Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cannonball Mesa Trail

Cannonball Mesa is a narrow strip of land that divides Yellow Jacket Canyon to the north and McElmo Canyon to the south along the south edge of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado.  The trail is a 4WD two track road that runs for 3.5 miles and offers good views into both canyons.
The Trail Head area is 20.4 miles west of Cortez, CO along County Road G, then 1.5 miles north along a rough BLM road to a junction marked with a Park Service sign. The first part of the trail climbs slightly and then levels out on the mesa top.

The terrain is dry with scattered Pinon Pines and Utah Junipers, with areas of sage brush, greasewood, Mormon Tea, grasses, and Prickly Pear Cactus. A few cattle graze in this elevated area and there are several primitive campsites.
About 2 miles along the route is the large Cannonball Mesa Ancestral Pueblo Ruins site. This site sits at the head of a small side canyon on the Yellow Jacket side. To the south side there are the remains of a tower and the outlines of some room blocks. The large size of the overall site is a little startling.

The largest structure appears to be rectangular and sits in the middle of the site. The remaining walls seem to be very tall.


There is another tower at the back, away from the canyon rim, and another past the large rectangular building.


The site appears to spill over the rim and down the slope with some additional structures down below. The area below a spill over point is very dense with vegetation, including several trees, and appears to have a year round spring.
It is possible to descend below the rim and view these structures from a different angle. There is something of a trail down below, but in spots the vegetation is too overgrown to penetrate or see much. I checked the vertical sandstone walls that were easy to view for petroglyphs, but didn’t find any.

The trail continues for another 1.5 miles or so past the ruins site and the two canyons get closer together so that it is possible to see into both canyons at once. To the south, some of the bright green irrigated hayfields in McElmo Canyon along Road G are visible.

To the north, the meandering stream and riparian habitat stand out, There appears to be some vague roads running up Yellow Jacket Canyon. It took me about 1:00 hour of hiking to arrive at the ruins site, where I spent an hour. The additional length of the route took another 0:35 minutes of easy walking. My total hike here was 4:00 hours.





1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for this useful information.
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