Exploring the Upper Comb Ridge

Joan and I explored an area an often ignored in favor of the famous area to the south and west of Blanding. 

The Upper Comb Ridge goes into the lesser explored part of the Dark Canyon Wilderness. At elevations of over 8000 feet in places and with many ponderosa pines, the area reminds us more of parts of New Mexico we love rather than the red rock desert below.  No less beautiful and equally chock full of history, the area proved to be a delight.

We wanted to explore sites without needing a permit and with fewer people. Our original plan called for a backpacking loop, but there were so many sites to see that we decided at the last minute to hike and disperse camp instead. Having our perma-camping kit in the trusty Kia facilitated this change of plans quickly.

The usual collection of wildflowers, dwellings, and Rock Images abounded.

I spotted an ancient symbol of Native southwest culture that unfortunately became appropriated for more sinister purposes. And the original emblem of the 45th Infantry Division of World War Two. An appropriate symbol for a division based in the southwest and comprised of many people of Native American ancestry.  I placed the original and the Thunderbird division patch underneath their Rock Images inspirations.

The wildflower delights did not disappoint, either.


As always, exploring the Ancestral Pueblo dwellings made walking through history, while exploring remote canyons, memorable.

We went higher up on the ridge and looked below to where we spent a January weekend. The Abajos (“Blue Mountains”) still covered with a lot of snow pack for so late in the season.

Our hiking brought us further into the canyon, and we could make out where we camped in January, too.

As scenic as we found the canyon, we found the highlight to be walking a narrow ledge on a cliff 800 feet above the canyon floor. And exploring the dwellings that dated back to about the 1200s.

The hike to the ancient cliff dwellings gives many people pause. An isolated and well-defended area far away from any readily available source of food. We’ll probably never know what happened per se, but the instability of the region of that time no doubt lead to these defensive dwellings.  On a peaceful Saturday 800-years later, we just enjoyed the view, the solitude, and marveled at these ancient structures.

After that site, we made a dispersed camp looking over our destination for Sunday. We had the place to ourselves with a full moon above and no wind.

A nine-mile out and back hike greeted us for the day. Not long, but we knew the rain and snow would arrive by mid-afternoon. Not a place to be on a dirt road at high elevations.

We made it to the canyon bottom where the flowers and insects did not know while the calendar it is May, that snow and rain was on the way.

We did the steep climb to another cliff dwelling — another ancient reminder of possible strife late in the Ancestral Pueblo world.

If our hike to the dwelling ended up being leisurely, our walk out ended up being a bit more of a stiff pace.

We arrived at the car, forded the two streams on the road, and made it to the pavement before any significant moisture came.

We celebrated another excellent trip, and another year for me around the sun, at a favorite place in Monticello. 

And next weekend, we’ll explore more of the ancient paths.

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4 years ago

As always Mr Mags – great write up!

4 years ago

Beautiful and interesting and all to yourselves–how awesome! & sounds like Happy Birthday wishes also–tx for sharing this lovely area.

Karl Gottshalk
Karl Gottshalk
4 years ago

Looks like a great trip!

Jason Jackson
Jason Jackson
4 years ago

Great timing! My son and I are headed out in the morning, from Fort Collins, for our second trip to Cedar Mesa area. The first was after reading an earlier post of yours. Hope fully we will be able to find all the sites we couldn’t last time. Even without finding those sites, the area is incredible. We will wave as we drive threw Moab.

Monty Pirtle
Monty Pirtle
4 years ago

I see in some of the photos some structural timbers…so at one time the area had forests?

I finally got around to making your lentil & sausage stew, man was it good! Lacking Italian sausage I had to substitute smoked turkey kielbasa but added fennel, and asiago instead of romano. It worked, thanks!