Saturday, April 25, 2009

Upper Yellow Jacket Canyon Exploring

Upper Yellow Jacket Canyon is in the northern and eastern part of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. There are only a few established trails in the Monument, an area rich in Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites.
I turned west on County Road X, 1 mile south of Yellow Jacket CO and then turned south on Road 19. About 100 yards south of the junction of county roads W and 19 a spur road leads west for a short distance past some hay barns. There is some room to park along the road and slip through a fence right on the north edge of the canyon head.

I might have briefly crossed over some private land. I talked to someone briefly but they only spoke Spanish. I pointed and said “Canyon” and he seemed to understand and said ok. This area is in the vicinity of the community named Yellow Jacket, north and west of Cortez along highway 491. There is a large Yellow Jacket pueblo site nearby that is located on private land.

I worked west along the canyon rim, sometimes a little below the rim, for about 0.75 miles and then came to another arm of the canyon head. There is a circular farm pond here between the forest edge and the cultivated fields.

Near the pond, there appeared to be a vague ATV trail leading to the southwest toward a rocky point. The ATV trail passes through a fence and continues. The site I found was on the tip of this rocky elevated point. This site has great views in all directions. There are some rubble piles on the top and down on the east side. The view to the east is back toward the point where I started.

There are some circular depressions on the east side where some wall sections of probably kivas are visible. To the north, Sleeping Ute Mountain is visible. The rubble piles continue down the slope and are somewhat overgrown with sage brush.

From the elevated point there is a good view further north to two more branches of the canyon head. There is another rocky point between the two branches that looks interesting but also looks harder to get to from where I started.

I explored along the east side of that area but couldn’t see anything definite. It took me about 2:00 hours of looking before I came across this site, and 0:40 minutes to return to my start point, for a total hike of 2:50 hours on a 70 F. day in April.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

McLean Basin Below Pedro Point

McLean Basin is a canyon area in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. It is  in the vicinity of the Painted Hand Pueblo site, but located on the west side of paved County Road 10.

It is of interest as there are Ancestral Pueblo ruins tower structures known as the McLean Basin Towers. The first challenge is to find a route to hike down into the canyon basin, and the second is to find the towers.

Canyons of the Ancients is a find it on your own National Monument and there are very few official trails and limited information on where the interesting sites to hike to are located. I started my exploring at Pedro Point, where there is a good but unpublicized ruins site. This site is along the hike I call the McLean Basin South Rim Trail.

Scanning with binoculars from the canyon rim I couldn't pick out any of the elusive towers. There isn't a trail descending into McLean Basin here, but there is a drainage flowing away from the Pedro Point site that can be followed and allows a route through a steep sandstone cliff that is part of the way down the slope. The route isn't easy but is feasible.

On the flat area just below the steep cliffs, I noticed a small ruins site a little to the east of the drainage. This is still only about half the way down into the basin. This site is mostly circular and has some dry wall sections still standing, with the rest as rubble piles .

It seemed to be isolated, I didn't notice any other structures in the vicinity. There might be a grain grinding spot nearby. From here, the hiking is probably easier away from the small drainage. The slope is walkable and there are cow trails to follow down to the bottoms area where there is a flowing stream.

I crossed the small stream and made my way past a small group of cows to a road on the north side of the basin. In the center of the basin below Pedro Point there is a large hill. The road appears to be easily driveable for those who want to drive to this remote area. Scanning ahead, a rocky elevated point appeared to have some sort of organized rock pile on the top.

Climbing up to the top of this rocky point, this site looks like it could have been a large circular kiva and tower combination. It is positioned with a good view over the sage brush basin floor and the winding stream. Sage brush is supposed to indicate good soil for farming and the stream is a source of water.

Scanning around from this elevated position, it looked like there was a site on the central hill that I had just walked past. There wasn't anything visible from the steep east side where I had hiked. I didn't see anything further to the west that was close, so I retraced back along the road and climbed the hill from the easier sloping west side.This hill top site had the remains of a large circular structure with two standing piles. I had the feeling that recent visitors may have contributed to these piles, but the overall site seems genuine.
These rock piles are high enough to be seen from a distance and at least provide a clue that something is here. In this part of the McLean Basin, the findable sites are located on the high and rocky locations with good views.

I spent 4:30 hours on this hike but only covered about three miles. Most of the hike is picking a route up and down rocky slopes and I spent a lot of time scanning and viewing the sites. I didn't find the elusive McLean Basin towers this time.