Saturday, November 10, 2007
The 6.5 mile Sand Canyon Trail is the best established trail in the relatively new Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southeast Colorado. Most hikers start at the south trail head, but the north trail head has interest also.
A side trail at the trail head leads to the large Sand Canyon Pueblo interpretive trail. The Sand Canyon Pueblo is mostly rubble piles, but there are good interpretive signs giving a sense of the overall site. This large ruin site is thought to have been a center for the scattered small dwellings further down the canyon. There is an unpublicized site on the rim to the east also. No trail goes over there but it is easy to explore there. There is also a pueblo site at the south trail head around Castle Rock.
The trail cuts through a forest of Pinon Pine and Juniper trees, and starts to get steeper going downhill. Mountain bikers are cautioned that this section is not recommended.
An inner canyon comes into view with Sleeping Ute mountain lurking in the distance. To the east two drill holes are visible and there is a road leading to them.
The terrain becomes drier the lower you descend. The trail guide has a key to identifying the geologic formations that are exposed and comments on the known uses of each layer by the Ancestral Pueblos. Past the sandy creek bottom, the trail reaches the area where there are at least 10 small ruins sites before reaching the Castle Rock formation and pueblo at the south trail head.
The lower end of the Sand Canyon Trail includes the 5 mile East Rock Creek Loop and two unnamed long loops and at least four more small ruins. The middle loop, that I call the Rock Creek Trail includes a large arch. At the point of this small sign, there is the unmarked East Sand Canyon Trail that leads to more small sites.
The north trail head is a little tricky to find. It is on County Road N west of Road 15. Turn west off of highway 491 at Road P and zig zag your way. Keep an eye out for the obscure Goodman Point Ruins site along the way. I walked down about 4 of the 6.5 miles to some of the small ruins and then back up in a little over 4:00 hours. It was a warm September day and though I took two liters of water, I was out of water the last half hour.