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Backbone of the Earth: Comb Ridge

New Years Weekend | Friday – Sunday, January 1-3, 2021

After spending Christmas Weekend around Moab I really didn’t have any solid plans set for the New Year holiday weekend. Diane definitely wanted us to get outside over the first weekend of the New Year since she is going to be starting Physician Assistant school on Monday and her free time will most likely be pretty limited over the next two years, so she probably won’t be able to join me on as many trips as she usually does. After following the weather forecast during the week and weighing our options we made a last-minute decision to spend the long holiday weekend hiking and exploring Comb Ridge in southern Utah for our first trip of 2021. Although we had made it to Cedar Mesa a couple of times last year, we never spent any time on The Comb, so we were looking forward to getting back there. As a matter of fact, I think it’s been quite a while since I dedicated a whole trip just to exploring Comb Ridge, so we were long overdue! Enjoy my photos from the weekend and my first Trip Report of 2021!

One of the highlights of the weekend for me was finally finding the Juniper Tree Ruin! I’ve long tried to figure out where these were located and finally did!

Juniper Tree Ruin

Here’s a closer view from up on the ledge.

Juniper Tree Ruins Ledge

The most interesting aspect of these ruins are the use of a Juniper Tree trunk in the construction.

Juniper Tree Construction

Two Hands

Two Hands

It’s been a long time since I visited Split Level Ruins and Diane had never been there, so we stopped by since we were in the area.

Split Level Ruins

I’ve always admired this petroglyph at the site.

Long Petroglyph Design

There are quite a few hard-to-see petroglyphs on the way to the ruins.

Split Level Petroglyphs

Behind the wall in the deep alcove.

Behind The Wall

A closer look at the lower level of the Split Level Ruins.

Lower Split Level Ruins

I always liked the green pictographs found on the upper level.

Green Pictographs

Long Fingers

Long Fingers

The Jump Rope Man

Jump Rope Man

There’s not much left of this little cliff dwelling.

Bottom of a Cliff Dwelling

This was a nice little petroglyph panel that we stumbled upon.

Small Petroglyph Panel

The Shaman Panel

Shaman Panel

We hiked to the top of Comb Ridge to check out the Ridge Top Ruins.

Ridge Top Ruins Alcove

Ridge Top Ruins

Ridge Top Ruins

Of course, we explored along the top of The Comb while we were up there.

Ridge Top

Hiking down Comb Ridge to Butler Wash in the evening.

Butler Wash Evening

Since we found ourselves along the San Juan River in the evening, we decided to hike part of the Emigrant Trail up San Juan Hill to watch the sunset. The trail up San Juan Hill was built in late March, 1880 by the pioneers of the Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition who were on their way from Escalante to what would become Bluff. I have driven and hiked much of this route in the past, so it was nice to visit another new section.

Emigrant Trail

“We Thank Thee O God” was inscribed near the top of San Juan Hill by someone in their party.

We Thank Thee O God

There were great views from the top of Comb Ridge!

Comb Ridge

Comb Ridge View

Hiking back down the Emigrant Trail at dusk.

Emigrant Trail - San Juan Hill

Although I’ve driven right by them numerous times over the years, this was the first time I stopped to check out the Dinosaur Tracks along upper Butler Wash.

Butler Wash Dinosaur Tracks

Warm sunset light on Black Mesa.

Black Mesa Sunset

I would have missed this very cool petroglyph if Diane had not gone off exploring and found it. The lines are pecked much thicker than most petroglyphs we come across, so I wonder if it wasn’t meant to be seen from longer distances away? Also, I don’t recall ever seeing one with a leg up in the air like this?

Karate Kick Guy

Just a couple of petroglyphs hidden behind brush and trees.

Behind The Trees

Multi-Color Handprints

Multi-Color Hands

We made a quick visit to Monarch Cave since Diane had never been here before and it’s been over ten years since I was here last. I believe this was actually one of the very first ruin sites I visited back in the day. Back then you could enter the ruins from the right side of the alcove, but it appears that way is blocked off and closed now.

Monarch Cave Ruins

Here’s a pair of granaries that Diane spotted.

Hidden Doorway

I’m not really sure who created these petroglyphs? I guess the could be Ute, Navajo or cowboy? What’s your guess?

Interesting Glyphs

Overlooking lower Butler Wash as we hiked along the rim.

Butler Wash

Boulder Petroglyphs

Boulder Petroglyphs

This guy appears to be holding a very large atlatl.

Big Atlatl Guy

Two turkeys on the left and a guy struck by an atlatl on the right.

Turkeys Panel

Falling Man Panel

Falling Man

The Forgotten Ruin

Forgotten Ruin

I’ve seen fingerprints, small footprints, corncobs and other designs pressed into the mortar of ruins, but I have never seen a paw print before- especially one with six toes! That’s very cool! Diane was the one who noticed this one and pointed it out to me. What would I do without her?

Mortar Paw Print

Up on top of the Comb Ridge at sunset.

Layers of the Comb

Comb Stone and the San Juan River

Comb Stone

We had an amazing long weekend exploring the Backbone of the Earth!

The Middle

>> Backbone of the Earth Photo Gallery


  1. Rob Shields
    Rob Shields January 8, 2021

    Beautiful, thanks for sharing.

  2. Dianne
    Dianne January 8, 2021

    I have gone to CM the last 6 years. I have mostly aged out for what I would like to see. Of course I didn’t make it in 2020. Guess I won’t go again. I loved seeing these pix and some beautiful glyphs that I have not seen even in books. Thanks so much. You are so good at photographing and capturing the spirit of the areas where you hike. I always feel longing for the SW when I look at your photos. Though I don’t know Diane, I am very happy to hear about her future plans. She will be so needed. I am sure you will be a good support for her and tolerate the many hours she will need to achieve her goals. Thanks again for sharing a bit of what you see and discover. It mean a lot to me. Happy New Year and many great hikes.

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