Friday, May 21, 2010

McLean Basin Northeast Trail

The northeast corner of McLean Basin can be hiked to along the dirt road trail that turns west from County Road 10 1.1 miles north of the east turn to the Painted Hand Pueblo Trail in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado.

This is the same area where the outlying Hovenweep National Monument sites are found. It is about 1 mile of hiking to the east rim of a short side canyon close to the point where it joins McLean Basin.

The turnoff is also about 0.4 miles south of the Canyons of the Ancients sign if traveling from the north. I drove a few hundred yards along the trail road to a point where the thick sagebrush thinned out enough to park without blocking the road. The two track dirt road heads west and then curves south. There are two side roads that I bypassed, staying on track to find the canyon rim. (In 2012, this road may be closed to vehicles but is open for hiking. If the road is closed it makes parking a problem.)

The terrain along here is mostly level with sagebrush and scattered Junipers. In mid May a lot of desert wildflowers are in bloom. I bypassed a side road that went directly to the side canyon rim and stayed southwest for about 0.5 miles until the trail came to a dead end at the rim of McLean Basin.

There are good views across McLean Basin and is a rubble pile ruins site along the north rim about 1.5 miles to the west. (Use labels McLean Basin North Rim for this site) I walked back northeast along the east rim of the side canyon toward the side road that I had bypassed and spotted a boulder based ruins site on the opposite side of the canyon.

This site is high on the north and west side of side canyon but below the rim. It is a little north of the side road and I found an easy canyon crossing route about 200 yards up the canyon past the site. In mid May there was flowing water in the easy to cross creek at the canyon bottom.

Besides the boulder top rubble and rubble around the base, there are other minor wall sections and perimeter walls at this medium sized site. There is a vague petroglyph on an alcove wall that could be a flute player, but it is very rough. From this site I walked down canyon toward McLean basin along the rim out to a point that overlooked the basin.

At the point there is a small pile of brick shaped stones. I didn’t have a very good angle to look over the edge for signs of ruins structures below, and I didn’t see anything else here besides this pile. I scanned to the west for the elusive McLean Basin towers, but I don’t think I had a good angle to see them.

 The possible rubble pile site that I had seen was still a long way to the west. Looking back north up the next side canyon to the west on the north rim of the basin, I sighted another boulder based ruins site.

The cliffs surrounding this site were very steep and I didn’t see an easy way down. From above, it looks there was a circular tower perched on one of the boulders. The flat door cover of the tower appears to still be laying there. To the left of the main part of the site, it looked like there was an alcove with a shelf inside.

My return hike from the second site took 1:10 hours back to my starting point. The total hike took 4:10 hours for about 5 miles on a 75 F degree mid May day. Much of the time hiking in Canyons of the Ancients is spent scanning and route finding and visiting the sites. The biting gnats that are a nuisance in June in the canyon areas were starting to appear on this mid May hike.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mockingbird Mesa Main Road

The Mockingbird Mesa Trail is the well maintained road that continues past the closed gate next to the Mockingbird Mesa Kinder Morgan carbon dioxide gas plant in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado.

This road is the extension of County Road 12 south from the junction with County Road BB west of Pleasant View, Colorado. Visitors to the Hovenweep National Monument area arriving from the north side pass this junction when traveling west toward County Road 10.

It is 5.8 miles south to the Canyons of the Ancients sign. It is 8.5 miles to the closed gate and there is a left turn at a BLM sign describing the Mockingbird Mesa area as closed to vehicles but open to foot traffic and horses.

This was my first hike in this area and my goal was to stay near the road. I didn’t know anything specific about the area and was lucky to meet the plant operator, Rick, who was very enthusiastic and helpful. Kinder Morgan has several carbon dioxide wells and processing facilities along the first three miles of road.

There are some small oil and gas facilities toward the further end of the road and large power lines along the whole length. This industrial activity appears to be very clean and well managed and could be cited as an example of good cooperation between industry and outdoor recreation. The carbon dioxide is obtained from a very deep rock formation and is used to aid oil extraction. Much of it is currently being transported by pipeline to west Texas.

A hike starting at the closed gate can get off to a good start by finding the ruins site that is behind the Kinder Morgan gas plant. I went through the gate and circled counter clockwise behind the plant. There are several large rubble pile ruins a short distance from the rim overlooking Sandstone Canyon. I imagine that when the builders originally chose their site they didn’t imagine what would someday be in their backyard.

There is another rubble pile ruins site 0.6 miles down the road on the west side. Neither this site nor the site behind the gas plant is apparent from the road and were pointed out to me by Rick the plant operator.

This site is at the point where the road is very close to the Sandstone Canyon Rim and there are some taller trees about 50 yards west from the road.

I was expecting that ruins sites would be visible from the road, but I didn’t see any. The Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest is relatively thick and there aren’t many good view points along the road. I made several random turns off the road into the forest and found two minor ruins sites along the way, but it is hard to describe where they were.

I walked about 4.5 miles past the gas facilities called Hovenweep C Cluster and Hovenweep D Cluster. There are side roads along the way to explore.  There is a site called Seven Towers in southwest part of this area to search for. At about 4.5 miles south there is an oil facility called Cutthroat B. Some visitors may want to bring a mountain bike to travel down the main road before starting a hike further into the backcountry.

On my return hike I walked the last 0.6 miles along the Sandstone Canyon rim rather than stay on the road. Following the rim east of the road may be the best strategy here if you are only going to visit the area once. From the rim I spotted two ruins sites associated with large boulders in the area below the rim.

There is a drainage at the canyon bottom with a couple of leafy trees indicating some permanent water. These sites look approachable but I was too tired to go there this time. There may be a ruins site on the other side of the canyon to the northeast of the trailhead gas plant. Rick says there is one there but I couldn’t spot it for sure from the distance. My total hike took 6:10 hours for about 9 miles. I carried two liters of water and drank it all on a 60 F mid May sunny day.

(On later hikes I visited the sites below the rim and across the canyon that are mentioned here. Use the labels for Mockingbird Mesa to see these posts.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hovenweep & Bridge Canyon Bike Trail

The central part of Hovenweep Canyon  in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado can be accessed along the dirt road marked as Road 4525. This road travels south and east from paved County Road 10, and north of the Hackberry and Holly outlying Hovenweep sites. This road is the north part of an established mountain bike route.

The trail road has an old corral visible from the main road and is about 1 mile north of the marked road to Hackberry Ruins and Holly Ruins, and about 6 miles north of the Hovenweep Visitor Center. The route leads through mostly Utah Juniper and sagebrush rocky terrain with small canyon drainages on both sides. The loop that mountain bike riders use connects with the road to the Hackberry and Holly Ruins Groups.

With binoculars I was scanning the canyon rims for rubble piles or other signs of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the area 800 years ago. About 2.5 miles down the trail there are two minor side roads branching left and east into Hovenweep Canyon. I followed the second side route through a gate to a point where there was a good view into the basin below. The main trail continues south and makes the loop that connects back to the Hackberry and Holly road.

The only structure I came across was an odd stack of rocks on top of a small hill. This seemed more like an oversized cairn built recently than a 700 year old structure, but who knows. This was to the north side about one mile along the road. This hill and rock pile is visible for a long distance in this area and can be used as a navigation point.

Just east and north of the odd rock pile is a small side canyon that looked promising as a possible ruins location. Most of the good sites in the area are at the heads of small canyons near a seep spring or on hilltops. I walked up this small canyon for about 0.5 miles to the head, but only saw a few scattered pottery shards.

About 0.5 miles south and east of the odd rock cairn is the head of Bridge Canyon. This canyon runs north and south and is to the east of the Hackberry and Horseshoe Ruins sites of Hovenweep. I thought Bridge Canyon might be a similar location to the canyons that support the large Hovenweep sites. I hiked along the west rim of this canyon for about 0.5 miles and noticed two leafy green trees near the canyon head and some pools of water on the canyon floor.

Oddly, there is another large rock cairn about 1 mile south of the old corral, but not near the road bike trail. I haven't seen cairns this big anywhere else in the Canyons of the Ancients.

To the west of Bridge Canyon, north of Hackberry Canyon, are some hilltop areas with good views and extensive sagebrush fields. Despite these favorable features I didn’t see any ruins sites in this area. I did three separate hikes in this area, each was about 3:00 hours.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cow Canyon East of Lowry Ruins

The Lowry Ruins site, 9 miles west of Pleasant View Colorado along County Road CC, is the center of the large Cow Canyon Ancestral Pueblo community. For this hike I navigated southeast about 0.5 miles through the Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest, looking for the west rim of the east fork of Cow Canyon.

There isn’t a trail to follow and I used a compass to guide my direction. The forest is open enough to hike through, with only the fallen Pinon Pines to avoid. I arrived at a point that is about 0.5 miles south and east of Lowry Ruin. From this view point I was luckily only about 200 yards up canyon from two large ruins sites, one on each side of the canyon. They are in this view, but mostly obscured by the forest.

I noticed the site on the opposite side of the canyon first. It appears to be a large rubble pile that is overgrown with sage brush. Looking at it with binoculars, I could see a small wall section below the rim in an alcove and more rubble on the slope below the rim.

The site on the west rim appears to be much larger. There are very large and extensive rubble piles on the west rim. This site is much like the interpreted Sand Canyon Pueblo site in size and appearance.

I found a notch in the cliffs to get below the rim. The site is as large below the rim as it is above. The slope is steep in spots and there is tangled vegetation in the way so the walking below isn’t very easy. There are at least two boulder top building sites, but I didn’t see any wall sections that had held together here. I didn’t try to cross the canyon to get to the site on the other side.

There is about 0.5 miles of west rim south of this large site to follow out to the lookout point overlooking Cow Canyon as it makes a swing toward the west. I noticed a possible collapsed tower site perched on a boulder about half way to the point and another more definite boulder top collapsed tower just before the point.

The view of the tower from the lookout point is good and it is possible to descend to get a closer view, but I didn’t go all the way down. This site appears to be isolated. I returned to Lowry Ruins on the dirt road that runs straight south from the parking area. I spent 2:40 minutes on this 2.5 mile hike on a 65 F degree early May day.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Burro Canyon North Rim Trail

The Burro Canyon North Rim Trail is the one lane gravel road that makes a junction with County Road N 0.6 miles west of Canyon of the Ancients entrance sign. This entrance is 1.2 miles west of the north trailhead for the popular Sand Canyon Trail northwest of Cortez in southwest Colorado. (In spring of 2012 there is some new gas well activity along this road that probably restricts access by vehicles until the activity is complete.)

The gravel road runs about 3.5 miles west to a lookout point facing the junction of Burro Canyon and Yellowjacket Canyon. There are several dirt side roads along the way. The first 2 miles or so pass through mesa top Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest with patches of sagebrush without any wide views.

This area has some carbon dioxide gas well development with some of the facilities visible in the distance. The hiking is easy on the mostly level gravel road.

After about 1.2 miles or so I turned south on one of the side roads that had a old fence on the east side. This road went about 100 yards south, then turned west and ran parallel to the main gravel road for about 1 mile.

Along this side road there is a mesa top ruins site that is visible as rubble mounds. There are several large mounds with a depression between the mounds. The side dirt road loops back to make a junction with the main gravel road.

Past the junction the road is closer to the canyon rims on both the north and south and the views are better. The south facing cliffs looked like good locations for ruins sites but I didn’t spot anything. The cliffs in this area have many joints and gaps between them.

The road continues out to a point with good views toward the canyon junctions to the west. On the return hike I tried to follow cow trails back to the east that were closer to the south facing rim and pass through a different section of mesa top. It seems like there should be more ruins sites in this area, but I didn’t spot any.

I did see some isolated pottery shards, one with some black on white design. I was able to spot the boulder top lookout point ruins site across the canyon that I had visited on a previous Burro Canyon south rim hike, but didn’t see any others this time. The boulder top site stood out even though it was about 0.5 miles away. My total hike took 3:30 hours for about 7 miles on a 50 F degree early May day. I carried and drank 2 liters of water. (There are more ruins sites in this area. I just didn't find them on this hike.)