Return to Moab – Drive to Looking Glass Rock

Moab, UT

On Sunday (4/16) we left Bluff and drove north a hundred miles to Moab.  The drive up US-191 is very scenic, with the snow covered La Sal Mountains coming into view in many spots along the way.

Wilson Arch viewed from US 191

Sandstone bluffs as we near Moab

The Moab Rim as we head into town

The view to the east from our site in Portal RV Resort

It didn’t take us long to settle into our site in Portal RV Resort, a beautiful (but expensive!) park just north of town.  The park is divided into two sections.  The first section is the campground, a normal RV arrangement with narrow gravel sites.  Drive through the campground and you enter the “resort.”  This section has very wide concrete sites that are owned by individuals who place them into a rental pool when the owners are not there.

During the first couple of days here we took some time off from the hiking trail to do some “normal” activities – hair appointment, new tires on the Jeep, etc.  One of our first exploration activities was a drive out a dirt road to check out a large arch.  Dave and Sue (Beluga’s Excellent Adventure) had driven this route last year and it looked interesting.  So we headed south on US 191 for about 25 miles and turned west on to Looking Glass Road, a well-maintained dirt road.  After just a few miles we came to a very large sandstone rock formation.  As we drove around it, we looked back and spotted Looking Glass Arch.

We pulled into the parking area on the west side of the formation and headed up the slickrock to get up close and personal with the arch.

John is giving some perspective

Looking at the Abajo Mountains 30 miles to the south

We climbed back down from the arch and hiked around the rock formation to see it from the east side.  From there we could see some climbers up on top.  We waited a bit, hoping that they would repel down, but a descent didn’t seem imminent.

Can you see the climbers?

The climbers ascended the rocks at this point (we stayed down on the ground!)

After circling the rock formation we got back in the Jeep and continued west on Looking Glass Road.  Soon we came to an interesting couple of rooms built into a rock wall.

We couldn’t find any information on these two one room abodes, but some old furniture in one of them indicates that someone lived there once upon a time.

Driving further west we came upon Rockland Ranch.  A small community of fundamentalist Mormons, about 15 polygamist and monogamist families, have established a unique home for themselves there, living in modern homes literally carved into the side of the massive sandstone Hatch Rock in the desert.

Rockland Ranch was founded about 35 years ago by Robert Dean Foster, who set out to create a safe, remote space for a Christian community that embraced plural marriage. Large houses were built by using dynamite to blast caves into the sandstone cliff, then finished into relatively modern homes.  The community is entirely self-sufficient complete with running water, electricity, internet access, and a working farm.  It also houses three and a half years worth of pickled and jarred food for seven families (adding up to about 100 people including all the children) in case the apocalypse strikes (better safe than sorry!).

We turned around at Rockland Ranch and headed back toward Moab.  As we headed east we were treated to a great view of Looking Glass Rock from the west side.

David, Karen, and Cody have joined us in Moab and are staying in the campground section of Portal RV.  We have a number of “outings” planned with them during the two weeks we are in town.  We’re still way behind in the blog but will be working hard to catch up, so look for more blogs coming real soon.

More on that later . . .

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Final Hikes Along Comb Ridge

Bluff, UT

During our last couple of days in Bluff we did some short hikes into canyons along Comb Ridge leading to some interesting ruins.  All these hikes begin in parking areas along the west side of Butler Wash Road.

The first hike was a visit to Fish Mouth Cave.  The cave is visible from Butler Wash Road, 12.7 miles north of Rte. 163.  The ruins we were looking for are not in the cave, but about a mile up a wash below it.

Fish Mouth Cave

Fish Mouth Ruins

After exploring the ruins along the Fish Mouth Cave Trail, we went back to the Jeep and drove a short distance back down Butler Wash Road to the trailhead to Monarch Ruins (6.9 miles from Rte. 163).  Like the rest of the trails in the area you have to hike through Butler Wash to get to Comb Ridge.  The wash is almost always very dry, but where we crossed there was an area that showed some signs of dampness.  It was this area of dampness where Cody decided to take a side trail.  He immediately sunk into the mud up to his knees (Do dogs have knees?).  We now faced a little problem.  The mud was mainly clay, so we knew that when it dried Cody would have hard adobe-like material between his toes (Do dogs have toes?).   Fortunately, we came to some small water tanks in the slickrock and were able to use one to give him a quick paw washing.

Approaching the ruins the walls of the canyon contain many faded pictographs and work areas where the inhabitants sharpened their stone tools.

Approaching Monarch Ruins

As we entered the ruins, we first explored a flat area on the right side of the canyon.   The area contains some petroglyphs and artifacts that include pottery sherds, corn cobs, sharpening grooves and metates.

At the end of the “work area” the BLM has placed a rope barrier to keep visitors out of the main ruins.  We honored the barrier and just observed the main ruins from that vantage point.

Heading back down the trail we had difficulty keeping up with our hike leader, Cody.  Once he senses the end of the trail he moves pretty quickly to find the shade of the Jeep.

Our final hike in the Bluff area was to a set of ruins called Cold Spring Cave.  The trailhead for this hike is 7.1 miles up Butler Wash Road from Rte. 163.  The first part of the hike is on an old Jeep road that soon turns into a single track trail leading down into Butler Wash.

Heading out on the old Jeep road

The trail is pretty well marked and leads up a side wash for a mile to the ruins.

Approaching the ruins

Heavily used “workstation”

An inscription on a rock within the cave made in 1892, gives name to the site.  Look at the bottom left side of the rock in the photo below and you’ll see “IAEE” carved there.  It stands for Illustrated American Exploring Expedition.  A magazine, The Illustrated American, sponsored an expedition of seven men into this area to learn the truth about rumors of ancient people and to publicize scientific findings in a series of articles titled “In Search of a Lost Race.”  A second goal was to assemble a sizable collection of artifacts for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

The expedition named the ruins for the natural spring that flowed through the cave.  There is still a little bit of water in the cave and you can see plant growth on the walls.

A little rock art

Two scholars discuss the significance of the ruins

Upon returning to Bluff we stopped at the Comb Ridge Bistro and Espresso Bar for a cold drink.  Sitting on the patio Cody found his twin brother.  Remember the movie Twins?

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito

OK, that ends our visit to Bluff.  We fell way behind in our blogging as the Internet signal in Bluff is a bit slow.  We left Bluff on 4/9 and have made our way a hundred miles to the north for a two week visit to another favorite town, Moab.

More on that visit later . . .

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Hiking the Upper Butler Wash

Bluff, UT

On Wednesday (4/12) we headed north to explore three sets of ruins along the Upper Butler Wash.  The Upper Butler Wash trailhead is located on UT-95 10.5 miles west of Blanding.  It is at a small parking area on the north side of the road just east of the turn for the Butler Wash Ruins.

Trailhead for the Upper Butler Wash Trail

The first set of ruins we visited is the Target Ruins.  About .8 of a mile up the trail there is a trail that goes off to the left (west) steeply up a sandy hill.  Once up the steep section the side trail levels out for the short walk up a wash to the ruins at the end of a canyon.

The steep section (Cody is peeking out from behind David

Approaching the ruins

There is a small cave area on the left side of the canyon.  It appears to be a work area for the early residents as a large rock there shows evidence of grinding activities.

The main section of ruins is across the canyon from the cave.  There is no way to get into them so the spot in front of the cave is the best place to view them.

If you have a camera with a decent zoom you can look across the canyon into one of the rooms and see where the ruins earned the name “target.”

We hiked down into the canyon below the ruins and found some artwork along the wall below them.  The hands were of particular interest.

We were contemplating how the residents got into the buildings when David spotted two shallow indentations in the rock at our feet.

We looked above us and were able to see a small indentation that had been ground out of the rock above us, just to the left of the entrance.  We think that this was where the inhabitants placed a ladder so they could get into the rooms above us.

We returned back down to the main trail and continued hiking up the wash.  Just a short distance up the trail we came to the next set of ruins, the Ballroom Cave Ruins.

Approaching the Ballroom Cave Ruins

The Ballroom Ruins are at the end of a short canyon and have small caves on both sides.  The cave on the right side of the ruins is not very deep.

Right side cave

The cave on the left side is much larger and showed signs that it was used more than the one on the other side.

Looking down on the left cave

Looking back up

Remains of a wall in the left cave

Interesting “work station” in the left cave

Continuing our hike up the wash we came to one more set of ruins.  We don’t know the name of this spot but it is set inside a large alcove just off the trail.  You can’t see into the alcove from the trail and the only way up to it is by climbing up a short but steep break in the wall below the alcove.  Fortunately, someone left a piece of rope hanging down into this break so John was able to climb up.

Made it!

Hey Cody!

There isn’t much in the alcove so he advised the rest of the group to just stay down below.

Most significant remains in the alcove

Upper level in the back of the alcove with significant smoke residue on the walls and ceiling

We turned around at that point and headed back toward the trailhead.  We followed Cody most of the way back.  He stays behind the lead hiker on the “out” hike, but he must pick up the scent on the return hike as he usually takes the lead.

This is a great hike if you want to see some nice ruins without many people around.  At a round trip distance of 4.6 miles of mostly flat terrain along a wash, it is not too difficult but very interesting.

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Moon House Ruins – Bluff, UT

Bluff, UT

For our second adventure in the Bluff area we headed up on Cedar Mesa for a hike to the Moon House Ruins.  We did this hike three years ago and tried to do it again with David and Karen two years ago.  You need a permit from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station and the number of permits issued each day to the Moon House Ruins is limited to 20.  When we arrived there two years ago all the permits had been issued for that day.  So this year we called ahead and reserved four permits.

The Kane Gulch Ranger Station is 50 miles from Bluff, so the four of us headed out early the day of the hike.  We headed south on US-191, continued on US-163, and turned right on to UT-261 to the ranger station.  Once we obtained our permits we headed back down UT-261 six miles and turned east on Snow Flats Road.

Snow Flats Road

Snow Flats Road is a maintained dirt road that can be driven by any vehicle with decent clearance.  After eight miles we came to a left (north) turn onto a smaller road.  There is a small parking area there as a high clearance vehicle is recommended for the last mile drive to the trailhead.  We found this road to be in great shape so most vehicles could drive it.

While the hike to the ruins is only a mile and a half, the trail first goes over flat slickrock before dropping steeply down into a canyon.

Tree sculpture along the first part of the trail

David and Karen head down into the canyon

At one point the trail goes over a rock ledge.  Although rocks have been piled below the ledge, that last step is a bit tricky.  But we carry a rope that we tied around a strong bush, making the drop down (and back up) much easier.

Once over the ledge we could see the ruins across the canyon.

We followed the winding trail down to the bottom of the canyon, then hiked steeply up a wide area of slickrock into the ruins.  We had the place to ourselves.

One of the neat features of the Moon House Ruins is that you are permitted to climb through a low doorway leading to an interior hallway.

Walking east away from the first set of ruins on a wide ledge, we rounded a bend and came to a second set of ruins.  In the photo below you can see that the room on the left is very crude, while the longer portion to the right shows distinct improvement in building skills.  This indicates that the ruins were built in two different time periods.

Looking back toward the first set of ruins

Heading back up the steep canyon on the return hike

Once back on the main road we headed south toward Bluff.   UT-261 is a nice paved road but it includes three miles of unpaved, but well graded, switchbacks descending 1100 feet from the top of Cedar Mesa called the Moki Dugway.  We went up the Dugway on our way to the hike but didn’t stop to take any pictures.   On the return trip we stopped a couple of times and took advantage of the great views.

Valley of the Gods in the distance

One of the switchbacks

The Moki Dugway

No pets are allowed on the trails in Cedar Mesa so Cody had to sit this one out.  This did not make him very happy, so he will be more than ready for the next hike!  More on that later . . .

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On to Utah – Procession Panel Hike

Bluff, UT

Last Sunday morning (4/9) we left Farmington, NM and headed northwest for about a hundred miles to the little town of Bluff, UT.

Bluff is a tiny town of about 300 people located in the four corners area of Utah along US-191.  This is our fourth visit here as we love exploring the many canyons in the area.

Bluff, Utah (from east).jpg

After arriving in Bluff we quickly settled into a spot at the Cadillac Ranch RV Park and waited for our friends, David and Karen and their little dog Cody, to arrive.  We last saw them during our Florida stay in December and were anxious to have them join us for some hiking.  But first on our agenda after their arrival was dinner at the nearby Twin Rocks Cafe.

We love their chicken noodle (dumplings) soup and Indian Fry Bread, and it was just as good as we remembered.  The next morning all five of us (Cody is quite the hiker) headed out for a hike up to see Procession Panel, a wall of rock art high up on Comb Ridge.

The four-legged leader of the pack

Comb Ridge is a linear monocline (a step-like fold in rock strata) nearly 80 miles long in southeast Utah and northeast Arizona. Its northern end merges with the Abajo Mountains eleven miles west of Blanding.  It extends essentially due south for 28 miles to the San Juan River, just south of Bluff, where it turns to the southwest into Arizona.  In many of the narrow canyons along the ridge created by erosion, there are abandoned rock dwellings built by Ancient Puebloan cultures.  There is no evidence of anyone living along the canyon leading to the Procession Panel, but someone sure spent a great deal of time drawing the many figures.

To get to the trailhead we drove five miles south on US 191, which turns into US 163.  Across from the turn into the Bluff Airport (Yes, they have an airport.  OK, it’s one paved runway.) we turned right on to Butler Wash Road, a well-maintained dirt road.  After a drive of about 6.3 miles we turned left and drove a short distance to a parking area where the trail begins.

The artwork is around the corner

Cody led the way for much of the hike, but this was mainly due to his desire to get ahead of us and enjoy a moment in the cool shade provided by the rocks.

A short rest in the shade

After a hike of about two miles up a wash, (the last quarter up a steep, rocky path along the wall of the canyon) we came to the panel full of artwork.

The Procession Panel

Don’t touch the wall, just get close!

A couple of guys taking a break

The Panel includes 154 figures in a line

Karen made an interesting observation of the figure in the photo below.  Note that the tail is raised and there appears to be round balls of something just behind the back feet.  What was the artist trying to depict?

Note the shepherd with a bird on his head

Time out for a drink

After examining the panel we continued up the slickrock to the edge of the comb where we were treated to great vistas all around us.

Heading up to the edge

Monument Valley was visible to the south

Comb Wash Road below us with Cedar Mesa in the distance

This entire area is included in the newest of national monuments, Bears Ears National Monument, signed into existence by President Obama last December.  We could see the Bears Ears peaking up far to the north.

Bears Ears in the distance

Lunch with a view (note the paw)

The cell service in the Bluff area is pretty poor, but apparently at this higher elevation the signal is a little better.  David took his phone off airplane mode for a moment to check signal strength and received a call from a friend in Florida.  So much for being in the wilderness!

A bit of color along the trail

Near the trailhead you have to go through the dry bed of Butler Wash.  Since there are a number of cactus needles and other sharp items in the sand of the wash, it is difficult to go through that area in your bare feet paws.  So Cody called for an Uber to help him navigate this part of the hike.

Once back in Bluff, Cody joined us for a dog treat and some conversation.  But we found that he was a bit too tired for any meaningful discussion.

Next up for the group are a couple of hikes leading to some impressive Puebloan ruins.  More on that later . . .

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Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Farmington, NM

We have been staying in the San Juan County Fairgrounds (McGee Park) for a few days now waiting for area dirt roads to dry out from recent rains.  We couldn’t find a decent RV park in the area, so the fairgrounds seems to be the only option.  They have hundreds of RV spots, most with water and 30 amp power, some with 50 amp power.  Since it is off season, the place was almost empty.  We were able to just pull up next to a line of hook-ups instead of backing in.

The main reason we came to this area was to visit Chaco Culture Historic Park, a large group of ruins occupied by Puebloan people for over 300 years.  The site is about 65 miles south of Farmington but there are no towns closer to it.  The park can be a challenge to get to as part of the route there is on a dirt road that is rarely maintained.  It rained the day before we arrived and we heard that the road was pretty muddy so we waited three days to let it dry out.  We watched the weather forecast and selected the best day for our visit.  Since it is such a long drive, we were up and in the Jeep before 7:30!  Oh, and it was just a bit chilly as we drove off.

The first 45 miles of the trip is on US-550, a nice four land highway.  Just past the dot on the map called Nageezi we turned south on CR 7900, a two lane paved road, for eight miles.  A left turn put us on CR 7950 heading into Chaco. After three miles the pavement ends but the road is maintained by the county and is in very good shape.

Maintained part of CR 7950

After eight miles we came to a sign that said “End of County Maintenance.”  That is where we knew the challenging section of the trip would begin.  There is a four mile section of the road that receives little or no maintenance, so it can be pretty rough.  Our blog friend Suzanne (Take to the Highway) visited here a few months ago and found the road in very poor shape.

Even the short wheel base Tracker can't navigate this obstacle course!

Photo borrowed from Suzanne’s blog

We found the road to be in passable shape, with evidence of some drainage grading along each side.

After a heavy rain the road is impassable, as it goes right through a wash.

After four miles we came to smooth pavement as the road entered the park.

The difficult road conditions and long distances from towns appear to limit the number of visitors to Chaco.  It is not to often that you find the parking area empty at a visitors center!

Speaking with a ranger in the visitor center we were informed that we picked the best day in four years for our visit as someone had done some maintenance on the road the previous day.  After the rains earlier in the week the road was impassible and workers who live in Farmington had to stay overnight in the park.

The park is in a canyon with a nine mile loop road going near most of the many ruin sites.  After spending a little time in the visitor center, we quickly drove out the loop road into the park to join a ranger led tour.  Our tour was through Pueblo Bonito, the largest and best known great house in the park.  A volunteer guide named Andy took a small group of us through the site.

Between AD 900 and 1150, Chaco Canyon was a major center of culture for the Ancient Pueblo Peoples. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes that remained the largest buildings in North America until the 19th century.

Pueblo Bonito covering almost two acres and comprising at least 650 rooms. In parts of the complex the structure was four stories high.  In January 1941, a section of the canyon wall known as Threatening Rock collapsed as a result of a rock fall, destroying some of the structure’s rear wall and a number of rooms. The builders of Pueblo Bonito appear to have been well aware of this threat, but chose to build beneath the fractured stone anyway.

Collapsed rock against the side walls of Pueblo Bonito

Inside the Great Kiva at Pueblo Bonito

Some of the high walls need a little help to stay upright

Corner windows are unusual. This one aligns with the solstices

Pueblo Bonito below the canyon wall

Doorways through internal rooms are aligned

A paved path leads from Pueblo Bonito to nearby Chetro Keti.  Along the way the side of the canyon contains a great deal of rock art and a number of areas where the residents sharpened rocks for tools.

Chetro Ketl bears the typical ‘D’ shape of many other central complexes. Begun between 1020 and 1050, its 450–550 rooms shared one great kiva. Experts estimate that it took 29,135 man-hours to erect Chetro Ketl alone.  One archaeologist estimated that it took the wood of 5,000 trees and 50 million stone blocks.

Long wall of Chetro Keti

Many of the windows were filled in when the inhabitants move away around 1150.  In the window pictured below note the small, round plugs in the wooden logs used to support the wall above the window.  The plugs are from drilling wood samples as part of a process called dendrochronology, or tree dating, which is used to establish the age of the wood.  The process is used extensively in establishing the age of puebloan ruins.

View through a window in Chetro Keti

Another view of Chetro Keti

Kin Kletso (“Yellow House”) was a medium-sized complex located a half mile west of Pueblo Bonito.  It contains 55 rooms, four ground-floor kivas, and a two-story cylindrical tower that may have functioned as a kiva or religious center.

We parked in the lot for Kin Kletso to access the trailhead for a loop hike called the Pueblo Alto Loop, located behind the ruins.

Pueblo Alto Loop Trailhead

This five mile loop trail goes steeply up the cliff on to the mesa above many of the ruins.  The first part of the hike is a bit difficult.

So where’s the trail?

We’re going up through that crack in the rocks

Nice view of Kin Kletso from up on the mesa

After hiking about a mile along the top of the cliff we came to the overlook for Pueblo Bonito.

Lunch with a view

As the population of the pueblo grew in the 10th century some moved outside the canyon and constructed new communities.  Thirty such outliers spread across 65,000 square miles are connected to the central canyon and to one another by a web of six Chacoan road systems. Extending up to 60 miles in generally straight routes, they appear to have been extensively surveyed and engineered.  Their depressed and scraped roadbeds reach 30 feet wide with rocks or low walls delimit their edges. When necessary, the roads deploy steep stone stairways and rock ramps to surmount cliffs and other obstacles

Small piece of a roadway

To get up and down the cliffs Chacoans built ramps or steps into the rock.  About halfway around the loop trail we came across a great example of a set of steps.

Steeps are just to the right of the dark area in the center

A little closer view

OK, now you can see the steps

A view from the side shows how steep they are

As we continued around the loop the trail went through a split in the rocks that led down to a lower level above the canyon.

Looking back at the split we just passed through

Snack with a view

View of Chetro Keli with Pueblo Bonito in the distance

The opening heading back down to the trailhead

As you come back down through the crack in the rocks the Kin Kletso ruins appear below.

After a long day of hiking and exploring we exited the park and found the initial part of the dirt road in even better shape than it was when we drove it earlier this morning.

About a mile up the dirt road we came to the reason for the improvement in the road.

Although a bit difficult to get to, a visit to Chaco is well worth the effort.  We would have liked to spend another day there as there are a few areas we didn’t see but the long drive from Farmington prevented that.

Next up is a repeat visit to one of our favorite places, Bluff, UT.  Our doggie buddy Cody is going to meet us there to join in some hiking.  Oh, and David and Karen will probably come with him.

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Aztec Ruins, NM

Farmington, NM

Just 15 miles north of our location here in northwest New Mexico is the small town of Aztec, home of the Aztec Ruins National Monument.

The structures date to the 11th to 13th centuries, and the misnomer attributing them to the Aztec civilization can be traced back to early American settlers in the mid-19th century. The actual construction was not by the Aztecs, who were never in this area, but by Ancestral Puebloans.

The Great Kiva was one of many kivas in this community.  Archaeologist Earl Morris excavated it in 1921 and reconstructed it in 1934.

The interior of the kiva has been restored to what experts believe is the original condition.

Reconstructed model of a young puebloan maiden

Reconstruction of the original wooden ceiling

Smaller kiva nearby

Series of interior rooms connected by doorways

The ceilings in many of the interior rooms still have the original wood.  Rather than using local timber, the builders chose to bring in high quality roof beams from higher elevations over 20 miles to the north.  Since these people did not use the wheel or pack animals, the wood had to be carried or dragged that long distance by hand!

Many buildings in Puebloan ruins showed alignment with solar and lunar events.  The wall pictured below lines up with sunrise on the summer solstice and sunset on the winter solstice.

Levels of green sandstone run along some of the walls of the ruins.  The reason for this band is unknown.

Unlike many ruins in the four corners area, the Aztec Ruins National Monument is easily accessible in the town of Aztec and can be explored on paved trails.  It is a great place to explore Puebloan life without a long drive or strenuous hiking.

Next up for us is a place that is not so easily accessible:  Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  More on that later . . .

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