Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rock Creek Trail (West)

The Rock Creek Trail was formerly one of two long officially unnamed loops off of the Sand Canyon Trail system in Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. In 2011 the western loop has been named the Rock Creek Trail. The trail head is 12 miles west of Cortez, CO on County Road G. These two long loops explore the two forks of Rock Creek to the west of Sand Canyon.

The starting point for the Rock Creek loop trail is the inconspicuous "Horses not Recommended" segment that is just past the Castle Rock spur, only about 250 yards from the trail head on the left. You have to keep an eye out or you'll miss the otherwise well marked trail. The junction for the East Rock Creek loop is within sight a little further on.

The "Horses not Recommended" segment passes through Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper high desert habitat, along cliffs and over large sandstone outcrops, before reaching a trail post. Stay to the left. This segment is part of the officially renamed East Rock Creek loop trail, that explores the East Fork canyon.

Stay left at either of the next two trail junctions that arrive after a few more minutes. There are no signs to help but you want the canyon that is more to the west. I turned at the second trail junction for a counter clockwise tour, but either way will work.

There is good desert scenery and rock formations in the West Fork canyon, but I didn't see any Ancestral Pueblo ruins along this route, or any large arches.

This trail appears to get use from mountain bikers and a few horse riders but not very many hikers. Crossing Rock Creek at the far extent of the trail, there is no riparian habitat in this creek. No cottonwoods, no willows, the desert plants extend right to the banks of the creek. I suppose that without water no one could live here.

I spent about 3:20 hours on this route, for about a 6 mile hike. I was going slowly and scanning with binoculars for ruins sites and perhaps a large arch as there is in the nearby East Rock Creek loop.

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