Press "Enter" to skip to content

We Arrive and it is Hot | Cedar Mesa #1

As we set off towards Utah, I mentioned to @mrs.turbodb that maybe we should have taken her car on this trip. After all, the entirety of our off-pavement driving was going to be all of about 30 miles. Most of our time would be spent on foot, hiking from ruin to pictograph, with the occasional petroglyph thrown in for good measure. It was going to be a blast!

I'd gotten the crazy idea for this trip on my previous foray - Utah, Re-Ruined - when I'd naively assumed that I'd wrap up the ruins that Monte @Blackdawg had planned a few years earlier (Ruining Around Utah) and sort of be done with the area. Ha!

It was a Wednesday morning and the weather was fantastic as we passed through Prosser, green fields of wheat waving in the wind.

Nearly a Windows XP-era desktop background.

Much driving - and four hours of sleep - later, we found ourselves finally pulling off of the pavement at our destination. Just south of Blanding, UT, we were at the northern end of Butler Wash, just east of Comb Ridge. I'd been so close to this area on my last trip - having traversed the entire west face of the ridge - but never ventured east where it seems all the interesting ancestral ruins are located.

Note: Visiting Butler Wash requires a pass. For more information, check out BLM Utah Cedar Mesa Permits and Passes Information.

But first, we were going even further back in time - some dinosaur tracks visible just off the side of the road.

We were not the first meat eaters to roam this wash.

The dino tracks are very close to the road. That, in combination with the already how-can-it-be-so-hot-so-early-in-the-morning temperatures got us back in the Tacoma quickly, where we headed south towards our first trailhead.

Amazing how different Comb Ridge looks from the east, as it rises up over Butler Wash.

I really liked the contrast of colors here - orange, whitish, and blue.

The white sandstone of eastern Comb Ridge has been etched over the years. Reminds me of granite.

Several miles later, we headed west on a short spur towards the aptly-named Fishmouth Cave. There was no question, really, that we were headed the correct direction.

Fishmouth Cave, perhaps?

This is when the real endurance test began. At first of course, it was easy. Sure, it was almost noon, our shadows were short, and the temperatures were just north of 80°F, and we were tired from lack of sleep. Still, it was our first hike - a short two-miler - and we were excited for the lure of the unknown.

@mrs.turbodb sets out, spirits high.

The trail we were following was reasonably well trodden - and that meant that we could enjoy our surroundings rather than worrying whether we were headed the right direction or not. To our surprise, we came across two caves with ruins prior to our planned destination, and we stopped to explore.

A small ruin, well sheltered and shaded, even in the mid-day sun.

We'd see dozens of these large overhangs over the next few days, each one just as intriguing as the last.

Pottery shards and old corn cobs. A sure sign of life here.

Back out of the shade, we continued to climb. All around us, even though it was quite warm, spring was clearly in the air. A rainbow of Claret Cups were putting on quite a show!

Final approach.

Don't mind my spikes, I'm tasty!

Lizards scurried every direction as well. We'd see thousands of them over the next three days, some of them moving faster than I've ever seen before. The vast majority were this orange-ish variant, with tails more than twice the length of their body.

The elongated head of these lizards reminded me of an alligator lizard, with the body of a western fence lizard.

It's only been a mile, but are we there yet? It's hot out here!

A short climb later - though even I was sweating profusely at this point - and we reached the shade of Fishmouth Cave. We split up - each of our eyes caught by different artifacts - calling to each other as we made cool discoveries.

I really liked these hand print negatives. I'd seen plenty of painted hands before, but I don't recall seeing negatives.

Corn cobs and a metate.

Not a bad view, not by a long shot.

After a while, and knowing that we had plenty more in front of us, we started back. Along the way, buzzing on the ground caught my attention, and I noticed a series of round holes clustered along the trail. Carpenter bees!

Down in with pollen, back out...without!

Our first hike in the books, the A/C was on full blast as soon as we got back to the Tacoma. We only had a few miles to the next trailhead, but we were going to take advantage of every cool-ish minute we could. Let me tell you, there weren't many.

Soon, we were back on our feet, headed toward Split Level Ruins.

We'd become accustomed to this view of Comb Ridge over the next two days. Nothing at all to complain about!

Compared to Fishmouth Cave, the hike to Split Level Ruins felt relatively flat, with only a couple hundred feet of elevation gain to the cave. We didn't know that as we were starting out though, and we reveled in the shade of the wash as it wound its way west.

These overhangs provided a nice respite from the sun's relentless rays.

Once again, we stumbled on distractions along the length of the mile-or-so hike, and we stopped to look at each of them.

Carvings in the sandstone; hands and feet the most recognizable.

I really liked the colors of the sandstone layers here.

Split Level Ruin was so-named for obvious reasons - there were ruins on two levels of the canyon wall here. This would turn out to be a reasonably common occurrence over the next couple days, each time resulting in us wishing we could get to the upper level!

The inaccessible upper ruins.

Looking out from the cool shade of the lower ruins.

Two-tone wall with mud-water accents. All the rage in the old days.

When we stumbled on these elongated hand carvings, we were sure that they were going to be the highlight of the site. I've never seen anything like them. But then, I remembered that one of the hikes we were doing today was supposed to have some green pictographs somewhere. Could this be the place?

Alien fingers.

A green (and red and white) bullseye on the upper level. This was the place.

Our second hike now only a return trip from completion, we headed back to the truck and found some very sad shade from a tall sage brush to huddle under for lunch. Luckily for us, cool tuna sandwiches, chips, and an apple that I'd stored in the fridge were on the menu and thoroughly enjoyed, along with lots of warm water.

I really don't like warm water.

And then, it was time to rinse and repeat, as we drove south along Butler Wash for another few miles to the next trailhead!

Here we go again.

It's not just Comb Ridge along the west side of Butler Wash that provides visual interest!

On the (foot) trail again, headed to Cold Springs Cave.

The hike to Cold Springs Cave was much like the previous two - up a wash, this time with a bit of elevation gain, but nothing too bad. Still, we were running on 4 hours of sleep, and it was only getting warmer as afternoon wore on, so it was a bit of a grind as we finally reached the cave. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no cold spring there for us to jump - fully clothed - into.

Back in the day, perhaps there was a refreshing pool of water. Today, only shade.

Crumbling ruins.

There were tons of hand prints (positives this time), in a myriad of colors. Note the yellow along the bottom.

I liked how the water cascaded down the wall in a sort of fractal pattern.

A line of metates. From a single user over time, or an early assembly line?

A petroglyph. Slightly rare in that we'd mostly seen pictographs so far.

Rainbow hands.

The foundation is all that remains of a circular kiva.

After poking around and bringing our core temperatures back into the not-suffering-from-heat-stroke levels, we headed back toward the Tacoma, with two looming questions on our minds. On my mind, I was wondering if we'd be able to squeeze in two more hikes before the day was done. @mrs.turbodb on the other hand was wondering if we were, in fact, already done!

Blue skies and hot rocks. Like walking on a frying pan. (That's a scottle for you overlanders.)

Back at the truck, we relished the A/C once again. It was 6:00pm, now the hottest part of the day. Luckily for us, it also meant that the cool-down was coming, eventually. As we pulled up to the next trailhead, I looked over at my co-pilot and could tell that the heat and lack of sleep were taking their toll. I mentioned that she was welcome to sit this one out - perhaps reading a book in the shade - and then we'd figure out if we could do a final hike either just before or just after dinner.

My offer was quickly accepted.

Our cool oasis.

And so, I set out on my own towards a hike I'd been looking forward to for nearly a month. You see, on my last visit to this general area, I'd hiked to a cave that - at the time - I believed to be Monarch Cave. It turned out to be Comb Wash Cave, and so now I was going to get to do "the real thing."

As with the other hikes, the ground was teaming with the descendants of dinosaurs, many of them large, and all of them fast - their bodies warmed from the heat of the day.

A green monster.

I worked my way up the wash, weaving through spring grasses, under cottonwoods, and over boulders. A mile or so into the folds of Comb Ridge, I started my final ascent to the cave.

Sunstar through flitting cottonwood leaves.

The real Monarch Cave.

Reasonably well-preserved ruins.

Like the other ruins we'd already visited, the Monarch Cave is sees a reasonable amount of traffic, so it's a little worse for wear, but still fun to poke around. It had a few elements we hadn't seen already during the day, and it was nice to see the variety.

It was neat to see a roof (or floor) still partly intact. Wooden beams with smaller sticks laid across for support.

Last wall standing.

We'd mostly seen metates to this point. Here, I found a deep mortero.

Patterned pictographs

Man with a collar.

By now, it was nearly 7:00pm and thankfully starting to cool down a bit. Most of my hike back to @mrs.turbodb and the Tacoma were in the shade, until I got to the mouth of the side canyon and started across Butler Wash, where the sun was still streaming across the horizon.

Some storm clouds to the northeast made for dramatic views across the wash.

Upon my return, we had a quick discussion about whether we should do a final hike for the day - to the Procession Panel. Ultimately, we decided that we'd postpone the decision until we were at the trailhead. Then, we could decide if we wanted to eat dinner and then hike, or hike first, or just camp there until morning.

The thing is, as we pulled up to the trailhead, a million little gnats swarmed the truck. These things were tiny - a fraction of the size of mosquitoes, and we both worried that they were no-see-ums. Generally, you see, the time between mid-May and early July is high season for these terrible little critters, and we'd even gone so far as to bring special bug spray to try and keep them at bay. We hadn't run into any earlier in the day, but we sure as heck didn't want to start now!

So, we high-tailed it back the way we'd come, deciding to do the hike in the morning - hopefully to cooler temperatures and with a bit more rest - and found ourselves a nice secluded spot to call home.

Let's just go this way and look for somewhere to set up camp.

When we got to camp, I wanted to look around a bit. You see, there's a ruin - the ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  Ruin - that looks very intriguing, somewhere in the area. The only catch is that its location is a closely guarded secret, and so I had only the vaguest of clues to where it might be. At any rate, I figured that there was no better time to do a bit of exploring - after all, the sun was no longer high in the sky - and set off to have a look around while @mrs.turbodb chilled out in camp before dinner.

I found a narrow little arch as I looked for ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  Ruin.

I hunted around for a little over an hour, thoroughly exploring the canyon fingers in the place that we'd found to camp. Alas, I never found the ruin for which I searched, but I had a great time nonetheless. In fact, climbing around on the cliff walls, peering around each corner and into every overhang with my hopes high - it was surely a highlight of my day. For me, the hunt and discovery can be just as much fun as actually seeing a really cool sight.

Plus, I got to do it all in the magic hour - that time when the sun has set, but there's still enough light to illuminate the landscape.

Light on the horizon over Comb Ridge and our camp. All alone in the middle of nowhere.

Amazing light in the canyon.

As the pink faded on the horizon, I headed back to camp where I think we deployed the tent, made dinner, washed up, and climbed into bed in record time. We'd had 20 hours of driving and 11 miles of hiking in 90°F weather over the course of the last 36 hours. To say we were ready for some shut eye would be an understatement.

As we dozed off to sleep, a light breeze cooling us down, I wondered if we'd bitten off more than we could chew. I'd planned for this to be our easy day, with the next two requiring even more mileage in the relentless sun.

We'd just have to play it by ear, and hope we had enough water, to make it through.





The Whole Story


  1. Jim
    Jim July 5, 2021

    Holy shilt...beautiful! UJ

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 5, 2021

      Thanks! This trip, amazingly, only got better. Wait till you see the lizard on day 2. 😉

  2. Jeannie frederick
    Jeannie frederick July 5, 2021

    Lovely outing yall had for me today. I was really appreciative for yall suffering the heat so I'd not have to.. Howver, the photos made me wish I was there. The colors and layers were amazing and I love lizards also. Thank you once again. BTW Happy 4th of July. I cannot get enough of it all. I so love the sowest part of our world.

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 6, 2021

      The southwest is so awesome. Landscape, history, big open spaces - it's got everything! Happy 4th to you as well, I hope it was a fun one!

  3. Kenny Millhouse
    Kenny Millhouse July 6, 2021

    Beautiful scenery in Utah and you did an excellent job of documenting your travels there. Not sure how you could deal with the heat, one good thing about this time of year down there is the people are few and far in between.
    Thanks for sharing your adventures, we really appreciate it.

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 6, 2021

      Thanks Kenny! Glad you're continuing to enjoy the stories. Part 2 of this one has a pretty awesome lizard, and part 3 is an *insane* (even for us) hike!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *