Lower Comb Wash | Comb Ridge

Hiking Lower Comb Wash - Comb RidgeRoadside Attraction Lower Comb Wash - Comb Ridge Lower Comb Wash

Comb Ridge

Overview

RATING: Roadside / Easy Hikes
MAPS: SAN JUAN HILL, UT; BLUFF SW, UT

Sat

Sunny, with a high near 82. Southwest wind 5 to 20 mph, with gusts as high as 35 mph.

82 | 54

Sun

Sunny, with a high near 84.

84 | 50

Mon

Sunny, with a high near 88.

88 | 52

Tue

Sunny, with a high near 91.

91 | 55

Wed

Sunny, with a high near 92.

92 | 57

View Full Weather Details
SEASON: Any when roads are dry. Can be very hot in the summer.
GEAR: Standard Hiking Gear
WATER: None, bring all you need.
NOTES: Reaching the trailhead requires at least high clearance.

Sat

Sunny, with a high near 82. Southwest wind 5 to 20 mph, with gusts as high as 35 mph.

82 | 54

Sun

Sunny, with a high near 84.

84 | 50

Mon

Sunny, with a high near 88.

88 | 52

Tue

Sunny, with a high near 91.

91 | 55

Wed

Sunny, with a high near 92.

92 | 57

View Full Weather Details
River House Ruin in Lower Comb Wash

River House Ruin in Lower Comb Wash

Lower Comb Wash is a place with immense history. The spot is at the junction of Comb Ridge and the San Juan River, a natural spot that funnels traffic in the area through a small region.

Native American lived and likely grew crops on the fertile banks of the San Juan. River House Ruin, tucked into an alcove on the south end of Comb Ridge, is one of the most impressive ruins in the region and fascinating to visit. East of River House Ruin, the cliffs have numerous petroglyph panels, including the famous Kachina Panel. The Kachina Panel is often considered one of the largest and most impressive panels in the area.

After the Native Americans, the Mormon Pioneers passed through the region in the late 1870s and early 1880s. When their legendary expedition reached Lower Comb Wash in the spring of 1880, Comb Ridge was the last major obstacle they needed to overcome to reach their destination near modern-day Bluff. They crossed Comb Ridge by building a route up and over that was so difficult, many horses were left battered and bloody from the effort to get wagons across. They named the area San Juan Hill, which is just a bit west of River House Ruin. After the pioneers, a trading post was built that became known as Barton's Trading Post after changing hands a few times. It was short-lived, but some relics of its history remain.

Today, the area is very frequently visited by those floating the San Juan River, as well as hikers and tour groups.

Driving Note: Reaching the trailhead involves driving down Comb Wash. Because the road crisscrosses the wash, floods often change the condition and even the path of the road. I would generally recommend high clearance at a minimum. On one of my trips, after a recent storm, I turned back even in a high clearance 4x4 because of washouts. It is fairly long to walk all the way from the pavement, but some people do if they don't have a capable enough vehicle. On our last visit, we saw a group on fat tire e-bikes, which seemed like a reasonable approach if you are careful in the deep sand sections.
Part of the Kachina Panel

Part of the Kachina Panel

Getting There

Reaching the area starts by turning south off US-163 at milepost 38.3. This is a little over 10 miles west of Bluff. Once you turn off the highway, reset your odometer. The road will split and have many side roads. Stay on the most used and best-looking road that goes down Comb Wash. The map shows the path of the road when I drove it, but it may change with floods and use. In general, you will be either near the bottom of Comb Wash or to the east (left) side of it.

At 3.85 miles, the road will have climbed out of Comb Wash and be up on a hill as it nears the bottom of Comb Ridge. A junction in reached here. Go left. The road will begin to curve and head east now.

4.1 miles - Junction with a spur road on the left that goes to San Juan Hill.

4.25 miles - Junction. Go right and right again in just a couple of hundred feet to get to Barton's Trading Post. From the old trading post, continue on the road as it heads east and descends to the San Juan River floodplain. This descent can be rough. Check it before committing.

4.8 miles - A wide spot on the left and River House Ruin Trailhead. The ruin is visible from the trailhead.

From River House Ruin, there are several small rock art sites along the road on the cliff band. Keep a sharp eye out. The road also passes through private property during the next section. It is currently (2024) not signed "no trespassing", but don't camp or hike off the road during this section.

5.5 miles - The road comes close to the cliff. This area is known as Joe's Corral. If you look closely, there are rock art panels here, though some are a bit difficult to see. Just beyond, the road gets quick narrow from brush. You may want to walk from Joe's Corral, particularly if in a full size vehicle.

6.1 miles - Park here before the road climbs a bit and deteriorates. This is the Kachina Panel trailhead.

Rock art at Joe's Corral

Rock art at Joe's Corral

Route

San Juan Hill
The side road for San Juan Hill leads a short distance to a fence and information sign. The trail, leading up Comb Ridge behind the fence, is not nearly as well-defined as I expected, but with a close eye, can be followed up. There are occasional historic trail markers along the way as well. We followed it up about 0.4 mile, then stepped off the old trail to the west for nice views. En route there is a short side trail and marker and what, I assume, is an original pioneer inscription: We Thank Thee O God.

The Rincone
The Rincone, aka Barton's Trading Post, is right next the road past San Juan Hill. From the information sign at the site:

"Rincone, Spanish for corner, was the name given this bench land which forms a right angle junction of Comb Ridge and the San Juan River. Being a popular site for the fording of the river, William Hyde established a trading post here in the early 1880s to trade with the Indians. In 1885 Hyde's son-in-law and partner, Amasa Barton, moved to the Rincone to run the enterprise. Barton built a log home, warehouse, blacksmith shop, corral and established a garden. For irrigation, water was brought up from the river by a water wheel.

Early one morning in June 1887, two Navajos came into the store and began arguing with Barton. In the heated confrontation that followed, one of the Navajo s pulled a gun and accidentally killed his companion and fatally wounded Amasa Barton. Tense hours and days followed the shooting for it was feared that it could lead to a major confrontation. Through the diplomacy of the settlers in Bluff and Navajo leaders, further bloodshed was prevented.

Following the Bartons, cowboys of the Elk Mountain Cattle Company moved in, making this the center of their operation throughout the late 1880s. Today the walls of the milk house and the platform for the water well (east of here) are all that remain of the trading post.

-Hole-in-the-Rock Association."

River House Ruin
Probably the main attraction for most, River House Ruin is one of the largest ruins in the area. When visiting, follow the short trail to the ruin, but also follow the base of the cliffband west a bit as there are rock art panels and another small ruin a short distance from the main River House Ruin

Background Info: Situated along the banks of the San Juan River, the ruins are believed to date back to the ancestral Puebloan people, also known as the Anasazi, who inhabited the area from around 1200 BC to 1300 AD.

The exact purpose of the River House Ruin remains a subject of scholarly debate, but it is thought to have served as a residential complex, possibly housing several families. Its strategic location near the San Juan River suggests that the inhabitants may have relied on agriculture, fishing, and trade for sustenance and livelihood.

Joe's Corral
Joe's Corral, the next major site, is on the left, where the road comes close to the cliff. The site is visible from the road, or a short stroll to see the panels up close. They are of a similar style to Kachina Panel, though it is a small site in comparison.

Kachina Panel
From the parking area, follow the social trail as it heads up along the San Juan. It passes a large informational sign and a spot where rafters often stop and tie up their boats to visit the panel. The trail then heads up to the base of the cliff and the panel, which extends east along the cliff for a fair distance.

One of the largest and most ornate panels in the area, Kachina Panel is extraordinary. The number, size, and detail of the panels are really breathtaking. Return the way you came after visiting.


Maps

Printable Maps:
Mile Post 38.3

12S 617546mE 4125229mN

N37° 15' 58" W109° 40' 27"

3.85 miles - Junction - Stay Left

12S 615162mE 4120231mN

N37° 13' 17" W109° 42' 07"

4.1 miles

12S 615442mE 4120117mN

N37° 13' 14" W109° 41' 56"

San Juan Hill Sign

12S 615557mE 4120296mN

N37° 13' 19" W109° 41' 51"

Pioneer Inscription

12S 615567mE 4120748mN

N37° 13' 34" W109° 41' 50"

4.25 miles

12S 615658mE 4120159mN

N37° 13' 15" W109° 41' 47"

Old Trading Post

12S 615799mE 4120033mN

N37° 13' 11" W109° 41' 41"

River House Ruin Trailhead

12S 616411mE 4120390mN

N37° 13' 22" W109° 41' 16"

River House Ruin

12S 616390mE 4120420mN

N37° 13' 23" W109° 41' 17"

Panel

12S 616514mE 4120466mN

N37° 13' 24" W109° 41' 12"

Joe's Corral

12S 617213mE 4120869mN

N37° 13' 37" W109° 40' 43"

Kachina Trailhead

12S 617825mE 4121474mN

N37° 13' 56" W109° 40' 18"

Kachina Panel

12S 617991mE 4121596mN

N37° 14' 00" W109° 40' 11"

Comments

Want to make a comment? Login and let yourself be heard.