Utah is such an amazing place! One of our favorite areas is the San Rafael Swell. This feature is unique and gives us so many great hikes and playlands like Goblin Valley. We took a tour through the San Rafael Swell using this guide (primarily page 20-21), which was created by Emery County. We’ll share what we saw and how to find it in our post.
We started at Exit 131 on Cottonwood Wash. Go to the North side of the freeway and the road parallels the I-70 to the east. This is the road, and you won’t be leaving it for around 30 miles. It is fairly smooth and can be traveled in any vehicle although it is a dirt road. Set your odometer, and we’ll highlight each of our favorite spots below.
At exactly 5 miles, we got out to look at a fenced in sinkhole. It isn’t very deep, and there isn’t much to see, but our boys thought it was pretty interesting.
Window Blind Peak
Window Blind Peak, The Assembly Hall, and Bottleneck Peak: These 3 formations can all be found between mile 17.5 and 18.5. The first has ripples in the rock that look like window blinds. The second is supposed to look like the Assembly Hall on Temple Square (but we didn’t see it!), and the last is a tall thin bottle shape.
This swinging bridge, located at 19.1 miles, was only bridge to cross the San Rafael river until the early 1990s It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938. This was a New Deal project of young men who made many amazing roads in places all over the country. We first learned about them and their hard work to open up the backcountry while we were at Yellowstone. Pull over and walk across the Swinging Bridge, it doesn’t actually swing. Our boys enjoyed looking at the scenery and the river. There is a campground, too.
Buckhorn Wash Pictograph
Mile 22.7: This is the highlight and reason for the trip along this road. We were blown away by the magnitude and intricacy of this panel. It spans 130 feet and features angels with wings. The figures are rendered so beautifully. We spent about a half hour exploring and learning about this prehistoric art. It is truly a treasure.
Mat Warner Inscription
At Mile 24 there is an inscription with a cow made by a famous outlaw turned judge. It reads “Mat Warner Feb 17 1920.” There is a nice picture of a bull right next to it. You have to look high up the cliff on the right side of the road. It can be easy to miss, so keep an eye out.
Twenty-six miles along the drive is a very short hike to another petroglyph panel. The petroglyphs in this panel are different than the Buckhorn Wash panel because they are etched, not painted, into the stone. There is a sign here to mark the trail.
Bullet Initials and Petroglyph
Just past the petroglyph stop, at mile 26.2, the road swings around and there is a stone wall to the right. Someone shot their initials, TKG, into the wall. Next to the initials there is a petroglyph, too. It’s small, but pretty cool looking.
After the huge pictograph panel, the dinosaur track was our favorite. At 26.6 miles, there is a small pullout on the right side of the road. A trail leads up to a little flat about 15 feet above road level. Follow the trail as it goes back along the road to a wide, flat, slickrock. The perfectly preserved track is toward the back of the flat area.
We wanted to do a hike in this area, and the best we found was Furniture Draw. At 26.8 miles there is a pullout on the right. Follow the dirt road down to a gate with a primitive turn around. The fence forbids you from going further, even though your vehicle might make it. You wouldn’t get far, though, as it gets rocky fast. We’ve written all the details on Furniture Draw Hike here.
Bonus! If you’ve come this far, you must check out The Wedge Overlook, which gives a beautiful view of Little Grand Canyon.
Finally, please remember, as always that you must leave these treasures as you found them. Altering historical pictographs, petroglyphs, and dinosaur tracks, even when well-intended, is a criminal offense. It’s also really offensive to all of us who love these areas and want to show them to our grandkids someday!
You can find Buckhorn Wash/Cottonwood Wash Roads in the San Rafael Swell. You can drive this drive from either side. We started at the south side which is exit 131 off the 1-70 and headed north. When you get to the end of the Buckhorn Wash Road, you head west to Castle Dale.
You can also drive this road from north to south. Start in Castle Dale and head east on State Road 401, also called the Green River Cutoff Road. Follow this road past the Wedge Overlook turnoff, and watch for the sign that says Buckhorn Wash Road.