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Butler Wash Panel

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 0.2 - 1.8 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 4220 - 4235 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Butler Wash Panel
Fee: none
Attractions: Numerous petroglyphs




The Butler Wash Panel is located west of Bluff, Utah near where Butler Wash meets up with the San Juan River. The panel has multiple large images that have been identified to represent various kachina so it is also sometimes referred to as the Kachina Panel. There are hundreds of other images besides the kachina as well as the rubble pile ruins of a pueblo. Getting to the site requires a high clearance 4-wheel drive or other off road vehicle or a round trip hike of around 12.5 miles. For that reason most of the visitors to the Butler Wash Panel and the nearby River House Ruins are river rats that are floating by on the San Juan.


From Bluff head west on UT-191 and continue straight at the junction with UT-163 toward Mexican Hat and Monument Valley. The turnoff will be on the left at the bottom of the hill on the west side of Comb Ridge about 6.4 miles from Bluff.


The road through lower Comb Wash can be a little confusing as it takes multiple routes that mostly all lead to the same place. Care must be taken as some of the routes go through deep sand. At the 3.8 mile point from the highway the route turns sharply to the left and climbs a short but very rough little hill that requires both high clearance and 4wd.


Stay to the right at the top of the hill where the left fork turns toward the spot where the Mormon Hole-in-the-Rock trail made its climb up San Juan Hill. The right fork drops down to where the Rincone Trading Post sat on a bench overlooking the San Juan River. From there it travels around a rocky outcrop before leveling off and continuing eastward.


At the 4.7 mile point from the highway the route passes by River House Ruin. Besides the pictographs at River House Ruin there are some good petroglyphs along the cliffs in both directions.


The road is generally pretty good as it continues past River House Ruin. The big problem that we had was that the brush gets very thick in places and squeezing a full sized vehicle like our Tundra through it can result in some serious scratches. We ended up parking about 3/4 of a mile east of the River House Ruin and walking the last 3/4 of a mile to the Butler Wash Panel.


One advantage of parking where we did is that there are a lot more petroglyphs to be found both high and low along the cliffs in that area. There are so many that we are thinking about writing a seperate post for them.


The road forks again a little before reaching the Butler Wash Panel. The left fork leads to a cul de sac where you have to hike the rest of the way even if you drove this far. There is a fence that surrounds the area around the rubble pile of a pueblo. After crossing the fence there is a faint trail that leads over the top of the pueblo to the petroglyphs. The pueblo ruins are littered with pieces of pottery. Remember that it is illegal to remove anything from an archeological site as well as to dig, excavate or do anything to cause damage whether intentionally or accidentally.


The petroglyphs start after passing the pueblo site. From that point on the cliffs display one panel of large figures after another all intermingled with numerous smaller images that appear to be part of their story.


Some of the images are made in very dark patina while others are much lighter.


These images still show a remarkable amount of detail. I was using a Canon 100-400mm L series lens mounted on a Canon 7D for these photos so the actual zoom is equivalent to 640mm. A zoom like that allows a person to take decent enough photos from the trail along the bottom of the hill 50 feet or more away.


There are even petroglyphs that are easy to miss on the very light portions of the cliff.


Given more time and energy it would be nice to also explore the sections of cliff that are further from the road between the River House Ruin and the Butler Wash Panel. It would also be interesting to see how easy it is to get all the way over to the mouth of Butler Wash. Our map shows a road along the bench above his area that might be worth exploring as well. Between the River House Ruin and the Butler Wash Panel there is what looks like an old homestead. On the cliffs behind the homestead there are a series of moki steps that climb up to the next level where the other road is. The moki steps look well worn. There are also ruins in the section of Butler Wash between the San Juan River and Highway 163 that we haven't gotten around to visiting yet. The Butler Wash Panel is well worth seeing even if a person had to hike the complete 12.5. miles round trip from the highway. We've hiked further to see a lot less. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.