Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yucca House National Monument

Yucca House National Monument, just south of Cortez in southwest Colorado, is an unexcavated Ancestral Pueblo site in the valley between Mesa Verde in the east and Sleeping Ute Mountain in the west.

This must be one of the most obscure National Monuments in the National Park System, despite having been added to the system in December 1919 following the donation of the land by the original owner Henry Van Kleek. There are no signs along the highways to alert visitors and the route into the site is not even a public road. Going there is like visiting a red roofed ranch site that had a large ruin site in the south forty.

Yucca House was first described in 1877 and was the largest ruins site to have been located up to that time. The setting was adjacent to good agricultural land that is today irrigated hay fields. There are seep springs on the site that provided water. The site is also very scenic, with views of Mesa Verde and Sleeping Ute Mountain nearby and the LaPlata and San Miguel ranges visible in the distance.

The only section of wall that is intact is part of what is called the "Lower House". It is one of two conspicuous mounds on the site. We usually see these sites after they have been excavated and fixed up somewhat. This wall was stabilized in 1964. Very little other work has been done on this site. This site is an example of what nature will do to the works of man after we leave.

In an otherwise dry area there are conspicuous green spots showing the location of seep springs that provided water for the site. The vegetation that over runs the site is mostly sagebrush, cactus, and greasewood. This isn't a very comfortable site to hike across. I didn't see any Yucca plants at Yucca House. The name comes from nearby Sleeping Ute Mountain which in the Ute language was called "mountain full of Yucca".

The "Upper House" is the major mound on the site, standing 15 to 20 feet above its foundations. When looking at these filled in rubble piles I wonder how one would even start to unravel the story here.

I wandered about the site for about 1:20, longer than the average that appeared on the sign in log. Yucca House is not so difficult to find if you have the directions. Turn west on County Road B about five miles south of Cortez off of Highway 491. Turn right or north after 0.8 miles on a gravel road and follow this twisty route through the hay fields for 1.4 miles until you are in the yard with two red roofed ranch houses. It seems odd but that's it.


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