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
interesting archaeological sites. Several of these are well know sites,
Wash Ruins, Ballroom
. 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.
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
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
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
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
bottom provide a great habitat for many types of vegetation. At times
you will hike through head
are a number of alcoves and short box canyons along the Upper Butler
Wash. The alcove on the left holds ruins but is essentially
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
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
(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
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
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.
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
Throughout Upper Butler Wash alcoves
like this hold the remains of the Anasazi who occupied this
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
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
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..