The eastern slopes of Comb Ridge were home to many Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) and their predecessors. The entire area from the San Juan River north to the foothills of the Abajo Mountains was inhabited from the early hunter-gatherers to the cliff dwelling Anasazi of the Pueblo III period. These first residents left behind many cultural treasures ranging from large housing units to small lithic scatters. Wolfman Panel is a great example of the rock art that still exists.
Upper, Middle and Lower Butler Wash
There are three distinct sections of Butler Wash that drain the length of Comb Ridge. Lower Butler Wash is the section between Utah Hwy 163 and the San Juan River. Upper Butler Wash is the area north of Utah Hwy 95. Between these two highways is the middle section of Butler Wash. A 21-mile dirt road (San Juan County Road 230) runs the length of this section. All along this road, you can find access into and onto the fantastically eroded slopes of Comb Ridge where you will find many different cultural treasures.
Finding the Wolfman Panel
The Wolfman Panel is a well-preserved and interesting rock art panel in the southern section of the main Butler Wash. Unfortunately, the panel has been damaged by someone shooting at the pictographs with a rifle. Decapitate the bullet scars, it’s a great site to visit. One nice aspect of the Wolfman Panel is the easy access. The parking area is only a mile from US 163 and the hike to the panel is well under a half-mile.
The easiest way to access the Wolfman Panel is to get on to the Butler Wash Road (SJ 230) from Utah 163 about 4 miles west of Bluff, UT. The Butler Wash Road intersects with US 163 at about mile marker 40.5.
The Butler Wash road is usually in good shape and it’s often possible to take a passenger car to the parking area which is just about a mile from the highway. It’s very easy to find the access which is right at the fence line which crosses the road. You will need to head west along the fence line to access the ruin. You can park right by the county road or you can drive along the old 4wd track that is quite obvious. Either way, it’s only a couple of hundred yards until the sandy road turns into slickrock. You can also take the Butler Wash Road (SJ230) from the north. If you come this way, it is almost exactly 20 miles from UT 95.
Crossing the Slickrock
When you hit the slickrock it can be difficult to find the correct path but if you look carefully, you can follow the old road track across to the cliff edge. Following the faint four-wheel-drive pathway takes you to the edge of a cliff overlooking Butler Wash. In contrast to some of the areas in the upper wash, this is a true cliff and you are standing up high on the rock looking over a sheer drop down into Butler Wash.
Look for a cairn that will show you where to drop off the cliff edge. There are a few ways to get down to the bottom but the best way, if you can find it, is to take the slickrock ramp that leads downward to the south. This ramp is hidden from above by a large boulder but if you get around it the way is obvious.
A Wall of Pictographs
If you don’t find the ramp you can find another way to work down the hillside until you get to the Butler Wash Bottom. From here head downstream and the sweeping wall with the Wolfman Panel is quite obvious.
The rock art is easy to find and very impressive. These pictographs were made by the Basketmakers who created much of the finest rock art in Anasazi country. The Wolfman image which gives the panel its name is a long-limbed big-handed humanoid. Additional figures include a crane or similar bird, a beautiful representation of a basket, a yucca plant, a mask, a humanoid with a headdress, and many other figures. Unfortunately, as already mentioned, the site has been damaged by bullets.
After exploring the Wolfman site you can return to your car or you can spend some time exploring in Butler Wash. There are ruins in the area so look around and see what you can find.
The hike to the Wolfman Panel is short, easy, and interesting. It makes a great short hike that gives a good glimpse of the nature of this area.
There are a number of books with good accounts of hiking to the Wolfman Panel. I recommend:
A Hiking Guide To Cedar Mesa by Peter Tassoni
The Best Bears Ears National Monument Hikes by Morgan Sjogren
There are many other books that will help you to find and understand this and other Ancestral Puebloan sites. Visit Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) Book Reviews.