Comb Ridge

Target Ruin in Upper Butler Wash

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. 

Directions to the Trailhead

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The trailhead to the Target Ruin is located just off Utah 95 near mile marker 111 – just east of the Butler Wash Ruin parking area. There is a large pullout on the north side of the highway that has room for several vehicles. There are no outhouses, water, or other services in the parking area. However, there are vault toilets in the Butler Wash Ruin parking area which is just to the west. I’ve read hike descriptions for accessing the Target Ruin that say to park at the Butler Wash Ruin parking area and cross the slickrock to join the Butler Wash trail. However, I find it much more convenient to park alongside the highway.

Photo of Target Ruin
Target Ruin is the best known ruin in Upper Butler Wash. the ruin you see here is not accessible but you can get good views from the alcove opposite it.

From the parking area next to the highway drop-down the obvious trail a short distance to the Butler Wash bottom. This puts you on the Upper Butler Wash trail which is a well-developed hiker trail wending its way through the Butler Wash bottom. The trail typically crosses back and forth over the actual wash bottom. However, everything is variable as flooding moves all kinds of things around will change trails and create new opportunities for hikers.

No matter how the wash changes, the trail is a straightforward and easy hike up the wash bottom. Butler Wash is well vegetated and much of the hike is in the shade of the mature cottonwood trees that fill the bottom. However, the thick soils in the bottom support dense growths of a host of other plants. At times you will be hiking through head-high vegetation filled with the life of the desert. At just about three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead, you will find the trail off to the left that leads to Target Ruin. 

The Target Ruin Trail

Target Ruin sits at the end of a high walled box canyon just a short distance from the bottom of Butler wash. There are two trails that lead to the ruin. The most often recommended trail climbs diagonally up a steep sandy hillside from the Butler Wash bottom. Hiking up the wash, this trail can be difficult to spot unless you know where to look. The trail is much easier to spot when you are walking down the wash and many hikers completely miss the trail as they hike up the wash bottom.

The box canyon that holds Target Ruin is not obvious from the Wash bottom so you have to look carefully to spot the trail. The access trail splits off from the main trail just down-canyon from the Ballroom Cave. If you reach the point where you can see the Ballroom Cave alcove up to the left you have come too far and need to retrace the trail back down the wash.

As you walk back down the wash, look to your right and you should spot the trail. The hillside here is right next to the trail and you’ll see the Target Ruin access trail heading steeply up the sandy hillside. Once you hit the top of the dirt hillside you’ll find an easy trail leading into the box canyon.

Photo of slickrock section that leads to the Target Ruin
This small pour-over provides an easy access to the Target Ruin canyon. Most hikers use the steep sandy trail that is a short distance further up Butler Wash. However, it’s easy to climb up here to get to the ruins.

Although this is the commonly suggested route to the Target Ruin, my preferred access is to hike up the slick rock pour-over where the Target Ruin box canyon enters into Butler Wash. This is not a dramatic pour-over but if you’re observant you’ll notice this slickrock about three-quarters of a mile from the parking area. It’s a patch of rock that is obviously a drainage and all you have to do is scramble up and follow it to the ruin. Again, this short side canyon is encountered before the Ballroom Cave alcove comes into sight so if you reach the point where you can see the alcove you know that you’ve come too far and need to turn around and go back. Look at the photo above and you’ll see what the slickrock pour-over looks like.

Visiting the Ruins

The hike up into the ruins is a short walk into a box canyon with steep walls. There are alcoves on both sides of the canyon and each of these alcoves holds ruins. The alcove on the north side (right side looking into the canyon) has a large well-preserved ruin that is the Target Ruin. Unfortunately, the alcove is surrounded by sheer walls and there is no way to access the ruin without climbing aids. Note: It’s illegal to use climbing aids to access ruins! Don’t ever try to enter a ruin that doesn’t have a hiking trail to it.

Ruins in alcove opposite Target Ruin
These crumbly ruins are in the alcove opposite Target Ruin. There’s much evidence that the alcove was once fully developed but little remains of the structures that once filled the cave.

The alcove on the south (left-hand side looking up Canyon) holds the remains of what was once a fairly extensive set of structures but most of these structures are now in serious disrepair. This alcove is easily accessed by a trail that is obvious and is easy to explore. Although most of the rooms are gone, several still show their initial shape and configuration. In addition to the ruins, there are a number of metates created by the repeated grinding of corn on the rock. There are a few petroglyphs and pictographs on the alcove walls.

Photo of target petroglyph
This target petroglyph is found on the wall of the alcove opposite the Target Ruin. Look carefully when you explore the alcove for this and other rock art. This target has been pecked into the rock wall making it a petroglyph. The target inside Target Ruin is painted on making it a pictograph.

A Well Preserved Ruin

The Target Ruin is directly across the canyon from this alcove and you can get good views of the detailed construction. One structure still has the roof poles sticking out and it’s easy to see the well-made construction of this flat-topped room. The Alcove is filled with rooms. On the right-hand side, the room walls are built on the very edge of the alcove. On the left side, a curtain wall fronts the alcove with rooms behind.

The Target Ruin is named for a large target or bull’s-eye design painted on the side of a wall inside the curtain wall. It’s difficult to see this pictograph from across the canyon but a third of the target can be viewed if you get to just the right viewing point.     

Target pictograph in Target Ruin
Target Ruin as seen from the alcove across the canyon. The target pictograph that gives the ruin it’s name is located at the very left hand section of the ruin. It’s in the deep shadow but can easily be seen in the photo. Enlarge the photo for a better view.

The rooms of the Target Ruin are very well preserved. Perhaps a big reason is the lack of access which keeps visitors from climbing on the walls and ruins. When you are done exploring the Target Ruin area you can either return back the way you came to the vehicle park or continue up Butler Wash to visit the Ballroom Cave and the other attractions found in Upper Butler Wash.

Learn More & Do More

There’s not much additional information available about the Target Ruin. I don’t know of any guide books that describe the ruin. However, there are a couple of photos of Target Ruin, including a historic photo from 1894 in Cowboys and Cave Dwellers: Basketmaker Archaeology in Utah’s Grand Gulch by Fred Blackburn and Ray Williamson  

When you have finished visiting Target Ruin continue up the wash to visit the Ballroom Cave Ruin. It’s a very short hike from Target. If you have time, continue to explore up Butler Wash. It’s great hiking and not too far until a large cliff-lined amphitheater where you must turn around.