Monday, December 29, 2008

Small Ruins on the Sand Canyon Trail

The Sand Canyon Trail in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado is probably the best hiking attraction of the this relatively new Monument. It runs for 6.5 miles north and south with the south trail head located about 12 miles west of Cortez, CO on County Road G. In 2011, there have been some management changes to the area.

There is a loop trail at the south end of Sand Canyon called the East Rock Creek Trail that connects to the main Sand Canyon Trail at 0.25 miles and about 1.8 miles. (In 2011 these connections are now called connecting trails to the renamed East Rock Creek Trail.) On the main trail there are at least two Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites to see past the Castle Rock Pueblo before the second trail junction. One of these is the Saddle Horn Ruin named for the shape of the rock formation it rests under.

Past the second junction there are at least eight more sites before the trail climbs steeply to the upper trail head. The third and fourth ruins sites are visible at the same time in adjacent alcoves. These two are about 2 miles up the trail just past the connecting trail East Rock Creek Junction.

The 5th ruin is a tower that is on a spur trail to the canyon rim. This is the only ruin site along this section of trail that is not in an alcove. From the canyon rim there are alcoves that can be scanned with binoculars away on the east side. There is at least one good site that can be seen out of at least eight that are over there. The unmarked East Sand Canyon Trail starts at the small sign that says “Sand Canyon” at about 3.3 miles. (in 2011, the side trail to east Sand Canyon is considered closed.)

The 6th and 7th ruins sites are located close together in adjacent alcoves. The spur trail for the relatively large 7th site leads right up into the alcove allowing a very close viewing. I think this is the largest of these along the trail sites. The very large Sand Canyon Pueblo is located at the north trail head and these smaller sites are strung out on both sides of the canyon.
The 8th ruin is also relatively large. All of these alcove sites are positioned facing the south and get good exposure to the sun.

The 9th is a small site to one side of a large alcove. These sites are mostly only a short distance above the trail.

The 10th small ruins site along the south end of the Sand Canyon Trail is located close to the 9th in the same side canyon.

It took me about 2:00 hours to get to the point, about 3.3 miles, where the trail gets steep ascending to the north trail head and about 1:30 to return to the trail head for a total of 3:30 hours. I skipped past the Castle Rock Pueblo and the first two sites that are also part of the old East Rock Creek Loop Trail , but if you are a first time visitor here you certainly want to stop for these also. (In 2011 most of these sites now have publicized names.)

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Painted Hand Pueblo Trail

The Painted Hand Pueblo Trail is a 0.75 mile loop trail that visits an Ancestral Pueblo Ruins site in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado near the Utah border. The trail head is down a dirt road off of paved County Road 10 about 10 miles north of the visitor center of Hovenweep National Monument.

The trail travels along the west Hovenweep Canyon rim and descends roughly down to the tower structure that has become the symbol the relatively new National Monument.

In the alcove below the tower, there are some faint blue pictographs of hands. The interpretive sign at the trail head mentions petroglyphs. There are some faint ones on the north end of the site near a large wall segment.  Past the main tower, there is another partial tower and two wall sections. The Painted Hand site is not far from the Cutthroat Castle site of Hovenweep. These structures all date from the 1200s and were abandoned by the early 1300s.
This site is surrounded by Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest and overlooks a basin that is mostly sagebrush. I didn't see any sign of seep springs or other water at this site.

Climbing back to the canyon rim, some wall sections perched on the top of a very large boulder are visible. These are not obvious from the area below the rim. Building on the tops of boulders is common at some of the other sites in this area.

From the Painted Hand trail head you can hike or drive about 0.5 miles to the upper trail head of the Cutthroat Castle site. From the upper trail head it is 0.8 miles down to a site that is similar to Painted Hand.
The Canyons of the Ancients has only a few official trails in a large area and the visitor is encouraged to discover these remote sites on their own.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

East McLean Basin Rim

The east rim of McLean Basin  can be accessed along a minor dirt road in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. This road is about 0.5 miles south of the turnoff for the Painted Hand Trail or 8.5 miles north of the visitor center for Hovenweep National Monument. 

The scattered dead Juniper trees in this mesa top area mostly show burn marks and they appear to have experienced a recent forest fire. The road extends for about a mile to a lookout point overlooking the McLean Basin.

Rather than follow the road, I hiked to the left into the Pinon Pine and Juniper forest and tried to follow a drainage down into McLean Basin. There are Ancestral Pueblo tower structures in McLean Basin, but they are not well known. The drainage I followed eventually dropped steeply over a cliff and I hiked back to the rim, and back along the road.
From the lookout point at the end of the dirt road I scanned the basin for the elusive towers but I didn't see them. I continued scanning along the north rim of this area and enjoyed the good views, but still didn't discover any ancient sites. (The Towers are visible at an overlook near the beginning of the Pedro Point Road, the next road south. They are in the northeast part of McLean Basin.)
Cutting back across the scorched Juniper fields I tripped over a ruins site that was only about 200 yards from where I parked. This site appeared to be circular and has a deep depression in the center. At other locations, similar looking sites are usually identified as Great Kivas.

The Scorched Juniper Great Kiva (my unofficial name) is very close to the dirt road and can  be seen from the paved road if you know to look for it. Unlike many of the other sites in the Hovenweep area, it is not located right at the rim of a canyon.

Scanning around the vicinity of the Great Kiva with binoculars, there appeared to be a similar site about 0.3 miles to the north. The second site was a little larger and appeared to be more of a village, with a small kiva and several other structures, all collapsed. The village site was on a high spot and had good views toward both Sleeping Ute Mountain and the Blue Mountains near Monticello, Utah. My hike in this area was about 3:00 hours, much of the time scanning and exploring.

Getting to Know Canyons of the Ancient National Monument