Petrified Forest National Park is a remarkable place where visitors make new discoveries at every turn. World-famous for its plentiful and beautiful petrified wood, the park is in northeast Arizona in the spectacular Painted Desert. The park is split by Interstate 40 which makes it very easy to access. Interstate travelers can have an amazing visit in an hour while those who have more time will find many interesting experiences.
Ruins and rock art are plentiful in SE Utah and these roadside ruins are a place to stretch your legs, enjoy the incredible natural surroundings, and visit ancient cliff dwellings, ruins, and rock art.
Southeast Utah was once populated by the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) who lived in interconnected communities spread across the four corners area. Once numbering in the tens of thousands, these first residents left the ruins and rock art that fascinate us today. National parks and monuments like Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, and Chaco Canyon offer well-developed explorations of cliff dwellings and rock art. However, many smaller sites are easily accessed and offer a less-developed experience to visitors.
Kane Gulch is the most popular entrance into Grand Gulch which is the large canyon system that bisects Cedar Mesa. Cedar Mesa is the best place to find undeveloped archeological sites in wild settings and Grand Gulch offers amazing canyon-hiking and Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) explorations. Kane Gulch is the most up-canyon entry point for exploring Grand Gulch and the majority of backpack trips into Grand Gulch use the Kane Gulch trail.
Junction Ruin is probably the most visited ruin in Grand Gulch. It’s an interesting Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) site located in Grand Gulch right at the junction with Kane Gulch. Kane Gulch is the most popular access to Grand Gulch so it stands to reason that Junction Ruin the most visited ruin in the canyon. The trail to the ruin is easy and Junction Ruin is a great place to get exposed to the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) ruins of Grand Gulch
Sheiks Canyon is a short, steep side canyon that enters Grand Gulch between Todie and Bullet Canyons. Sheiks Canyon is not shown on the maps or described in the Cedar Mesa Travel Guide that the BLM provides to visitors. However, it’s fairly well-used access into Grand Gulch. It’s mostly used by day hikers seeking the well-known Green Mask rock art panel.
Arch Canyon drains into upper Comb Wash in the northeast section of Cedar Mesa. It’s easy to get to and offers lots of hiking and exploring opportunities. As might be assumed from it’s name, several arches can be viewed in the Arch Canyon system. Lower Arch Canyon offers easy trails, Anasazi ruins and scenic hiking.
The Walnut Knob Petroglyphs are on an obvious geologic feature located in upper Comb Wash. The site is just below Comb Ridge north of UT 95, very close to the mouth of Arch Canyon. Walnut Knob is very prominent, sticking up from the rock slope it sits on. Being such an obvious feature, it’s not surprising that the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) were associated with it.
The Procession Panel is a well-known Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) petroglyph located just below the summit of Comb Ridge. Access is from San Juan County road #230 which runs the length of Butler Wash connecting UT 163 in the south to UT 95 in the north. The trailhead is about 7 miles north of UT 163 or 14 miles south of UT 95.
The eastern slopes of Comb Ridge were home to many Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) and their predecessors. The entire area from the San Juan River north to the foothills of the Abajo Mountains was inhabited from the early hunter-gatherers to the cliff dwelling Anasazi of the Pueblo III period. These first residents left behind many cultural treasures ranging from large housing units to small lithic scatters. Wolfman Panel is a great example of the rock art that still exists.
Target Ruin, sometimes called Bullseye Ruin, is an Anasazi cliff dweller ruin found in Upper Butler Wash on the eastern side of Comb Ridge. The hike to the Target Ruin is mostly very easy and access is simple as the trailhead is on the roadside of Utah 95. The hike is fairly 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 will likely want to spend time really exploring the area. In particular, Ballroom Cave Ruin is nearby and very interesting.