Friday, September 25, 2009

Mad Dog Tower Trail

The Mad Dog Tower is in the Sand Canyon area of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. It is vaguely visible east of the Saddle Horn Ruin along the 6.5 mile Sand Canyon Trail about 1 mile north from the South Trail Head.

I started my hike at the South Trail Head and walked about 3.3 miles north past the last of the 10 or so small ruins sites in the lower part of the canyon. As the trail passes a small sign that says “Sand Canyon”, an unmarked side trail that I call the East Sand Canyon Trail turns back south on the east side of the canyon. The East Sand Canyon Trail passes by three side canyons that have at least seven more small ruins sites. (In 2011, this side trail off the Sand Canyon Trail is considered closed.)

The East Sand Canyon Trail exits at the head of the third side canyon and connects to the drill hole service road. The Mad Dog Tower is very close to the east side of the road. I walked right past it when I hiked in this area before, but it can be seen from the road. Excavation work on this site found a room block, an earth walled kiva with a tunnel and a trash pile midden, but these features aren’t visible on the surface.

I saw a story that the students working on the site were chased by dogs as they traveled to the site every day and named the site Mad Dog in honor of these dogs. It took me 1:30 hours to cover the 3.3 miles to the beginning of the East Sand Canyon Trail and another 1:00 hour to arrive at the Mad Dog site. I didn’t stop to view any of the other sites along the way on this hike.

While in this area I explored the alcove areas to the east of Mad Dog. The first area to the east had a small alcove to the left, a larger one in the middle and another large on the right. I could see a small wall section in the smallest of the three possible locations.

There is a hikeable route along the left near the sandstone wall. The interior of the small opening appeared to be covered with soot. The other two alcoves in this area appeared to be empty.

Further east there are some odd pipes approaching from the south that shoot right up to the top of the mesa. These are probably associated with the gas plant that is east of the trail head area. It looks like horse riders use the pipeline route as a trail. There are one or two small sites in the area to the right of the pipelines.

A rough trail leads from the pipes across this rubble strewn area toward the small wall section on the left side of the formation. There is another small wall fragment directly across on the right. This site is about 0.5 miles east of the Mad Dog Tower. I turned around here and followed a two track road that connects back to the drill hole service road at a point a few hundred yards south of the Mad Dog Tower. There are more alcoves and possible ruins sites to the east of where I stopped.

I followed the drill hole road back to the connection with County Road G that is 0.5 miles east of the trail head parking, slipping through a section of private property. There is a locked gate along the drill hole road that prevents motorized access to this area of Canyons of the Ancients. After the 2:30 hours to arrive at Mad Dog I spent 1:00 hour exploring to the east and the return hike took 1:00 hour. My total hike was 4:30 hours on a 70 F degree day in late September. I carried two liters of water.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saddle Horn Ruin Neighbors

Saddle Horn Ruin is one of the small Ancestral Pueblo Ruins sites on the Sand Canyon Trail in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. There are at least two off the trail ruins sites that can be viewed from a distance in the vicinity of Saddle Horn. (In 2011 the off trail areas are considered to be closed.)

The south trail head for the 6.5 mile Sand Canyon Trail is 12 miles west of Cortez, CO on County Road G. The Saddle Horn Ruin is about 1 mile north along the well marked trail. Turning off the trail and going east and slightly north for a about a quarter of a mile to the rim of Sand Canyon. I scanned with binoculars across to the other side looking for a tower site known as Mad Dog Tower.

I didn’t see anything from the rim but moving back to a higher spot and repeating my scan several times I finally spotted the elusive tower. It is visible in line with the right side of the large rocky outcrop that is in the middle of this view. It appears to be only about a half mile away but Sand Canyon is very deep and steep and in the way. (I think the Mad Dog Tower can be sighted from the Saddle Horn ruins without leaving the Sand Canyon Trail.)

There is an unmarked East Sand Canyon Trail that accesses the area of Mad Dog Tower. Follow the Sand Canyon Trail north for about 3.3 miles to the point where there is a small sign that says “Sand Canyon.” The main trail continues north, but there is also a trail that crosses and turns south toward the side canyons on the east side.

On this hike I tried walking south along the west rim of Sand Canyon to see if there was a shorter route over to the east side. There is a service road for drill holes on the east side but it passes through private property.

I walked to a point that is about 0.7 miles east of the Castle Rock Pueblo and overlooking the beginning of the drill hole service road.  Looking back north up the canyon I spotted an alcove ruins site that looks like it is in a very inaccessible position. This site is in a short eastern side canyon near the junction of Sand Canyon with McElmo Canyon. There are cliffs both above and below the site and there isn’t any apparent entry point.

I thought this would be a rarely viewed site but I caught a glimpse of it as I drove past the canyon mouth on County Road G. From the view point it was about 0.5 miles across country back to the Sand Canyon main trail and then 0.5 miles back to the trail head. My hike was about 3:00 hours for 3 miles, with much of the time spent scanning for these elusive sites.