In praise of place: Comb Ridge, Butler Wash & Wolfman Panel
After retreating from Montezuma Canyon under the threat of an approaching storm front, Anne and I made the 30 mile drive south to Bluff, UT, and enjoyed a relaxing lunch at the Twin Rocks Cafe. This modern tourist-friendly eatery is located at the foot of massive sandstone cliffs rimming the San Juan River. For those so inclined, an adjoining “trading post” assembles all the cheesy southwestern knick-knacks one might expect to find in such an establishment, while also offering a wide selection of guidebooks and maps on the area. Plus, good burgers!
Our goal for the remainder of the afternoon was to visit as many of the Butler Wash ruins and petroglyph sites as we could pack in before heading off to our evening’s lodgings in Monticello. A short drive to the west of Bluff brings one to the southern terminus of State Rt. 262, a rough dirt road that heads back north toward a crossing of Hwy. 95. Along that 30 mile stretch are a series of Anasazi-era ruins and petroglyphs less well-known (and far more seldom visited) than those in the established parklands of the region.
Butler Wash parallels the impressive slickrock barrier of Comb Ridge, a north-south trending monocline that extends even farther south into the Navajo lands of northern Arizona. Our first stop along the route (which proved to be extremely rugged and jarring – more so than the guidebooks, and even BLM personnel, had led me to believe) was the turnout to Wolfman Panel, considered to be one of the most impressive petroglyph sites in the region.
From the parking area a short hike leads down off the rim into the wash itself. The petroglyph panels are obvious, and extend for 30 yards or so beyond the overhanging alcove on the east side of the wash.
As the photos illustrate, the site is indeed impressive, with glyphs of considerable interest that appear alternately whimsical and ominous. As always with depictions whose meaning and intent remain obscured, the mind is prone to conjure up all sorts of vivid and outlandish explanations.
Although it must be said, the figure of the wolfman itself leaves little to the imagination: isolated from any surrounding features, he appears as a figure of ferocity and violence, shunned.