Our mid-February through early March weather was AMAZING this year- perfect for getting out and doing some pre-spring hikes. We were in high ‘show season’ in our office (Jan-March every year when we attend Travel, Sportsman’s, Adventure & Gear shows to promote tourism in San Juan County) and I think I’ve counted that from the first show I attended in January to the last which was the 2nd weekend of April, including personal weekends away, I was out of town 7 of 14 weekends! But somehow in there, my family managed to get hikes in on 5 separate weekends- I think the weather must have been on our side this year to allow that to happen!
One of our first hikes this year was in mid February, and we decided to hike to Monarch Cave which is located on Comb Ridge, just southwest of Bluff. We’ve done a lot of other hikes on Comb Ridge; Procession Panel, Wolfman Panel, Fish Mouth Cave, etc., and they’re all amazing- Comb Ridge is definitely one of my favorite places to hike!
Now that our son is getting older (3 1/2 yrs) we’re determined to get out and hike and camp as much as possible this year. We’re also thinking we might finally be ready to take him on the San Juan River this year- just the upper section between Sand Island and Mexican Hat. It’s not that I didn’t think he was old enough to go on the river before- I think he’s more than ready! It’s just that he has multiple & severe food allergies and the thought of him having an allergic reaction on the river, especially on the lower section in the canyon between Mexican Hat and Clay Hills, is pretty terrifying! (Trust me, my husband manages the San Juan River Office at the BLM and he’s heard some pretty bad stories of things that have happened to kids on the river!)
We were determined to take advantage of any nice weather we could, so when the weather forecast was calling for low 60s around Bluff that weekend, we decided to head down there to take advantage of it! We picked Monarch Cave because it’s a pretty short hike- only about 2 miles round trip, so we thought that would be a doable length for our son, although as it turned out, the trail was pretty overgrown so he ended up walking very little of it and rode on dad’s shoulders most of the time. Overgrown trails and 3ft tall kids are not a good combination- everything that would be brushing up against an adult’s thighs and waist are eye level for a little kid- not optimal hiking conditions!
Although the weather was really nice the day we hiked to Monarch Cave, I think I’d actually recommend going a little later in the season because just as you leave the trailhead, you have to cross a wash and it was extremely MUDDY! At first we tried to walk through it carefully to keep our shoes from getting caked with mud, but after a few minutes we realized that there was no way around it and we were just wasting our time. Our shoes were so caked with mud that I think it took pretty much the whole 1 mile hike to the ruin before our shoes were mostly clean again. (You can see in our lunch picture above that my husband’s shoes were still a little muddy.)
We knew that some of our friends had been out there the previous day, so when we came to the ammo can with the trail register inside, we read it out loud to our son so he could hear that one of his good buddies had just been there the day before! I think he was pretty excited about it, but maybe a little confused about how his friend got out there.
Mostly, we had picked Monarch Cave because we thought the length of the hike made it kid-friendly, but it really turned out to be an awesome place for kids! Between the pictographs, petroglyphs, grinding grooves, and the cave itself, there was a lot to keep my little guy busy! The only thing that made it a little less kid-friendly was the fact that there was a drop-off on one side, but it wasn’t a problem as long as we took turns watching him.
You used to be able to walk right up to the ruins, but currently it’s roped off and you can only look at it from a distance. But you can still get up close with all the other things I mentioned above, (grinding grooves, petroglyphs, etc.) plus the view of the ruins in the cave with the discolorations on the wall above really makes for great photos, so we really didn’t feel like we were missing too much to not be able to walk right up to the ruin. It wasn’t overly warm on the day that we were there, but I think this would be a great late spring or early summer hike with all the shade in the alcove and from the high walls on both sides of the canyon.
I almost forgot- I think the thing that kept my son busy for the longest amount of time was not the grinding grooves or any of the other cool archaeological things at the cave, but it was actually yelling and listening to the echos that bounced back from within the cave and the canyon. Luckily, we were the only ones there- I’m pretty sure other hikers would not have thought it was as cool as he did!
**Archaeological Site Etiquette**
I wanted to share this informative video put out by Friends of Cedar Mesa, which is just one in a series of ‘Visit With Respect’ videos that they’ve put out. In the excitement of visiting a new ruin, it can be easy to forget how easily ruins can be damaged by people and even by our favorite four-legged hiking companions. These videos offer helpful tips on how to ensure that our amazing archaeological sites like Monarch Cave, can be enjoyed by future generations. If you’d like to view the rest of the videos in their Visit With Respect series, please click HERE.
From Bluff: Travel west on hwy 191 (this road becomes hwy 163 about 4 miles west of Bluff) for about 5 miles and turn right (north) onto Co Rd 262 (Butler Wash Rd) After passing through a gate near the highway, continue on this road for 6.9 miles then turn left (west) down a short single track to the trailhead. (There is also a parking area/trailhead at 7.1 miles- I think this is the one we used)
I’m not sure that there are signs at each trailhead that tell you the names of each trail, but following your odometer seems to be the best way to find the sites on Comb Ridge. Follow the trail approximately 1 mile to Monarch Cave- the trail will be obvious and well marked.
Distance From Monarch Cave to Lodging in San Juan County, Utah:
- Bluff: 12 miles/19 km
- Mexican Hat: 28 miles/ 45 km
- Blanding: 38 miles/61 km
- Monument Valley:53 miles/85 km
- Monticello: 60 miles/97 km
- La Sal: 95 miles/153 km
For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386
Or e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
A big thanks to gjhikes.com for allowing us to use their Monarch Cave map! Check out their hiking blog for ideas on more amazing hikes in Utah as well as Arizona, Colorado, & New Mexico!