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Adventures Of The Boondocking Photographer: Comb Ridge

I recently became an empty nester and was looking for a change in my life that would maximize my time left on this great planet. So I sold my house, bought a Ford F-350, an Arctic Fox 990 truck camper, and hit the road. This is the story of my adventures with travel, photography, and RV tips designed around living the boondocker lifestyle.

Comb Ridge

The focus of this boondocking adventure is Comb Ridge of southern Utah. Comb Ridge offers amazing, desert views and lots of Anasazi Ruins.

Comb Ridge was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1976 and parts of it are located in the controversial Bears Ears National Monument. Comb Ridge offers the only Tritylodontidae (three knob teeth) fossils in North America.

Comb Ridge is located southwest of Blanding, Utah and can be accessed from SR-95, which crosses the northern part of Comb Ridge and U.S. Route 163 that crosses the southern part. The road through Comb Wash is dirt, but can be easily driven by a two-wheel drive car during dry conditions.

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Travel Tips

There are plenty of places to boondock in the Comb Ridge area. The drive through Comb Wash offers multiple side roads with large, parking areas perfect for setting up your boondocking vehicle. The entire area is BLM (Bureau of Land Management), which means you can camp anywhere you want for up to two weeks. Move a bit and the two week countdown starts over.

Don’t wait until the last minute for alcohol purchases in Blanding, Utah. Blanding is a dry town. If you are coming from the north, Moab is your last chance for alcohol.

The drive through Comb Wash is on a dirt road that is in fairly decent condition with a few ruts, sand, and small stream crossings. In dry conditions a two-wheel drive vehicle should not have any issues driving on the Comb Wash road.

Be sure to bring plenty of water, food, and propane for your stay in the Comb Ridge area. Comb Wash did not offer any water when I visited it in February. There are no developed campsites. Comb Ridge is a perfect, boondocking destination.

Wolfman Panel

Let’s start our exploration of the Comb Ridge area from the south access point off U.S. Route 63. Wolfman Panel is one mile from U.S. Route 63 and a short hike. The petroglyph (rock art that is carved) panel is .8 miles round trip and should be easy for most hikers. Past Wolfman Panel in Comb Wash is a small ruin and more petroglyphs. Round trip the hike to the ruin is 1.4 miles.

For more information about Wolfman Panel check out: http://www.hikingwalking.com/index.php/destinations/ut/ut_se/bluff/wolfman_panel/wolfman_panel_detail

Double Stack Ruin

Double Stack Ruin is 3.8 miles north from U.S. Route 63. Round trip hiking distance is 2.4 miles and it is an easy hike with minimal elevation gain.

Before you see Double Stack Ruin you will walk past a wikiup (stick tepee). Wikiups are extremely rare due to their stick construction. Hiking further up the wash you will first see the upper ruin, which is inaccessible. Next you will hike to the lower ruin, which is covered in pictographs (drawn rock art), petroglyphs, and various structures. Keep an eye out for another wikiup near the lower ruin.

For more information about Double Stack Ruin check out: http://www.gjhikes.com/2013/11/double-stack-ruin.html

Procession Panel

6.1 miles north of U.S. Route 63 will put you in the parking lot for Procession Panel. Procession Panel is 15 feet long with 179 human like forms near the top of Comb Ridge. The hike is 2.8 miles round-trip. Even if there wasn’t amazing Anasazi rock art to view, this would be a hike well worth taking. The moderate climb to Procession Panel follows a slick rock wash that is surrounded by slick rock formations just begging to be climbed.

Be sure to walk past Procession Panel to the top of Comb Ridge. The views of the surrounding landscape are amazing.

For more information on Procession Panel check out: http://www.hikingwalking.com/destinations/ut/ut_se/bluff/procession_panel

Monarch Cave

The trailhead to Monarch Cave is 6.9 miles north of U.S. Route 63. This easy 1.6 mile, round trip hike is well worth the effort. Not only are the views spectacular, but the ruins are amazing, and there are both pictographs and petroglyphs.

For more information on Monarch Cave check out: http://www.hikingwalking.com/index.php/destinations/ut/ut_se/bluff/monarch_cave

Split Level Ruin

The trailhead to Split Level Ruin is 9.6 miles north of U.S. Route 63 and an easy, 2.2 mile, round trip hike. On the hike up to Split Level Ruin you will pass several small ruins and pictographs. The upper ruin is inaccessible, but the lower ruin boasts a kiva, pottery shards, and pieces of corn. Be sure to carefully scan the rocks around Split Level Ruin for various pictograms and petroglyphs.

For more information about Split Level Ruin check out: http://www.gjhikes.com/2013/12/split-level-ruin.html

Fishmouth Cave

The Fishmouth Cave trailhead is 12.7 miles north of U.S. Route 63 and an easy, two-mile, round-trip hike. This canyon offers amazing views. You will see Fishmouth Cave almost from the parking lot and will become more interested the closer you get to the cave. The ruins are not the best in the Comb Ridge area, but the view from inside Fishmouth Cave is well worth the hike.

For more information about Fishmouth Cave check out: http://www.gjhikes.com/2013/11/fishmouth-cave.html

Bonus Ruins

Continue north on the Comb Wash road to SR-95 and you will run into the Mule Canyon ruins. Be sure to check out a previous, Adventures of the Boondocking Photographer blog where I write about Mule Canyon.

anazani-Utah-dwelling-Mule-Canyon

Next time I visit the Comb Ridge area I plan to hike into some of the canyons with out the famous ruins. The Anasazi people populated the entire area. I would venture to guess that just about every canyon offers rock art or small ruins.

Photography Tips

I really enjoy the fisheye view of the GoPro camera and found this look to be extremely helpful while exploring Comb Ridge. Often times when exploring ruins a photographer finds it difficult to get the entire ruin into the viewfinder. The fisheye view offers more terrain, which can capture all that is needed to complete a photograph.

Most major camera manufacturers offer dedicated, fisheye lenses for DSLR cameras. However, fisheye lenses can be quite expensive, especially considering how much a photographer would use a fisheye lens. For me personally, I can’t justify the cost.

With a GoPro camera, a photographer can get fisheye still shots, fisheye videos, and a compact size for a decent price. I find a GoPro to be an essential item in my photography backpack.

During your editing process if you find that the fisheye look from the GoPro camera did not really work for a particular shot, Lightroom can fix it. Under the Lens Correction tab, the fisheye view can be taken out of a shot and can create a unique perspective.

Obviously a GoPro can’t take photos as well as a DSLR, but that isn’t really what a GoPro is trying to achieve. Shots that a GoPro really fails at are overexposed, sunny shots. These types of shots are difficult with a DSLR, but with a GoPro you are pretty much wasting your time. When you are editing sunny shots taken with a GoPro you will find yourself deleting most of them.

Shots that a GoPro does excel at are very, close shots that include a lot of terrain. For example if a photographer is in a slot canyon, a GoPro, using the fisheye view will create a very unique shot. I have used the GoPro with satisfactory results while taking shots of surrounding views while inside of a cave. The GoPro will often capture both sides of the cave, nicely framing the view outside.

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RV Tips

When boondocking it is always a great idea to keep tools and supplies to make minor repairs on hand in your camper. Nothing will ruin a great boondocking trip faster than a maintenance issue that affects your water, propane, heating, or refrigerator systems.

I recently was having problems with the kitchen sink after filling the camper’s water supply and pressurizing the system. The initial pressurizing process was creating air surges that keep disconnecting the kitchen faucet’s wand that was connected by a plastic, quick-disconnect fitting.

After doing some research on the faucet brand that came with my camper, I found that it was a cheap, Chinese knockoff of an American made Dura faucet. The plastic, quick-disconnect fitting was a way to reduce the production cost, but a poor solution for an RV sink.

Instead of replacing the cheap, plastic part I elected to cut my losses and replace the faucet with a solidly built Dura sink. The Dura sink offered threaded connections that can be found at any hardware store making repairs simple. The sink also offered metal hoses and connections. Hopefully the sink will work for many years and not ruin a great boondocking trip.

As I was taking the original sink out of my camper I was horrified to find that none of the connections had plumber’s tape or putty on them to reduce leaks. The camper manufacturer had cut corners, which made me think that all fittings throughout my camper where not properly installed. I plan to chase leaks for the next couple of years until everything is properly connected.

Moral of this story is keep plumber’s tape and putty on hand, plus a supply of basic plumbing supplies to fix minor issues in the field. A plumbing problem can ruin a boondocking trip in a hurry by eliminating showers, dishwashing, and bathroom facilities. Be ready to change original camper parts with better, quality brands to solidify your camper’s general health to keep you in the field longer.

Conclusion

Comb Ridge is an amazing destination filled with great hikes, plenty of places to camp, Anasazi ruins, and beautiful views. Some of the trailheads are difficult to find, so be sure to get yourself a good guidebook before departure and bring plenty of water.

Please remember to always boondock without a trace! 

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