Aztec Butte Trail

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Canyonlands National Park Favorite Jeep Roads & Hiking Trails
pages 62-63

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Aztec Butte, Canyonlands National Park     Before 1300 A.D. there were many Anasazi Indians living within the boundaries of Canyonlands National Park. They generally lived in the canyons below the mesas where water was more abundant-particularly along the Green River. But they also made frequent trips to the mesa tops for the purpose of gathering food, and there is still a great deal of evidence of their habitation on the Island in the Sky Mesa. The best place to see the remnants of these prehistoric people is on Aztec Butte, where the Anasazis built a number of granaries for storing the food they collected.
      From the car parking area the Aztec Butte trail goes east across the sandy desert for 0.6 mile to the base of the butte. It then heads up the west side of the hill, climbing steeply over the slickrock in a few places, and finally reaches the flat top of Aztec Butte after an elevation gain of 200 feet. Once on the top you will see several trails, and it may be confusing trying to decide which one to follow. Just remember that there is one ruin on the top southeastern side of the hill and several more just under the rim on the northern side. I suggest that you first make your way to the southeastern side of the butte to see the top ruin. Then find a primitive trail near that ruin that drops about 15 feet below the rim and follows a narrow bench around to the other ruins on the north side.
      The ruin on the top of the Aztec Butte mesa looks big enough to have served as a dwelling for a good-sized family. It has been heavily reconstructed, however, and it is hard to tell exactly what the original structure looked like. The most interesting Aztec Butte ruins are located along the ledge on the north side of the butte, where there are a number of small alcoves. These well-protected alcoves would have been ideal locations for granaries, and at least a half-dozen of them contain Anasazi artifacts. Some of the structures are so crudely made, however, that I wonder if they were not built by other hikers rather than the Anasazis.
      The high point of the Aztec Butte hike is the last granary you will come to on the northwest side of Aztec Butte. This granary is in excellent condition, and it is also situated in a very picturesque setting. The alcove has two pillars of sandstone that rise from the floor to the ceiling, forming three small arches. There is also a magnificent view into Trail Canyon from the site. This location would have been a very pleasant place to rest after a hunting trip across the mesa below.
      About halfway from Aztec Butte back to the trailhead you will see a secondary spur trail on the right leading to a small hill west of the larger butte. Be sure to explore this trail before returning to your car. It will lengthen your hike by only 20 minutes, but your reward will be two more finely preserved granaries. After an elevation gain of about 100 feet the trail comes to the top of the low hill, and then drops into another alcove on the north side where the Aztec Butte granaries are located. These granaries are each about 8 feet in diameter and 3 feet high.

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