Friday, March 27, 2009

Horseshoe Ruins Trail at Hovenweep

The Horseshoe Ruins Trail in Hovenweep National Monument along the south Utah and Colorado border is the first part of a 1.0 mile round trip to two ruins groups, the Horseshoe Group and the Hackberry Group.

The Horseshoe Ruins Trail Head is about five miles north of the Hovenweep Park Headquarters along paved Road 10, then east down a primitive dirt road.

Tower Point Ruin is the first structure along the trail and is built in a spot that gives a good view down Horseshoe Canyon. This structure gives the appearance of having been built for defense, but no one knows.

Back at the canyon head is Horseshoe House. The arrangement of four structures is apparently in a horseshoe shape, although it is hard to see that from the outside.
Horseshoe Ruins seems to have small peep holes rather than windows. At the Hovenweep Castle site in Little Ruin Canyon the peepholes are thought to have something to do with sky observations. The masonry here is thought to have been very precise.
There is a small natural bridge just on the back side of the Horseshoe structure, with more rubble pile structures near the bridge. The habitat here is Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest with sagebrush, Mormon Tea, and Prickly Pear Cactus.

Hovenweep is now surrounded by Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, preserving a larger area and many small Ancestral Pueblo Ruins sites.

Below the rim of the main Horseshoe structure is an alcove with another large structure. This isn't visible from the Tower Point structure. It is hard to get a good view of this lower structure.

Another 0.2 miles further past Horseshoe is the Hackberry Group of ruins. This group is thought to have supported a large population due to the more reliable water supply. The Hovenweep area is very hot in summer with spring and fall being the best times to visit.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ruin Canyon East Rim-South

Ruin Canyon is one of the southwest Colorado canyon areas preserved in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. This area is part of the Cross Canyon Wilderness Study Area. There aren't many developed trails in this National Monument and it is left to the visitor to explore on their own. There are often old roads or cow trails that are helpful.

I found a place to park off of paved Road 10 about 5.5 miles north of the marked road leading to Painted Hand Pueblo, and next to some old green tanks. Finding a reasonable place to park is one of the challenges in exporing these canyons. This area is north of the Hovenweep Visitor Center and also north of the Hovenweep outlying sites. I approached from the area near Lowry Ruins in the north part of the Monument.

In this area the paved road is very close to the canyon rim. I walked south along the canyon rim for about 0.25 miles, scanning the scenic area below for signs of any Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites. The view here is to the south toward McLean Basin.

From the distance, one of the large boulders on the west side of the canyon appeared to have some rubble scattered on the top. It wasn't clear that this was a ruins site, but it gave me a destination to hike towards and explore.

There were some steep ledges in the area where I went down, but with gaps that allow a descent. The cows that graze here seem to be good route finders, and I was able to follow the cow trails to the canyon bottom, where, in the spring, a small amount of water was flowing.

There wasn't much still standing at this site, but it was worth the effort to get there. It was something of a castle rock site with rubble piles around the base and a few fragments of wall sections wedged between gaps in the rocks.

It isn't unusual in this area to find ruins built on the tops of large boulders, though usually not much is left on the top. I scanned the surrounding area but didn't see any more obvious structures, though I tripped over a hidden one the way up.

My hike back to the top was more back to the north near where I parked and was less rocky going up. The canyon rim area here is very broken and has many nooks and joints that looked like good potential ruins site locations but I didn't see anything definite. My hike in this area was about 2:20 hours.

On a later hike in the fall, I started at the same point and continued south down Ruin Canyon toward the junction with Cross Canyon. The west side of the canyon has a shelf area between the creek bottom and the cliffs on the west side. I went down canyon for about 2:00 hours, maybe 2.5 miles, to a point near a side canyon junction, well before Cross Canyon. On the down canyon hike I stayed closer to the cliffs and returned up canyon closer to the creek.

There aren't any trails in this area, but the walking through the Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest was reasonable. The going was slower than with a good trail. There were some large boulder areas near the cliffs where I noticed some pot shards and a small rock wall, but it didn't amount to very much. In the area where I turned around it looked like there was an old road approaching from the south that led to a drill hole with a pipe still sticking up. A short distance north of the drill hole I noticed a circular rock structure overlooking the creek, hidden in the trees.

I was lucky to see this small site as it isn't visible unless you walk right past it. The Ruin Canyon in this area seems to lack sagebrush fields that would have been farming fields and, in the fall, there wasn't much water flowing at the canyon bottom. I spent 4:30 hours on the second hike and revisited the two sites I had spotted earlier, plus the two more small ones.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sand Canyon East Rim Exploring

The Sand Canyon Trail is a 6.5 mile north and south route in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, about 12 miles west of Cortez in southwest Colorado. The main trail runs on the west side of Sand Canyon and visits small Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites.

From the middle part of the main trail there are several alcove sites visible with binoculars across on the east side of the canyon, but the trail doesn't go over there. I started my hike at the north trail head to try to view some of these sites. However, in 2011, this area east of Sand Canyon is considered closed.

The second mile from the north trail head is steep with many switchbacks and descends 680 feet to the canyon bottom. Visible to the east are two drill holes, disturbed areas, with a service road connecting them.
Just north, this side, of the drill hole site there are two small side canyons that are options for climbing out of the lower canyon and getting up to the drill hole level. I used the more northern of the two choices and was able to climb out without too much trouble.  Crossing over to the service road, I followed that around to the south side the first large side canyon to see if any ruins sites are visible.
The large side canyon has two canyon heads with a peninsula in between. Viewing from the rim, there are two small sites at the upper end of the side canyon. This view is the second site. The environment here is Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest.
There are five sites spaced out along this south facing canyon wall, all associated with alcoves. This view is of the third and fourth sites. From the main Sand Canyon Trail, there are more side canyons with ruins sites visible to the south of this one. These alcoves are in the Entrada Sandstone. The trail guide helps identify the numerous geologic layers visible here.

The fifth site looks like the best of this group. This one can be vaguely seen with binoculars from the main Sand Canyon Trail. I took about 3:00 hours to get to this view point, including my stops and 2:00 hours to return up the steep trail to the north trail head. My total hike was about 5:00 hours for about 7 miles.