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  • Writer's pictureDan Wagner

Petroglyphs & Potsherds: Exploring the Wolfman Panel in Bears Ears National Monument

The Wolfman Panel in Bears Ears National Monument stands out as one of the most accessible rock art sites within Butler Wash. Located north of the San Juan River near Comb Ridge, the panel showcases an intriguing array of petroglyphs. Among them are depictions of birds, plants, geometric shapes, anthropomorphic figures, various animals, and the eponymous Wolfman—a small human-like figure characterized by large wolf-like hands. Scholars speculate that it was crafted during the Basketmaker period (1500 BC to 750 AD), a flourishing era for the ancient inhabitants of Cedar Mesa.

Trailhead elevation 4,524'

Water None

Don't miss the ruins, potsherds, and petroglyphs on the other side of the canyon

Hiking to the Wolfman Panel

To access the trailhead, locate the unmarked dirt road on the north side of Rt 163 near coordinates 37.264240, -109.641879 and follow it for approximately one mile until you reach the trailhead. While most vehicles can reach the trailhead in dry conditions, a high clearance vehicle is recommended. Shortly after leaving the trailhead, hikers will come across the trail marker shown in the photo below.

Wolfman Panel trail

From this point, the trail extends westward along slickrock, marked by cairns to guide the way. Within a quarter mile, the trail starts its descent into the canyon. Just before the descent, hikers should consider pausing for a moment to walk towards the canyon rim and slightly to the right. By scanning the far side of the canyon, you'll observe several ruins, which can be reached later in the hike.

Wolfman Panel ruins

Upon resuming the hike, proceed with the gradual descent into the canyon. Shortly after navigating between two boulders along the path, sometimes referred to as "the squeeze", pause for a moment and glance to the right. You'll observe several trails below, which ultimately lead to the opposite side of the canyon, providing access to view the ruins.

Wolfman Panel trail

Keep following the main trail, and soon after passing an alcove to your left, you'll start to come across rock art. The first images that you'll encounter seem to depict two sheep.

Wolfman Panel petroglyphs

Following the sheep are two geometric designs and a number of human-like depictions.

Wolfman Panel petroglyphs

Right after these images, you'll encounter the panel's namesake depiction, the Wolfman. Despite measuring no more than ten inches, the figure is easily recognizable.

Wolfman Panel petroglyphs

Just beyond the Wolfman, you'll discover larger images etched on a darker patina. Among the discernible images are a shield, a shaman holding a staff, two figures seemingly holding hands, a snake, concentric circles, human footprints, and more.

Adjacent to these depictions, you'll encounter more intriguing petroglyphs. The two figures near the right side of the photo below are commonly found throughout the American Southwest, yet their meaning remains open to interpretation.

The photo below provides perspective on the scale of the panel. The depictions in the image above can be found near the center right in the photo below.

To access the opposite side of the canyon and view the ruins, you'll need to backtrack a bit along the main path you came from. After passing the alcove, now on your right, you'll find a convenient spot to descend below and pick up one of the trails near the bottom of the canyon. After descending to the trail, turn right and follow it to the first split where you'll turn left.

Once you've passed through the dense willow, continue following the trail as it ascends the opposite side of the canyon. Within approximately a hundred feet of reaching the top of the trail, you'll catch sight of the ruins.

Wolfman Panel ruins

The ruins show signs of significant deterioration, yet they are undoubtedly worth the brief detour to view. You'll also notice numerous potsherds near the site, many of which have been arranged on large rocks.

Wolfman Panel potsherds

A few more potsherds below.

Wolfman Panel potsherds

Along the alcove housing the ruins, you'll also discover numerous tool sharpening marks, indentations in the rock face where timbers once supported dwelling structures, and a multitude of petroglyphs.

You'll encounter several handprints, numerous depictions of snakes, human-like figures, and much more.

Take some time to explore the area to the right of the ruins, where you'll encounter some of the larger petroglyphs, including what appears to be a snake measuring around five feet in length.

Once you've finished exploring, simply retrace your steps back to the main trail and head back up to the trailhead. This article provides the distance and elevation gain you'll encounter when visiting both the Wolfman Panel and ruins. For those interested in viewing the Wolfman Panel alone, the round trip distance is approximately one mile with an elevation gain of around 100 feet. If you're looking for another day hike in the nearby area, consider the Procession Panel, located a short distance from the Wolfman Panel Trailhead.


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