A Visit to Three Ancient Ruins

Bluff, UT

Comb Ridge is a long (almost 50 miles), high rock ridge running in a north – south direction just west of Bluff.  The ridge makes a physical barrier for travel from east to west in this part of Utah.  The west side of the ridge is a vertical wall hundreds of feet high.  But the east side of the ridge is less steep and full of deep canyons.  Local people say that you can hike into almost any of these canyons and locate the remains of Ancient Puebloan people.  Butler Wash Road is a well-maintained dirt road that runs along the east side of the ridge providing access to many of the canyons.  One day this week we drove up Butler Wash Road to hike into three of the canyons with known ruins.

DOUBLE STACK RUINS  (3.9  miles north up Butler Wash Road/ 1.5 mile round trip hike)

The first is a ruin called Double Stack.  The ruins are named that because there are two sets of ruins; one set on a ridge high on the side of the rock wall and the other set on a lower ridge directly below the first set.  There is no way to get to the high ruins but a trail leads right into the lower ones.

The high ruins from a distance

The high ruins

From what we could see, the high ruins looked in excellent shape while the low ruins were showing signs of decay.  This is most likely due to the higher ruins being more under cover than those below.

The lower ruins

The lower ruins

Metates (indentations in the stone made by grinding grain) provided evidence of life in the canyon.

Apparently children marked up the walls of their rooms even among the ancients

It appears that these were very early Puebloans as their building skills were a bit crude compared to many ruins we have visited.


MONARCH CAVE RUINS (7 miles up the Butler Wash Road/3 mile hike round trip)

We returned to the Jeep and drove a few miles to the north for a visit to the Monarch Cave Ruins.  These ruins are tucked in the rocks at the end of a canyon.  Just south of the ruins there appears to be what would be a pretty decent waterfall during heavy rains.  At the bottom of the canyon below the ruins is a fairly consistently running spring.

Approaching the Monarch Cave Ruins

Apparently a few years ago you could climb into the main ruins in the above photo, but today there is a chain blocking the way with a sign that says part of the ruins has become unstable.

Along the ledge running east from the ruins is extensive evidence of life.  Large boulders along the ledge are filled with metates.

A row of metates and a large double mortero

Many examples of pictographs are on the walls along the ledge.

Pottery shards and a portable metate?

Some of the drawings are very high up on the walls, leading us to conclude that there must have been structures here allowing access so high up.  In the photo below there is a drawing up high over Pam’s head.

Below is a close-up of the rather elaborate pictograph.

The view out the canyon from the Monarch Cave Ruins


SPLIT LEVEL RUINS (9.6 miles up the Butler Wash Road/3 mile round trip hike)

The third site we visited was the Split Level Ruins (also called Long Hands or Long Fingers Ruins).  This site was a bit tricky to find as the trail splits a few times and recent rains have obscured some of the trail.

But we managed to keep on the correct path following our written directions and photo clues and after about a mile and a half came to the ruins.

The structures here are similar to those found in the other ruins.  But there are some great examples of metates (grinding areas) and art work.

In the photo below are some more grinding areas with some figures etched into the rock.  Our speculation is that the etched figures were made by a child to keep him/herself busy while Mom worked on the grinding chore.

There were many slits in the rocks believed to be made in the process of forming tools from animal bones.

Expecting mother?


The photo below shows why some call this the Long Hands/Long Fingers Ruins.  The extended fingers show some creativity on the part of the “artist.”


It is really interesting to visit these small ruins hidden deep in the canyons of Comb Ridge and imagine all the activity that took place a 1000 years ago.  There are many more we would like to visit, but they will have to wait for another time.  Now it’s time to head north to Moab.

More on that later . . .

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23 Responses to A Visit to Three Ancient Ruins

  1. Laurel says:

    We love Monarch Cave Ruins — it’s in such a beautiful location, and is so picturesque. We were able to climb up into it several years ago, but it was chained off on our visit last October. Probably a good thing to help protect it. We haven’t been to the other two ruins that you found — we’ll go searching for those next time. That last petroglyph of the hand with the long fingers is so interesting! I don’t think we’ll ever run out of places to explore on Cedar Mesa. 🙂

  2. Sue says:

    Hovenweep is a special place to visit and picture what was and may have been, but I agree with you that finding these ruins on your own, coming across vestiges of ancient people’s every day lives is an unparalleled experience. We’re absolutely on overload here, absolutely on overload…

  3. geogypsy2u says:

    Score! Great ruins and rock stories. I like Comb Ridge’s geology too. Definitely need to get back there.

  4. explorvistas says:

    It’s interesting how the Puebloen people used headers above their windows and square corners. There had to be some sort of mathematical mindset or ability to come up with the precision I’m seeing in your photos of these structures. Thanks for the tour!

  5. Sherry says:

    Boy would I love to visit those ancient places and to be there with no other people would be fantastic. I’m assuming no one else. Great pictures. Wonderful pictographs. Glad you had good direction s for that last one.

  6. Sherry says:

    Boy would I love to visit those ancient places and to be there with no other people would be fantastic. I’m assuming no one else. Great pictures. Wonderful pictographs. Glad you had good directions for that last one.

  7. Debbie L says:

    Fascinating! I especially liked the extended hands and expectant mother!

  8. These ancient ruins are so fascinating to see. Seeing them always makes me wonder how they ended up there and what their daily live must have been like. I love the children’s hand prints on the walls. Great post!

  9. Thanks for taking me to a couple of sites we did not make it to! The long fingers are very interesting!

  10. Sandra Silva says:

    We continue to enjoy your explorations and informative narratives. One of our favorite activities was to explore ruin like the ones you describe here.

    We have been in the Palm Springs area for he past three month regaining my mobility and strength. We are now ready to move on north.

    We will be spending a few days in Bishop on our way to Carson City to help with Bob’s mother for a few months.

    While in Bishop we would like to explore one of the sites t
    You wrote about near there. It was a wonderful formation of columns and caves I think some where near Mono Lake. What is the name of that area?

    Sent from my iPad

  11. montanaclarks says:

    Those are all ones we haven’t seen–heading toward Bluff about April 17!

  12. Jeff says:

    More great finds in the area. We stayed a a motel in Bluff some time ago, it had been used by UC Fresno to document some of the ruins. The manager had volumes of notes a pictures to look at. But alas we had a destination and no time to explore. Thanks for bringing the sites to life.


  13. Such rich, glorious color and history. Beautiful.

  14. Gay says:

    Amazing how those ruins have lasted. And what a neat experience to be there. Your posts have convinced me this is definitely a place we need to explore. Great photos and information!

  15. We’ve been to the Monarch Caves (before it was chained off) but not the other ruins. Good reason to go back and spend more time in that area.

  16. Jodee Gravel says:

    Third attempt to leave a comment – I swear I’ve used no profanity! Love all these amazing ruins – such a great variety. Can you imagine the views from that second level of dwellings? They must have had extensive ladders to get up there! Thanks for sharing all the cool glyphs and metates!!

  17. Maxxtrails says:

    You guys find the most fascinating hiking trails, I really enjoy reading about them!

  18. Paula Burr says:

    Thanks so much for your informative posts. We’re hikers too so whenever we come into a new area I always check your blog to see if you’ve been there! We absolutely love Utah but haven’t explored this area yet so I just added it to our list. One question, is Butler Wash Road a 4-wheel drive road? Every time we’re in UT we contemplate trading our Honda Fit for a Jeep!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Paula! Glad we can help you out sometimes with hiking trails:) Butler Wash is a well maintained dirt road that can be driven by any vehicle. Most of the trailheads are just yards off the road. So you should be fine. But a Jeep sure is handy in many states:)

  19. pmbweaver says:

    We have never stopped in that area. If we didn’t need another reason to go back to Utah.
    Expecting mother…Never saw one like that. Pretty cool.

  20. Larry says:

    Very interesting to see where the early Americans lived.

  21. LuAnn says:

    Definitely need to get to Utah! Another fascinating area to explore.

  22. Pam says:

    Wonder if the long fingers were inspired by someone’s shadow? Could be one explanation.

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