Friday, October 16, 2009

Cahone Trail to Cross Canyon

The Cahone Trail is an officially unnamed access route into the often difficult to access Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado.

The trail head is 4 miles west from Highway 491, along County Road R from the small town of Cahone, Colorado. This canyon area is part of the Cahone Canyon Wilderness Study Area.

Road R reaches a dead end at a brown easy to open gate. An old two track road leads northwest, easily down into a side canyon of the upper end of Cross Canyon. It is about 1.5 miles of hiking to the main Cross Canyon. The junction of the side canyon with Cross Canyon is a broad flat area of sagebrush fields with several other side canyons meeting at the same point. The old road continues to the north.

Three deeply cut washes join at this point with a small flow of water at the bottom. I chose to hike south and followed cow trails down into and across the wash over to the west side. About 0.3 miles south there is a short side canyon on the west that seemed to offer the cliffs and large boulder foundations often associated with Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites.
I scanned the cliff areas with binoculars and didn’t see anything but decided to climb up anyway. I made my way up the side canyon below the rim and passed many locations that looked like good building sites but didn’t find anything except good views to the south.

At the upper end of the side canyon I descended down the rocky wash and returned to the bottom. Scanning again with binoculars I saw a wall section under a rocky overhang nearly all the way to the rim. So I had to climb up a second time.

The wall fragment is hidden by trees and boulders and is visible only from the right angle, but the rock overhand covering the site is clear from many angles. I could only see an entrance into this protected site from the left side. There is a small fragment to the left of the remaining wall, suggesting that the whole open front was once walled in.

I slithered along the front of the site avoiding the steep drop off to look at the right side. On the right side there is a dry wall perimeter structure that is standing up well. I saw a corn cob along the way.

Further to the right there are two smaller wall fragments in small alcoves. I didn’t see a way to exit from the right side and had to return the way I came back to the left side of the site. This was the only site I saw in this area, but they are often hidden and easy to miss. At the canyon bottom near the side canyon junction there is a rubble pile that may be a site but it wasn’t very definite.

I spent about 3:30 hours hiking and climbing to find this site though the distance was only about 2 miles. The return hike took 1:15 hours for a total hike of 4:45 hours for about 4 miles. It was a 65 F degree mid October day and I carried 3 liters of water. There are many more locations to explore in this area, both up and down Cross Canyon.

I thought it odd at the time, but there are initials “JW” inscribed on the back wall of this site. This is a remote, hard to find site so why would there be graffiti here? After viewing a similar “JW” on the right end the well known Spruce Tree House ruin at Mesa Verde, it occurred to me that JW could be John Wetherill, one of the famous Wetherills that were instrumental in the development of Mesa Verde and other Four Corners ruins sites as places of major interest.

So John Wetherill may have visited this otherwise obscure site and left an historic inscription. Besides exploring the Cahone Trail, John Wetherill established trading posts in southeast Utah and led expeditions into the backcountry near Navajo National Monument, Monument Valley and Rainbow Bridge National Monument. I didn’t see a year carved here but one could guess around 1890.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mouth of Sand Canyon Trail

The Sand Canyon Trail in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, in southwest Colorado, runs 6.5 miles north and south on the west side of Sand Canyon and passes many small Ancestral Pueblo Ruins sites.

About 3.3 miles up the trail there is a side trail to the east side of Sand Canyon that leads to several more sites. One of these sites is in a side canyon that is back toward the south end of Sand Canyon near the canyon mouth. (In 2011, this area off the Sand Canyon Trail might be considered closed.)

On this hike I was looking for a route across Sand Canyon that was closer to the south trail head. The south trail head is 12 miles west of Cortez along County Road G. From the south trail head I hiked about 0.5 miles to the end of the first spur trail on the west side. There is a distinctive rock formation at this point.

From there I hiked east for another 0.5 miles through the Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest to the edge of Sand Canyon. From the canyon rim the ruins site I was heading for is visible in the side canyon on the east side. At the view point the canyon is very steep and deep.
Back to the south a short distance there is a side canyon on the west side that offers a possible route into the main canyon. This side canyon has its own side canyon on the north and I was able to find a way there down to the bottom. Near the bottom I spotted a rebar stake that looks like something the archaeologists install to mark a site. There was a south facing alcove in the vicinity but I didn’t see any obvious ruins.

Once reaching the side canyon bottom the walking is fairly easy toward the main canyon. In the main Sand Canyon there is a vague horse trail leading up the canyon. At first, from above and below it is hard to see how anyone entered this site. It is a total hike of about 1.5 miles to get to the point below the ruins site.

After viewing the site from below, I looked to see if the East Sand Canyon area could be reached by climbing out of this side canyon. It is possible to climb to the east canyon rim area going up the east side canyon. The route requires a little scrambling but is not too bad. I climbed up the south side of the canyon before reaching the canyon head. From above, I could see the ledge that offers a route toward the alcove. It looks like there is a section just before the alcove that might be treacherous.

It also looks like there is a ramp leading to the rim from the ledge. On a later hike, I walked up the ledge and was able to enter the ruin. There is a notch that allows climbing into the site. I looked at the ramp and it looked too risky for one person to try alone. Perhaps two persons together could help each other up.

Looking back at the alcove from up the canyon I had noticed a wall fragment above it and to the left. I don’t think this wall section is visible from the west side angle. It looks like a castle rock type of site is above.

On the later hike I climbed out of the canyon on the north side near the canyon head and was able to get closer to this site. The wall section appears to be part of an isolated lookout tower. I didn’t see any other structures up on top. It is possible to climb in or out of the east side canyon on either the north or south sides, but there isn’t a marked route.

From this area it is about 0.25 miles east to the drill hole service road and the vicinity of the sites near and east of the Mad Dog Tower site. I returned to the main trail head using the 1.5 mile drill road route, but this road passes through a short section of private property.

My total first hike was about 3 miles and took 3:00 hours on a 70 F degree early October day. The revisit hike was on a 50 F degree day in late November and I spent some time getting closer to these two sites.