Comb Ridge

Ballroom Cave Ruin in SE Utah

Ballroom cave is an interesting Anasazi ruin found in Upper Butler Wash on the eastern side of Comb Ridge. The hike to Ballroom cave is mostly very easy and access is simple – you actually park on the roadside of Utah 95. The hike to Ballroom Cave is relatively short and this ruin can easily be visited and explored in a couple of hours or less. However, there are a number of nearby ruins in Upper Butler Wash and you’ll likely want to spend time really exploring the area. In particular, Target Ruin is nearby and very interesting.

Finding the Trailhead

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The trailhead to the Ballroom Cave Ruin is located on Utah 95 near mile marker 111, just to the east of the Butler Wash Ruin parking area. There is a large pullout on the north side of the road that has room for several vehicles. There are no outhouses, water, or any other type of services in the parking area. However, there are pit toilets at the Butler Wash Ruin. I’ve read other descriptions of accessing the Ballroom Cave that say to park at the Butler Wash Ruin parking area but I find it much more convenient to park alongside the highway.

Photoof Ballroom Cave from canyon floor
The opening to Ballroom Cave is very obvious from the trail. The cave is larger and deeper than it appears from here.

From the parking area, you’ll easily find the trail which leads down a short slope to the bottom of Butler Wash. From here the trail winds its way up the bottom of the wash. It’s mostly a sandy trail that crosses the dry creek bed in many places. Depending on the time of year you may find thick tall vegetation growing beneath the cottonwood trees that line the wash bottom.

The hiking is generally very easy and after a short distance, you reach a junction where the wash splits. Follow the left hand (western) fork on the obvious trail. It is not far from here to the place where you can split off to the Target Ruin. Continuing on, a short hike up canyon brings you to where a side trail climbs steeply up to Ballroom Cave.

Climbing Into Ballroom Cave

Photo of the curtain wall at the front of the ruin
This view of the Ballroom Cave curtain wall shows how the cave falls off below. The cave drops down and extends a significant distance where there is a large open area, several rooms and the remains of several structures.

As you approach Ballroom Cave the first feature you’ll see is the remains of a curtain wall that extend along the top of the cave entrance. The cave is quite steep and the area in front of the curtain wall is littered with large boulders. Many of these large boulders are significantly grooved with metates where the Anasazi spent many hours grinding corn on the rock. Ballroom Cave has more of these grinding spots concentrated in a single place than most other ruin sites I know of. These extensive grinding areas indicate that there must have been significant corn growing in the area. It’s possible the Ballroom Cave served as a communal grinding area that was used by a number of residents who inhabited the entire Upper Butler Wash area.

A True Cave

Behind the Curtain wall, the cave falls off steeply and a large cave area is exposed. In the Southwest, many alcoves are called caves and it’s the common name for any large opening in a cliffside. Few of these are actually what we would consider to be caves but Ballroom Cave is an exception. This is one of the few places where there is an actual cave environment. Dark and deep, the cave contains several rooms, and literature from the BLM indicates that the cave actually supports a number of bats. Although I have never seen them, I can easily imagine this to be true.

Remains of room block inside the Ballroom Cave
These ruins are tucked against the cave wall. The roof beams would have supported the floor for the second story. These structures exhibit typical Mesa Verde construction techniques

The cave area of Ballroom Cave is really quite large with a big open area. There are a few wall ruins that show there were once additional rooms built into the walls of the cave but little remains of these rooms. However, there are many corn grinding metates in the cave. One area in particular features a long row of these grinding spots lined up side by side. It is easy to imagine a group of Ancestral Puebloans working together and sharing their stories as they put up the winter grain.

Look for the Rock Art

Photo f the pictographs in Ballroom Cave
This rock art panel shows a number of different pictographs. The hand prints and anthropomorphs are very typical of the Anasazi rock art found in the Butler Wash area.

Although the main cave area is behind the curtain wall, there are some structures at the other end of the cave. These rooms were well constructed and the remaining walls and roof beams show the secure construction techniques that are typical Mesa Verde style construction. These rooms are near the very front of the cave and were once multi-storied rooms. However, most of the upper levels are long gone.  On the wall above the rooms you will find the only rock art in Ballroom Cave. The pictographs are particularly interesting for the three stick man figures that are each a different color – one is red, one is gold and the third is brown.

Although there is nothing spectacular about Ballroom Cave, it’s a favorite site of mine. The deep dark cave is not something I commonly find and the walls and structures that remain make it easy to imagine the extensive development that once was here. With the easy access on Hwy 95 and the short easy hike to the cave, this is a place for almost any hiker to explore. Its close proximity to several other ruins makes the Ballroom Cave hike a great place to visit backcountry Anasazi ruins.

Learn More:
      Ballroom Cave is not described in many guide books however, there is a hike description found in A Hiking Guide To Cedar Mesa by Peter Tassoni     
     There is a very brief description of Ballroom Cave found in The Anasazi of Mesa Verde and the Four Corners by William Ferguson

These are nearby sites: