Petroglyphs & Potsherds: Exploring the Wolfman Panel in Bears Ears National Monument
Bears Ears National Monument's Wolfman Panel is one of the easiest rock art sites to access within Butler Wash. Located north of the San Juan River near Comb Ridge, the panel features a fascinating cluster of petroglyphs, including birds, plants, geometric shapes, anthropomorphic figures, various animals, and the eponymous Wolfman, a small human-like figure with large wolf-like hands. It is believed to have been created during the Basketmaker period (1500 BC to 750 AD), a time when the ancient natives of Cedar Mesa flourished.
Trailhead elevation 4,524'
Don't miss the ruins, potsherds, and petroglyphs on the other side of the canyon
Hiking to the Wolfman Panel
To reach the trailhead, find the unsigned dirt road on the north side of Rt 163 near coordinates 37.264240, -109.641879 and follow it roughly one mile to reach the trailhead. Most vehicles can reach the trailhead in dry conditions, but a high clearance vehicle is preferred. Shortly after leaving the trailhead you'll encounter the trail marker in the photo below.
From here the trail proceeds west along slickrock with cairns pointing you in the right direction. Within a quarter mile the trail begins to descend into the canyon. Just before you begin the descent, take a moment to walk to the canyon rim and a bit to the right. If you scan the far side of the canyon you'll notice a number of ruins, which you'll have the option to visit later.
After returning to the trail, continue the modest descent into the canyon. Shortly after squeezing between two boulders along the trail, take a moment to look to the right where you'll notice a few trails below you. These are the trails that eventually lead to the other side of the canyon where you can view the ruins.
Continue on the main trail and shortly after passing an alcove to your left you'll begin to discover the rock art belonging to the Wolfman Panel. The first images that you'll encounter are what appear to be two sheep.
These images are followed by two geometric designs and a few human-like depictions.
Immediately after these images you'll find the panel's namesake depiction, the Wolfman. The figure measures no more than ten inches, but is easily recognizable.
Just past this you'll find larger images that were created on a much darker patina. Of the discernable images, you'll find a shield, shaman holding a staff, two figures that appear to be holding hands, a snake, concentric circles, human footprints, and more.
To the right of these depictions you'll find more interesting petroglyphs. The two depictions near the right side of the photo below appear fairly regularly in the American Southwest, but what they represent is anyone's guess.
The photo below gives some context to the scale of the panel.
To reach the other side of the canyon and view the ruins you'll need to hike back the way you came a bit. After passing the alcove, which now will be on your right, there's an easy area to drop down to the trail shown in one of the previous photos in this article. Upon reaching the trail, head right and follow the trail down into the canyon. Once near the canyon's bottom, take the first split in the trail to the left.
After passing through the thick willow, follow the trail up the other side of the canyon and within a hundred feet or so of reaching the top you'll spot the ruins.
The ruins are fairly deteriorated, but they're definitely worth the short side trip to view. You'll also find many potsherds near the site, most of which have been placed on large rocks. Please refrain from removing any artifacts from the site. It is both irresponsible and illegal.
A few more potsherds below.
Along the alcove you'll also find several tool sharpening marks, holes in the rock face where timbers once rested to support dwelling structures, and many petroglyphs.
You'll find several handprints, numerous snakes, human-like figures, and quite a bit more. One of my favorite petroglyphs is the handprint below.
Take some time and explore the area to the right of the ruins where you'll find some of the larger petroglyphs, including what appears to be a five or so foot long snake.
When you're done simply return to the main trail and back on up to the trailhead. This article includes the distance and elevation gain that you'll record visiting both the Wolfman Panel and ruins. Those who wish to view the Wolfman Panel only will be looking at a round trip distance of roughly one mile and 100' in elevation gain. A day use pass is required to park at the trailhead and can be found at recreation.gov.