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Glyphs on the Fallen Boulders Below Bears Ears' Comb Ridge

Updated: May 31, 2021

Apart from the Moki steps descending the cliff below Procession Panel, is there evidence that ancient people were in Comb Wash?

Looking west from the crest of Comb Ridge, Comb Wash appears as a colorful, north-south oriented, brush-dotted plain far below. Further west, the land slowly rises to form Cedar Mesa.

The valley and dry stream bed of Comb Wash is comprised of colorful clays. The wash proper is often dry, but quickly turns to gumbo-like mud with any significant rain. Large, truck-sized boulders eroding from the Wingate cliffs of Comb Ridge lie on the talus slopes and clays of the valley floor.

Wingate boulders, eroded from Comb Ridge, have tumbled down its vertical west side to rest on the colorful clays of the Chinle formation on the valley floor. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

Another grouping of large boulders in Comb Wash. Many of these have petroglyphs created by people traveling through the area or living here. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

Detail from another boulder in the same general area. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

There are many thousands of fallen boulders, but if you look closely, many have petroglyphs. Some of them shelter granaries. And although there is minimal evidence of structures on the valley floor, any that might have been there have almost certainly been dissolved by the rains over time.

A house-sized boulder shelters a small granary at the base of the cliff on the western edge of Comb Ridge. The handprints next to the structure were made by blowing a mouthful of white pigment over a hand placed flat on the rock. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

The colorful clays of Comb Wash and its fairly flat valley may have been home to game as well as a source of raw material for pottery. Those factors alone might explain why people traveled over the ridge from the east instead of making the very long detour around Comb Ridge.
Once in Comb Wash, it was a fairly easy route to the north or south to destinations like the Great Houses of the time. Perhaps that explains why petroglyphs are found on many of the large boulders. Maybe they were symbols to fellow travelers.

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