin. There are lots of other ruins throughout this general area so be sure to keep your eyes peeled if you are ever hiking in the Upper Butler Wash area.

Upper Butler Wash      Much of the bottom of Upper Butler Wash has deep sandy soils with an obvious stream bed. Large cottonwood trees provide some shade and it is mostly easy hiking. - Note all photos enlarge
     The trailhead for the popular Upper Butler Wash hike is located just off Utah 95 near mile marker 111. This is just to the east of the large and well signed Butler Wash Ruin parking area. There is a good-sized pullout on the north side of the highway that has room for several vehicles. There are no outhouses, water or any other type of services at the parking area. However, there are pit toilets at the Butler Wash Ruin which is just to the west. I have read hike descriptions for accessing Upper Butler Wash that recommend parking at the Butler Wash Ruin parking area and cross the slickrock to join the Butler Wash trail. However, I find it much more convenient to park alongside the highway.

     From the parking area drop-down the obvious trail a short distance to the Butler Wash bottom. The sandy canyon bottom is fairly flat and full of mature cottonwood trees and lots of annual vegetation. The deep soils that have built up in the wash bottom provide a great habitat for many types of vegetation. At times you will hike through head
Upper Buter Wash Alcove       There are a number of alcoves and short box canyons along the Upper Butler Wash. The alcove on the left holds ruins but is essentially inaccessible.
high growth of vibrant green growth. The seasons produce dramatic changes in the Upper Butler Wash vegetation. The lush growth that occurs every spring fills the bottom with vibrancy and life. Flowers scent the air and birds and insects are everywhere.

       Hiking in  Upper Butler Wash is very easy. There is a well established hikers trail that climbs right up the bottom. The trail wanders back and forth across the normally dry stream bed. Although you will rarely find water in the wash, there is no doubt that it runs with force at times. In fact, evidence is all around that there are occasional flash floods in the canyon.

    As you hike the trail you come to a junction in the canyon soon after leaving the parking area (about a quarter mile). There are
Upper Butler Wash Alcove      Although the alcove is inaccessible you can examine the runs it holds from a distance by climbing up to a nearby vantage point.
trails in each of the canyons but most hikers will want to take the western fork (left looking up canyon). After about another half mile you will begin to find Anasazi ruins located in the deeply eroded caves and alcoves that are found along the western sides of Butler Wash.  Target Ruin is the first you come to and many hikers miss the trail that takes you into the hidden box canyon which houses the ruin. Just up-canyon from here is the Ballroom Cave Ruin which is in a large alcove/cave that is easily spotted from the trail. The hike to this cave is short and steep but well worth the climb.

     After Ballroom Cave you will encounter a series of alcoves along the western wall of Butler Was, most of which house ruins. The alcove and ruins directly up canyon from Ballroom Cave are almost impossible to access as the eroded bank in front of the cave is too steep and soft to climb. Over the years there have been hiker built ladders placed here but most times there is nothing. It is best to observe these ruins from a distance. There are vantage points you can climb to that offer good views into the alcove so please avoid trying to climb into the ruin.
Anasazi ruin in Upper Butler Wash
     This is a view of the pictograph that gives Target Ruin its name. The bullseye design is painted on the wall of a structure that is located behind the curtain wall that fronts the cave. This photo was taken from the alcove that is opposite the ruin.

     Continuing up Butler wash you will find more alcoves along the left (west) side of the wash. Most of these hold some sort of ruins and most are easily explored. Most of the Anasazi construction in the  Upper Butler Wash area is of Mesa Verde Anasazi style of construction. However, some Kayenta influence can be found. Roughly speaking, Comb Ridge is considered a dividing line between the cultures but there is no exact line and many of the ruins in this general area show a mix of the two construction styles..

     Most of the ruins are composed of more storage rooms than habitation rooms. This is typical of the Pueblo III period. This also seems to be supported by the high concentration of metates in the area. These grinding areas are indicative of significant corn production which would also create the need for a lot of storage.

     As you continue to hike up Butler Wash the canyon narrows but the bottom is still filled with mature cottonwood trees long established in the deep sandy soils. However, as you move up the wash you will suddenly reach a point where the soils disappear and the entire wash bottom is slickrock. This is a dramatic change and
Upper Butler Wash alcove
     Throughout Upper Butler Wash alcoves like this hold the remains of the Anasazi who occupied this area 
an indication that you will soon reach the end of your hike. This is because Butler Wash turns into a steep walled box canyon with sheer walls on all sides. Here you are at the bottom of a pour-over with no way to continue on. However, this is a neat amphitheater and a great place to stop and enjoy the canyon.

     This is the end of the line and from here you will retrace your hike back to the highway parking area. If you want to explore more of this neat area, you can follow the other main fork of Upper Butler Wash. This is the fork that runs to the northeast (right looking up-canyon) that you encountered early in the hike. There is not a heavily used trail into this section and this fork is not as deeply incised. It doesn't have as many ruins but it is a great place to explore.

Learn More:
    There is no guide book that covers hiking in Upper Butler Wash. However, there are a couple of books that discuss the area. Cowboys and Cave Dwellers: Basketmaker Archeology in Utah's Grand Gulch by Fred Blackburn and Ray Williamson has some interesting info about the area. The Anasazi of Mesa Verde and the Four Corners by William Ferguson provides some information about Butler Wash.
      The very upper sections of Butler Wash are about 5 miles further up from here and the dedicated hiker can find ways to get there. Careful observation will find sites of archaeological interest throughout the entire area, especially at the very top where Butler wash merges into Whiskers Draw, Cheese & Raisins and the other canyons that make up the interesting area west of Blanding, UT.
      There are few places to take a short hike into an archaeologically rich area that are better than Upper Butler Wash. In just a couple of hours you can hike a neat canyon, visit a variety of ruins and really get a sense of Anasazi Country. Although there are no spectacular ruins and not a lot of rock art, I highly recommend this hike for all visitors..

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