Monarch Cave Ruins (Comb Ridge)

The Monarch Cave ruins sit in a beautiful, highly vegetated box canyon, surrounded by red rock cliffs along Comb Ridge. The hike to them is more like a leisurely walk, coming in just shy of a mile in each direction. The ruins are tucked into a high alcove that overlooks the entire canyon, with a large dryfall above. On the canyon floor is a large pool of water, collected from the seasons rain and snow melt off. It is no wonder that the Anasazi chose this location, this was prime real estate for growing crops, and likely a good source of water for much of the year.

 

On the trail to Monarch Cave.

On the trail to Monarch Cave.

 

The box canyon. Monarch Cave is straight ahead, the trees obscure the view of the ruins.

The box canyon. Monarch Cave is straight ahead, the trees obscure the view of the ruins.

 

The shelf leading up to Monarch Cave is on the right. The ruins can now be seen in the distance.

The shelf leading up to Monarch Cave is on the right. The ruins can now be seen in the distance.

 

The shelf leading up to the alcove extends several hundred feet, and contains extensive evidence of past habitation before even reaching the main dwelling. A series of moki steps leads vertically up the canyon wall to where pictographs were meticulously painted. Then there are orange, white, and green hand prints in large volume, some containing swirling designs painted inside.

On a built up wall is a broken portable metate with a dozen corn cobs sitting inside, hundreds of pottery sherds surrounding it. I believe that this was a kitchen area, stationary metates and mortars ranging in size from a few inches long to a foot long are in the dozens. Being here, it isn’t difficult to imagine the community of people working vigorously, grinding away at seeds, corn, and beans.

 

Look closely. The indents on the walls are moki steps. Several pictographs are high on the vertical wall.

Look closely. The indents on the walls are moki steps. Several pictographs are high on the vertical wall.

 

A broken portable metate, and ancient corn cobs.

A broken portable metate, and ancient corn cobs.

 

A cache of pottery sherds.

A cache of pottery sherds.

 

An ancient kitchen. Metates, and mortars are plentiful. Dozens of hand print pictographs are on the wall in the background.

An ancient kitchen. Metates, and mortars are plentiful. Dozens of hand print pictographs are on the wall in the background.

 

They were once here.

They were once here.

 

The cliff dwelling is accessed by carefully walking along the ledge of the shelf.   A door, or passage like entrance brings you to the center of the alcove. The ruins are plentiful.  Early explorers had noted that this dwelling was built in the manner of a defensive fort with large stone walls, holes for firing arrows, and rounded rim walls. If this was indeed a fort, who were the Anasazi fighting against, was it the Navajo or Ute? There is evidence suggesting that both of these tribes moved into Anasazi land before they finally disappeared.

 

The Monarch Cave ruins.

The Monarch Cave ruins.

 

Monarch Cave ruins in 1892.

Monarch Cave ruins in 1892.

 

The rounded rim walls.

The rounded rim walls.

 

Up close and personal with the main structure.

Up close and personal with the main structure.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

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