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Weird place Wednesday: Aztec Butte.

Aztec Butte


Sunset sets Aztec Butte on fire in Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah. Aztec Butte is one of many Anasazi indian ruins in the area.

This week’s Weird place Wednesday is hidden among the cliffs in Canyonlands National Park and contains an ancient Anazasi indian dwelling, Aztec Butte!

Like many out of the way locations, Aztec Butte seems easy enough to find until you get there. It can be found on many maps (including Google maps) and the trailhead sign shows the way but I believe the National Parks Service is slowly removing places like this from maps and media as a way to reduce traffic. Also, to be clear, Aztec Butte is the actual Butte the Anasazi granary sits on. Many people hike the butte and may not know about or ever see the cliff dwelling. As I usually mention, take care in visiting these places. Take out what you take in, and leave as little impact as possible.

To get to Canyonlands National Park and the trailhead for Aztec Butte, you first have to find your way towards Moab in western Utah. From Interstate 70, head south on Hwy 191 for about 20 miles, then west on Hwy 313, which will take you all the way into Canyonlands. Canyonlands has four districts; Aztec Butte is located in the “Island in the sky” district.

Canyonlands is a beautiful and dynamic landscape with lots of buttes and dramatic canyons. There is plenty of hiking in the area and rock formations to see, and Aztec Butte is just one of them. I am sure that I will cover more weird places within Canyonlands in the near future.

Aztec Butte is a short 1.5 mile round trip hike and is easy until you get to the butte itself. Then the hike gets steep and there is some scrambling involved. Make sure to wear appropriate grippy hiking shoes because your foothold on the rock will depend on them. Also, don’t be fooled by climbing the first butte you pass to the south, you want the second larger one to the east. The trails are well defined, so it’s just a matter of going the right direction. The trail will lead you up the west side of Aztec Butte where it becomes solid rock. You will not see a trail, but it does seem to be cairned well, and I had no trouble finding the best option going up. As you make your way up and around to the south side of the butte, it will continue to get steeper and depending on your experience, it may become uncomfortable. Fortunately this is a very short part of the hike and once you are up and over one or two scrambling moves, you are on flat ground on top of the butte.

The way to Aztec Butte.

The trail to Aztec Butte within Canyonlands National Park.

Once you are on top of the butte there is a trail that takes a lap around the top. Just be sure to take in the views; it’s pretty grand. If you care to find the Anasazi dwelling and granary from here, it gets a bit tricky. The dwelling/granary sits just below the top of Aztec Butte on the north side and it is not difficult to get to if you can find the entrance to the trail that is just below the rim. Last time I was there I did not see anything marking the off-shoot trail from the main loop. Again, this is something NPS has done to reduce traffic in the Anasazi ruin, and I don’t blame them. Just after reaching the top of the butte, take the main loop counter-clockwise a little past a small set of ruins on your right. Instead of making the turn left (north) on the main loop, head more towards the edge of the butte where you should be able to find a trail down to just below the rim. Follow this trail carefully (it is somewhat of a cliff) counter-clockwise around the butte, where you will pass an alcove or two with granaries until you come to the main location that is shown in the photo at the top. Watch your head, the ceiling is low and unforgiving.

A little bonus, on the way back make sure to head up the east side of the first butte you passed, you will find more granaries and dwellings on the rim of the north side of that butte as well. The hike up this butte is not as difficult and a good plan B if Aztec Butte seems too sketchy.

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