Tuesday, July 21, 2009

East Sand Canyon Trail

The Sand Canyon Trail is a 6.5 mile north and south route in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. It runs along the west side of Sand Canyon passing at least 14 Ancestral Pueblo Ruins sites. There is an unpublicized trail on the east side of Sand Canyon that allows access to several more sites. However, in 2011 I think this side trail is considered closed.

I started my hike at the South Trail Head, located about 12 miles west of Cortez, CO along County Road G. I walked about 3.3 miles north, skipping past the Castle Rock Pueblo and the 10 ruins sites that are easy to visit along the short spur trails. At the point where the trail actually dips into the canyon bottom, there is a small sign that says “Sand Canyon.” The East Sand Canyon Trail takes off to the east in the vicinity of the small sign, but there is no marker. It looks like this is a horse trail.

On a previous hike that I called “Sand Canyon East Rim Exploring” I had started at the North Trail Head and climbed out of the canyon bottom a few hundred yards north of this point onto the shoulder where there is a drill hole service road. The East Sand Canyon Trail allows a close up view of the sites that I had previously viewed from a canyon rim above.

The East Sand Canyon Trail turns back south and passes by three side canyons that hold small ruins sites. The trail is on the shoulder above the canyon bottom, just as the main Sand Canyon Trail is. The first side canyon is the one that I had viewed from above previously and has five sites, all in south facing alcoves. The trail doesn’t go directly past these sites and there isn’t a spur trail that I could find. The first site is one that I called the 5th site when I viewed them from the upper end of the side canyon.

The fifth site has the most material still standing, and there are some circular wall sections in the area in front of the alcove. The nearby 4th site has two short sections of wall remaining. The 3rd site is mostly just the alcove with some rubble piles.

The 2nd site is the second best of this group, with an intact small structure to the left and some wall fragments on the right. There is some rubble in the middle in the middle of the alcove.

The main East Sand Canyon trail continues to the south to the second of three side canyons. The second side canyon had one site. This one is the most visible when scanning with binoculars from the main Sand Canyon Trail.

It sits up high with steep slopes in front. I looked around for an easy way up but didn’t see one so I just viewed from below. All of the vegetation made it hard to get a good angle for a close up picture. From below, it looks like this site is the best preserved of any of the small sites in the Sand Canyon area.

The third side canyon also has one alcove site. From the distance, it looks like there is only a small wall section standing on the left. This site is easy to enter and is more interesting from the inside.

There are several low walls on the inside and the cool shady inside of the alcove was pleasant to sit in as the summer afternoon heat built up. As I was sitting there resting I noticed a petroglyph on the left side wall outside the alcove.

The petroglyph was only two spirals and some sharpening notches, but there aren’t many petroglyphs in the Canyons of the Ancients area. The Holly Group in the Hovenweep area has a solstice panel and there is a large panel near Ismay, but those are the only other two that I know of.

It took me 3:30 hours to get to the third side canyon petroglyph site. From here a hiker can either retrace back to the trail head or continue south on the drill hole road that runs along the east side of this side canyon.

I took the drill hole road, but it eventually leaves the Canyons of the Ancients territory and passes through private property. It reaches County Road G about 0.5 miles east of the Sand Canyon Trail Head. My total hike for about 8 miles and 6 ruins sites took 5:15 hours. It was 70 F degrees at 8:30 AM in mid July and mostly cloudy with some breeze but cleared off and was about 90 F at 1:45 PM when I finished. I carried 3 liters of water and drank it all.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lowry Ruins South to Cow Canyon

Lowry Ruins is a large Ancestral Pueblo ruins site and a main attraction in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. It sits on an elevated site between the two forks of the head of Cow Canyon.

Near the parking area there is a dirt road leading south that offers a route for exploring Cow Canyon. Canyons of the Ancients has many small ruins sites but it is a find it on your own park.

The dirt road runs for about 1 mile with Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest on the east and a grassy sagebrush field to the west. About 0.7 miles along the way there are at least two small rubble pile ruins sites in the grassy area. They can be clearly spotted from the road.

Both the sites I saw had survey pins with site number tags attached. These two sites are small and it’s hard to see anything, but it’s good to find these early in a hike that doesn’t have a definite destination. Continuing on the dirt road until it reaches the forest edge. I made my way to a rocky point that overlooks the east fork of the head of the canyon.

I scanned the canyon rims and the bottom area and noticed that there are a few cottonwoods growing along the creek bottom and an area of sagebrush on the canyon floor as it swings to the west. I couldn’t see any Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites from the view point. There is a short side canyon on the west side of the point that is easy to get around and continue along the west rim of the Cow Canyon east fork.

There aren’t any trails to follow here. I walked through the mostly open forest looking for points along the rim that offered good views. About 0.5 miles further on I saw a rubble pile near the canyon bottom, close to the middle of the large sagebrush field that was visible from the lookout point.

The top of the canyon is mostly steep cliffs but there are many notches and gaps to get through the cliffs onto the gentler slope of the canyon side. This site used some large boulders as a foundation and seemed to be reasonably large, extending down the hill for a ways.

There weren’t any wall sections holding together here except for a short section that used large stones. This site is on a shelf that is well below the rim but above the canyon floor, and well above the creek. This site was visible from the rim right above it, but would be hard to spot from any other angle as the trees hide it.

Hikers approaching along the canyon floor would have to be looking into the forest area carefully. It is in the portion of the east fork that runs east and west for a short distance.

Since I was already down in the canyon I decided to return along the bottom rather than retrace my steps. This was a good idea but I made a navigation error and climbed out on the east side rather that the west side, fooled by a small side canyon to the east.

When I reached the top, I could see the protective structure of Lowry Ruins and headed north for it, but was surprised when I reached the east fork canyon again. The bright side of this mistake was that I came across the remains of an old log cabin down below and was able to see the east fork of Cow Canyon from another angle.

I found a cow path that led back down and then up and crossed again. It took me about 2:00 hours to find the Cow Canyon east fork site and 2:00 hours to return for a 4:00 total hike for about 3.5 miles. It was an 84 F early July day with a good breeze blowing and I carried 2 liters of water.