Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Elusive McLean Basin Towers

McLean Basin is a wide canyon area on the southwest Colorado and Utah border in Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. This is a find it on your own National Monument with very few official trails.

The McLean Basin area has some relatively well known and elusive Ancestral Pueblo towers that I’ve been searching for.

I started this hike 0.5 miles down road 4720 at a pull over point where the road veers close to the basin rim and there is a primitive camp site. I’ve called this road the McLean Basin South Rim Overlook Trail and it leads to the large Pedro Point Ruins site at about the 3 mile point. This west leading road is about 1 mile south of the turnoff for the Painted Hand Trail in the vicinity of the outlying Hovenweep National Monument sites.

Hiking to the edge of the basin rim at this point at scanning with binoculars I spotted two towers across the basin on the north side below and to the left end of some large sandstone cliffs. It is about a 2 mile rim to rim hike to get over to the elusive towers. The cliffs are a good navigation aid as it is not a straight shot across the basin. I took a good look over my shoulder at the route down so I would recognize the way back.

There is a layer of cliffs near the rim to get past while descending into the basin. In the area where I started there are two drainages that offer routes down. I looked at both and chose the eastern most drainage. On the return hike I noticed a hikers trail about half way between the two drainages, but it is not marked and only starts at the edge of the cliffs, so it may be hard to find. Below the cliffs the slope is easier.

In the eastern part of McLean Basin there are inner canyons that aren’t visible from the rim. There are cow paths and some road segments that can be helpful but you still have to pick your route. The cliffs above the towers go out of sight at the bottom of the basin. The cliffs to stear by are in the middle of this view.

There are two tall towers inside a protective chain link fence. The fence has a gate that is secured but not locked and there is a sign that gives a little interpretive information. As I got closer to the site I found a rough 4WD road that leads to the site and continues past.

The southwest tower appears to be more complete than the northeast tower and has a band of darker rock part of the way up. The Jesse Fewkes report on this site from long ago describes a rectangular overall site with these towers at two of the corners. The walls that he mentions aren’t very visible now.

The northeast tower appears to have a larger diameter but there is more of it missing. It is built on a boulder and sticks up higher. It is also constructed using some of the dark surfaced stones but they are more randomly placed.

In the southeast corner of the site there is a circular dry wall structure. From this angle there is a good view of the cliffs behind the towers that I used to navigate to the site. Outside the fence there are some other ruins remnants, but nothing like the two towers. I kept an eye out for other sites along the way, walking over many high points and scanning around but didn’t see anything else.

The 4WD road continues to the top of the cliffs and beyond, allowing a higher view of the area. From above there is a good view of the arrangement of the site and the surrounding area. I didn’t see any sites up on top or see any more sites nearby.

 It took me 1:15 hours to hike to the elusive towers site and my total hike was about 3:50 hours for about 4 miles. It was a relatively cool mid June day of about 70 F with thin clouds and some breeze that kept the heat down and the biting gnats at bay. I carried 2 liters of water and drank most of it.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Squaw Point Trail

The Squaw Point Trail is a steep rough 4WD road that climbs out of Cross Canyon to the west of McLean Basin close to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument along the Utah and Colorado border. This trail is on the Utah side of the border but still BLM land.

The Cross Canyon access road is 2.7 miles northeast of the turnoff to the headquarters of Hovenweep National Monument along paved County Road 10. The access road descends steeply for 2.3 miles down into Cross Canyon and crosses a creek. Just past the creek there is a right turn that enters Cross Canyon and heads toward McLean Basin and the Cross Canyon Wilderness Study Area.

The trail I followed is about 1.2 miles up this road on the left. It is clearly visible while descending into the canyon. This rough uphill road connects to other roads on top of Squaw Point.

This is a view toward the Squaw Point Trail from a cairn on top of Ruins Point.

As the trail climbs there are increasingly better views of the west side of McLean Basin. After about 0.5 miles the trail levels out briefly and turns away from Cross Canyon. I turned off the trail and climbed toward a fence to get the highest possible view of the area below.

From this high view point I scanned the area below for ruins sites. I could see two that I have visited before that are below the Pedro Point Pueblo ruins site, but didn’t clearly see any others.

To the north along the fence line there was a jumble of very large boulders that looked like a possible foundation for an Ancestral Pueblo Ruins site. There were many nooks and sheltered areas that looked promising. I walked completely through the boulder area without seeing anything and turned back, and then spotted a small sheltered area with some rubble piles and some small wall sections still holding together.
It was an 85 F early June day and the biting gnats that prevail in June in the canyon areas were torturing me. This was only about a 1 mile hike and I spent 1:30 hours enjoying the views and searching for the ruins site.

Below the Squaw Point Trail to the east there is hilly area that the map calls Ruins Point. On another day in late June I hiked up onto Ruins Point hoping to find more ruins. I started this hike from the overlook point before the Cross Canyon access road begins to descend steeply and hiked down the road until I was below the steep cliffs.

Leaving the road I descended cross country past an area of large boulders and climbed the Ruins Point hills from the northeast side where the slope was gradual. There are a series of high points on Ruins Point that looked like they would make good building sites, but all I found was two rock cairns. There are good views from the hilltops but I didn’t find any Ancestral Pueblo Ruins.