Sunday, November 29, 2009

Horse Trails East of Sand Canyon

Along the south and east edge of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument near Cortez, CO, there are many rock alcoves visible from the County Road G where access is blocked by private property.

The only access for hikers in this area is the Sand Canyon Trail. There are horse trails that lead to the area east of the main Sand Canyon Trail but for a hiker it is a fairly long trek.

The most distant Ancestral Pueblo ruins site that seems to still be in hiking range is located more or less behind the Kelly Place Bed and Breakfast, maybe 1.5 miles east of the Sand Canyon Trail Head. There are two possible routes to get to this relatively large site. The longer way is to follow the main Sand Canyon Trail about 3.3 miles to the small sign that says “Sand Canyon”, then turn east off the trail and follow the unmarked East Sand Canyon Trail past three side canyons until it intersects with the drill hole service road.

Follow the drill hole road past the Mad Dog Tower site a few hundred yards to a vague two track trail. Then continue east to the small pipe lines that shoot up to the top of the mesa. There is another horse trail a few hundred yards south along the pipelines that crosses the pipelines and leads another mile or so to this site.

On a previous hike it took me 2:30 hours to get to Mad Dog Tower using the main trails and it is another 0:30 minutes to get to this eastern site. The 3:00 hours assumes that there is no stopping at the 20 or more ruins sites along the way.

An alternate way is the Mouth of Sand Canyon route that is shorter, but includes scrambling down and up the side canyons near the lower end of Sand Canyon. Climbing in and out of these side canyons is feasible, but the route isn’t marked.

There is a good alcove site in the eastern side canyon with a lookout point ruin above the alcove. The upper end of the east side canyon is near the drill hole road and a few hundred yards south of the Mad Dog Tower. From the drill hole road, find the horse trails and continue east.

The horse trails that cross the area east of Mad Dog are well marked and look like they get a lot of use. The horses seem to have an access point in the private property that is not available to hikers. The main Sand Canyon Trail area is dominated by hikers and mountain bikers, but the eastern area is the domain of horse riders.

A few hundred yards south and east of Mad Dog Tower there is another circular structure that has a dead Juniper tree in the middle of it. I missed this site when I was hiking east from Mad Dog Tower on the previous hike. It is close to the horse trail but not very near the rock face where I was looking at the alcoves.

The horse trail passes around the upper end of a deep side canyon and several empty alcoves before arriving at the site. There is a trail up to the site on the left side that enters on the left end. It looks like there are remains of three separate structures with the largest at the right end. The large structure on the right still stands tall with details of the doorway construction still visible.

I followed the Mouth of Sand Canyon route both out and back and stopped at the mouth alcove ruins and the lookout ruin above it. With another short stop at the circular neighbor of Mad Dog Tower, it took me 3:00 hours to arrive at this site. My return hike without stops took 2:00 hours and my total hike was 5:15 hours for about 6.5 miles on a 55 F blue sky day in late November. I carried and drank two liters of water.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sand Canyon Pueblo Neighbors

At the north trail head of the Sand Canyon Trail in Canyon of the Ancients in southwest Colorado, to the west side, there is the short interpretive trail to the mostly unexcavated and large Sand Canyon Pueblo. With about 420 rooms, 100 kivas and 14 towers it is larger than the spectacular Cliff Palace at nearby Mesa Verde.

There is also an unpublicized site on the east side of the canyon rim near the trail head that spills over the rim into some of the alcoves just below the rim. This site is only 100 yards or so off the trail but is not visible from the trail. It is fairly easy to hike over and view this site. These sites at the Sand Canyon trail head rest on the Dakota Sandstone layer.

The structures on the rim mostly appear as rubble piles, similar to the Sand Canyon Pueblo. Below the rim, there are some alcove wall sections that are similar to the alcove sites at the lower end of Sand Canyon. I haven’t spotted any alcove structures below the rim at the main Sand Canyon Pueblo from the main interpretive trail.

The below the rim area can be reached from the main trail by descending about 10 feet, then turning off the trail and working your way east. There may be a few rock cairns to guide the way. The rubble pile ruins start to appear before reaching the alcove. Looking inside, there are some roof beams still in place. Just to the east of the alcove, there is a notch that allows passage to or from the rim.

The rim structures don’t seem to be as overgrown as the Sand Canyon Pueblo sites, fewer trees coming up through them. This is a smaller site and there is a definite gap between the east site and the main site. I noticed a small hiker’s collection of pot shards on display. There aren’t any interpretive signs at the east site and there isn’t a trail to follow, but the distance is short.

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