Sunday, April 25, 2010

Burro Canyon South Rim Trail

The north trail head of the popular Sand Canyon Trail is west of Highway 491 on County Road N near Cortez in southwest Colorado. About 1.2 miles west of the Sand Canyon Trailhead, the County Road re-enters the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

About 3.6 miles west of the entry sign, there is a cleared area with some gas facilities and a good view along the south rim of Burro Canyon.

From this starting point the Burro Canyon area looks like two parallel canyons with two high mesa top islands in between. The terrain here appeared to be all Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest with no obvious sage brush fields down below. There are large power lines along the well maintained gravel road that are helpful for navigation. 

I chose to hike toward the south facing cliffs on the mesa top island that looked to be about 1 mile north and slightly east. There isn’t a trail here except for deer trails but the forest is open enough for reasonable hiking. As I got closer, there appeared to be a rubble pile in the east end of the mesa top island and some wall sections in the area below the rim. There is a climb up through a boulder area to get up to just below the rim.

There are several rough wall sections and a moderate sized site below the rubble pile. About 20 yards to the left of the lower site there is a notch that makes climbing to the rim easy. The upper site has a better wall section that can be seen from below and excellent views across and down the canyon.

The structure is on a boulder with a gap separating it from the main cliffs. This site certainly has the appearance of a lookout point. The start point for this hike is clearly visible across the canyon.

It is only about 200 yards across the island mesa top to the north rim and the views across. I was surprised to spot a similar boulder top structure on this north facing rim with some masonry work around the base and a log leaning as if it were a ladder. This site is slightly below the highest rim, requiring a search for a notch to get through a short cliff layer.

From the north rim it is a short walk to the west rim and a view down canyon toward the junction with Yellowjacket Canyon. Several of the regional mountain ranges are visible from these mesa top view points, There is an old road in the area below that lead up to another mesa top island. I think the old road starts somewhere along the south rim, dips down into Burro Canyon and then climbs toward the mesa top island.

On the return east along the rim toward the first mesa top site I spotted another site that is about 200 yards to the west of the first site. I only looked at this site from the rim. It isn’t very visible from below.

It took me 2:00 hours to reach the first ruins site, but I spent much of that time looking and scanning and deciding which way to go. I spent 1:00 hour viewing the sites and the return hike took 1:00 hour for a total of 4:00 hours for about 4 miles of hiking. I carried and drank two liters of water on a 60 F degree late April day.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Yellowjacket Canyon East Rim Round Tower

Yellowjacket Canyon is one of the major features in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. There is access to the central part of Yellowjacket along the BLM road that is 20 miles west of Cortez, CO along County Road G. Yellowjacket in this area has a broad flat bottoms area with deep soil and a stream that runs for most of the year.

I started my hike 4.6 miles along the BLM road at a point where there is a short ATV trail to the left leading to a rocky hill that provides a good view into the canyon bottom. The main road continues into the canyon bottom, but is blocked by a locked gate and a private property sign. I hiked north along the east rim following small drainages and deer trails, working toward a rocky point that extended toward the middle of the canyon. This route stays on the National Monument land.

Toward the end of the rocky point there is a circular tower ruins structure that sits on the edge of a cliff, but not on the mesa top. It is about halfway to the bottoms area. It seems to be an isolated structure with a good view down the canyon to the south. It can be sighted with binoculars from the top of the large pueblo site that is about 1 mile away, down the canyon. There is a layer of cliffs to get through to get down to the layer holding the tower. It looked like the easiest way down was to continue past the tower toward the end of the rocky point.

The tower is so close to the cliff edge that it is impossible to get a view from the front, only side and back views are available. There are side channels flowing into the Yellowjacket Creek that are deeply cut, showing how deep the soil is here. I didn’t see any pottery shards around this site or any rock art nearby. Tower structures are common in this region but the use of them is a mystery. This one seems to be positioned as a lookout and there is a line of sight connection down canyon, but not up canyon.

Climbing back to the mesa top and looking up canyon, there is a rocky hill that appears as an island in the otherwise flat canyon bottom. With binoculars a ruins site on top of the hill can be clearly viewed, mostly rubble with a few small wall sections standing. This site would be easy to visit if it wasn’t on the private property. To the east of the small hill, there is a rock outcrop with some small alcoves. It looked like there might be a storage ruin in one of the alcoves.

Further up the canyon, there are irrigated hay fields and a large ranch house. I couldn’t spot any more ruins structures along the east rim from the tower area. I spent 3:00 hours on this hike of about 4 miles. It was a 65 F degree early April day and I carried and drank 2 liters of water.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Risley Canyon to Yellow Jacket Canyon Village

Risley Canyon is a tributary to Yellow Jacket Canyon in the south central part of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. The trail head that I used to explore this area is 3.4 miles north on the BLM road that is 20 miles west of Cortez, CO along County Road G.

This starting point is high on the south side before descending into and crossing Risley Canyon. It is a little north of the starting points for hikes to Cannonball Mesa and the Lucy’s Warbler habitat area. The road is still drivable along here and there are ATV trails branching off here and there.

The Lucy’s Warbler hike is along the south rim of Risley Canyon to its junction with Yellowjacket Canyon. The terrain along here is Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper canyon country with Mormon Tea, Prickly Pear Cactus and maybe Cliff Rose shrubs. Risley Canyon doesn’t appear to have much water or sagebrush fields nearby.

About 1.2 miles further north along the road is a short west leading side ATV trail toward a hill with some south facing cliffs and jumbled boulders. I checked for ruins structures but only saw a few pottery shards. On top of the hill is a rock cairn and a good view into the Yellowjacket bottoms area.

From the hilltop I spotted a large ruins site on a fingertip of rock that extends into the wide sagebrush fields along the flowing creek. There is a vague unmarked trail that leads to the site from the ATV turnoff that I noticed on the return hike.

This site is mostly rubble with a few sections of wall still standing. The feel of the site is something like an island. From the highest points of the island, the water flows directly below the cliffs on the north side. The sagebrush farm fields are wide here compared with nearby canyons. The abundant water and wide fields make this a relatively favorable site to live in.

The flowing stream is lined with cottonwood trees. On the north side of the stream about 0.25 miles away, there appears to be an historic ruin made of sandstone blocks. I didn’t try to cross the stream to view it, but it looks like pioneer farmers thought this was a good site also.

Most of the structures still standing are rectangular. There are two circular depressions on the south facing side that appear to be large kivas. The pottery shards that I saw were either smooth gray or corrugated. I didn’t see any painted designs. There are several vertical rock faces that looked like good potential petroglyph sites but I didn’t notice any rock art at this site.

On the return hike I explored up Risley Canyon a short distance. The walking was easy on a sandy surface. I saw some alcoves but no ruins structures. (There is a good ruins site further than I walked.)  My total hike was 3:00 hours for about 4 miles. I carried two liters of water on a 55 F degree early April day.