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Lower Butler Wash Rock Art Site

Photographs of Utah rock art.  Click on any photo to enlarge.
A few miles west of Bluff, Utah, at the confluence of Butler Wash and the San Juan River are ruins and rock art that date to Basketmaker Anasazi times. The elevation here is about 4250'.  In this area winter lows may drop into the teens at night and summer highs often reach into the 90s. Annual precipitation is 8.0" and falls mainly as rain throughout the year, but winter storms may blanket the area with a foot of snow. This environment supports sagebrush, Mormon tea, rabbitbrush, greasewood, squawbrush and blackbrush. Willows, cottonwoods and tamarisk, as well as native & non native grasses dominate the drainages and on the flood plain.

Butler Wash is an ephemeral tributary to the San Juan River and runs north to south along the eastern margin of a 600 foot high sandstone monocline named Comb Ridge. Comb Ridge is about 90 miles long and consists of up-warped Navajo sandstone that rises gradually from the east and drops precipitously on the west. The numerous deep runoff washes in the comb contain large erosion caves ideally suited for cliff house construction. Here the Anasazi lived and dry farmed for about 1500 years before abandoning the area around AD 1300.

The petroglyphs carved on the 100 foot high vertical cliffs at the confluence are attributed mostly to the Anasazi, although some petroglyphs may be of earlier archaic origin, and others are more recently made by the Ute and the Navajo people. Most striking is the great number of Basketmaker anthropomorphs (human-like figures) carved on the cliff face, some placed well beyond human reach and with no visible hand grips to climb up. Pecking into the dark stained sections of the sandstone seems to have been the preferred method of manufacture, but examples of incising are also common. Age and weather conditions have repatinaed the oldest petroglyphs back into the original color of the rock, making the images difficult to see if the light is not optimal. Some of the panels contain dozens of images, but superimposition of images is uncommon, allowing the unhurried viewer to enjoy this magnificent site.

Butler Wash Utah rock art

Anasazi cliff house

The flood plain of the San Juan river provided a cultivatable resource for the early inhabitants of the region.

The ruins of an Anasazi cliff house are visible on the western side of the wash.

Anasazi Basketmaker petroglyph

historic Utah petroglyph

The Basketmaker ancestors of the Anasazi people created many anthropomorph (human-like figure) petroglyphs here around AD 400.
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More recent petroglyphs, like the figure holding a rifle, were made by the Ute people in the last 250 years.

bighorn sheep petroglyphs

basketmaker anthropomorphs

The human-like figure on the right appears to be standing on a horse, while the figure on the left appears to be standing on a bighorn sheep. .

Many of the Basketmaker petroglyphs are high on the cliff face and are repatinated to the same color as the rest of the rock, making them difficult to see in some lighting conditions.

Anasazi petroglyph panel

Utah Basketmaker petroglyph

Besides elaborately headressed anthropomorphs, bighorn sheep, snake designs, atlatls, zigzags, abstract shapes  and other quadrupeds can be seen in the repatinaed rock face.

Anthropomorphs with big hands & feet as well as some with duck heads are common at eastern Utah Basketmaker rock art sites.

Anasazi petroglyphs in Butler Wask San Juan River Anasazi

Dark, weathered sandstone was the favorite canvas for petroglyphs, Some portions of the canvass are eroding away in modern times.

Human-like figures are most often represented, some elaborately decorated and some not.

Wolfman Panel Utah petroglyphs Wolfman Site rock art
A hike towards the north, up Butler Wash, takes you to a rock art site called the Wolfman Panel. It is a small site, but the petroglyphs are exceptionally well made and easy to discern in most light. These petroglyphs are also attributed to the Anasazi.
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