Saturday & Sunday, January 18-19, 2014
The Bluff Balloon Festival is an annual event that I have wanted to attend for a number of years, yet for some reason or another I have never made it down there for it. This year I finally changed that! Diane and I drove down to spend the weekend around Bluff so we could get a little hiking in and watch the balloons in the Valley of the Gods on Sunday morning. I don’t think we could have asked for a better weekend of weather in January since the temperature reached 60 degrees while we were out hiking on Saturday. It was great to get out of the colder weather in Grand Junction for a little while!
After spending a few hours in my Jeep driving down to Blanding on Saturday morning, we made a quick stop at the Butler Wash Ruins near Highway 95 before following Butler Wash south along Comb Ridge. I’ve visited many ruins and rock art sites in the canyons of Comb Ridge before, but for some reason I have always skipped over Cold Spring Cave, so we hiked there this time.
There were plenty of interesting ruins to be found in this deep alcove.
Faint rock art and handprints adorned the walls.
Beautiful reflected light filled the alcove.
We found this inscription left behind in 1892 by the Illustrated American Exploring Expedition which had visited around one hundred archaeological sites between Durango and Comb Ridge that year.
A long grinding stone that also contains a few petroglyphs.
Nice reflected light on the remains of this wall.
After thoroughly exploring Cold Spring Cave, we climbed and scrambled up a very steep drainage to get above the ruins and onto Comb Ridge above. After hiking uphill to the edge of the next canyon we were greeted with a birds-eye view of Eagles Nest Ruin. I have seen this almost inaccessible ruin from the bottom of the canyon before, but not from this angle.
The structures in this little alcove seem to be very well-preserved.
After hiking back to the Jeep we finished our drive down the Butler Wash Road and then crossed over the San Juan River into the Navajo Nation. We didn’t have too much time before we wanted to be back in Bluff to watch the hot air balloons, but there was one large ruin that I still wanted to visit before then. We navigated the backroads across Casa del Eco Mesa before dropping down below the edge of the mesa and parking just below the massive north-facing alcove that contained the ruins.
These large ruins perched on a ledge at the back of the high alcove are known by many names including Casa del Eco, 17 Room Ruin, 16 Room House and Echo Mesa Ruin.
When we were done visiting the ruins we drove back to Bluff so we could watch the Balloon Glow-In at the Community Center.
When the Glow-In was winding down we headed over to the Twin Rocks Cafe to have some dinner with a group of friends who were also in the area for the weekend. Some were old friends and some were friends that I had yet to meet in person. After dinner we parted ways with the group and drove back up to Blanding to check into our hotel for the night.
On Sunday morning Diane and I woke up extra early so we could get out to the Valley of the Gods before sunrise and before the hot air balloons arrived. We met up with a few friends who were camping in the area and watched the sun rise on the sandstone buttes surrounding us.
Alpenglow on a couple of buttes in the distance.
Warm early morning light strikes Battleship Rock.
Then we found a nearby spot where we could watch and photograph the balloons all morning.
A balloon over my Jeep while the almost-full moon is ready to set behind the cliffs in the distance.
Back light and dust kicked up from the vehicles on the road made for some nice scenes.
Six balloons preparing for flight.
Identical balloons fly above us.
When most of the balloons were done flying that morning we headed back to Comb Ridge for a little more hiking before driving back home. First, we followed Comb Wash to the San Juan River so we could visit the River House Ruins and then we returned to Butler Wash so we could hike to the Wolfman Panel and nearby ruins.
There was some nice reflected light on the panel while we visited.
After crossing Butler Wash to visit the ruins nearby, we spotted this high petroglyph panel that I had missed before. It’s always nice to find something new!
Direct sunlight and shadows on this ruin.
After returning back to the Jeep we started the drive back to Colorado. We made one last stop at the Moab Brewery for an early dinner and then finished the drive back home to end our weekend. It was a great weekend 🙂