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Butler Wash in Flood

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

Normally a small stream or marshy area, a couple hours of torrential rain transforms Butler Wash into a noisy torrent.


Given the heavy rains of the previous evening, I was pretty sure the clay roads on either side of Comb Ridge would be turned to gumbo and rutted, so I put on hold my plans to explore the side canyons and decided instead to stay on slickrock.



West side of Butler Wash, south of highway 95, looking north. The flooding water of Butler Wash is visible in the center of the photo. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes



There are sites in lower Butler Wash, between highway 95 and the San Juan River, that can be reached without having to cross the wash. I parked my car on the slickrock a few hundred yards south of the highway and west of the wash and walked cross-country towards the canyon. The gradient dipped towards the wash, making walking easy.


My intent was to find a certain rock art site a friend told me he had visited the day before. It was on the east side of Butler Wash, but only a simple step across the narrow and shallow wash.


Things had changed overnight.


I arrived at the west side of the canyon that held Butler Wash. Nearly vertical cliffs of Navajo sandstone bordered the wash and formed the canyon, but there were a couple of promising, if very steep, routes down to the wash.


As is my practice, I paused high on the canyon wall and pulled out my binoculars—both to study the far wall for rock art and to scout a route down. I eventually spotted the panel in question, but a wide brown river now separated me from the far side, where the petroglyphs were. The chocolate-brown water was moving quickly and there was no way to tell how deep it was. I stayed put.



Rock art panel site on the far side of the canyon, separated from me by fast-moving chocolate-colored water. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes




After a while, and staying high, I ventured further upcanyon where the water in Butler Wash poured over a ledge in a noisy waterfall. Quite a change in the wash from its normally marshy state!




Further north, Butler Wash has a new and noisy waterfall. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes



If I were to explore the canyons of Comb Ridge further north, I would need to cross Butler Wash more than once. Surely, there was running water and slippery mud today. But when would it be drier and safe to cross?


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