Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Burro Canyon Southwest Trail

The lower and southwest end of the Burro Canyon area, in Canyons of the Ancients in southwest Colorado, can be explored along an old road that descends from the south rim and crosses to the mesa top area between the two apparent parallel canyons.

The old road curves back to the west and runs along the south side of a large sky island, then continues out to viewpoints overlooking Yellow Jacket Canyon. There aren’t many official trails in Canyons of the Ancients, but the old roads often make good routes through these wild canyons.

The unmarked old road is about 4.8 miles west of the Canyons of the Ancients entrance sign on the west extension of County Road N. This entrance sign is 1.2 miles west of the north trail head for popular Sand Canyon Trail. The trail makes long switchbacks for about 1.5 miles down to the bottom of Burro Canyon.

It then follows the canyon bottom east for about 1 mile before climbing out to the mesa top. Looking across, there are several grassy areas on the mesa top area near the sky island. About half way down, another trail splits off, heading west down canyon. At the canyon bottom, the trail passes a very large pour off point.

There is a small Ancestral Pueblo ruin site perched on the rim overlooking the pour off. The site can be viewed from the trail and it is only a short hike to get a closer view.

This small site looks like it might have been a circular tower. I didn’t see any other structures associated with this site. My hike continued up canyon and onto the mesa top, and out to the point overlooking Yellow jacket Canyon. Despite the scenic canyon country and some reasonable looking locations, I didn’t see any more ruins sites in this area.

Hikers interested mostly in ruins sites could stop at the canyon bottom and return to the rim. There are several ruins sites to find at the upper end of Burro Canyon, so I was disappointed not to find more in the lower end.
It took another 1:50 hours of hiking to get to a point, west of the sky island, where there are views in both directions of Yellow Jacket Canyon. The Yellow Jacket Canyon bottom view down canyon has some roads and farming activity and is mostly private property. The trail continues further than I went, at least another 0.5 miles out to a point more in the middle of Yellow Jacket Canyon.

The view up canyon has some sandstone outcrops that I scanned, looking for the Yellow Jacket pictograph panel. I think this panel is in this area, but I couldn’t see it from this distance. My total hike was 6:40 hours for at least 8 miles on an 80 F degree late August day. I carried 3 liters of water and drank every drop.

On a separate hike in late September, I started at the same rough road but then followed the road that splits off half way to the canyon bottom. This trail follows the south rim west and curls around a point that overlooks Yellow Jacket Canyon. There are good views toward the mouth of Burro Canyon and across Yellow Jacket Canyon.

It might be possible to hike all the way to the bottom of Yellow Jacket Canyon here, but I didn’t see any ruins sites below to head for. A segment of the canyon bottom in this area is public land, but crossing and trying to climb the opposite side looks like a major effort.
The trail curls around the point and follows a long section of southwest facing cliffs. I thought this segment had some potential ruins locations, but I didn’t notice any despite a lot of scanning. I turned around at the end of the cliff segment, about 3.5 miles from where I started. The trail continues south at this point and may eventually loop back north toward the starting point, but it could be a long distance. The end of this loop is the road that is directly across the road from where I started, so a separate hike could start there. This separate hike took 4:10 hours for about 7 miles on a 78 F degree late September day.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Negro Canyon West Rim Trail from Painted Hand

Negro Canyon is to the east of Hovenweep Canyon and west of Sandstone Canyon in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. The upper trailhead for the Hovenweep Cutthroat Castle Trail can be used as a starting point for a hike to the west rim of Negro Canyon. This area is about 10 miles north of the Hovenweep Visitor Center on County Road 10.

There is an old road that branches off near the Cutthroat Trail Head and descends into Hovenweep Canyon. As this road passes below the Painted Hand Pueblo site, there is a side road that climbs to the east rim of Hovenweep Canyon. This side road can be spotted easily from the rim area above, but is easy to miss down below if you’re not watching for it.

At the rim, the mining road continues south but I turned east off the trail and walked the short 100 yard distance to the west rim. It took 1:00 hour of hiking to get to the west rim of Negro Canyon.

Scanning the rim area to the north and south with binoculars I spotted an Ancestral Pueblo ruins site in the level area below the cliffs. In the area overlooking the site, there is a drainage that offers a way down, though it is tricky and there is an easier route about 200 yards to the south.

The site spotted from the rim looks like it is spread out on both sides of a drainage, or it could be considered to be two sites. The structure to the north has a large section of wall holding together on one side and looks like a large rubble pile on the other sides.

Just south across the small drainage there is a circular looking structure. Rubble piles form the circle and there is a depression in the middle. The amateur observer might think this resembles a great kiva. I didn't want to climb back to the rim the same way I came down and walked south where the cliffs appeared to be easier to climb. There were some alcove formations along the way, but I didn't see any signs that they had ever been used.
About 150 yards south I came across another rubble pile site. This site also appeared to be circular and appeared as rubble piles. This site is close to the base of the cliffs and the forest is thick enough that it is obscured unless you are very close to it. The cliffs are easier to climb in this vicinity than where I descended and I made my way back up to the rim.

The canyon rim makes a bend to the east above the second site and gives a good view back to the north. Scanning back north I saw a ruins wall section north of the first ruins site and decided to walk back, about 0.4 miles to look closer.

 Above the wall section there are some rubble remains of a rim site. This site is at the south junction point of a short side canyon off of the main canyon. Across Negro Canyon is Mockingbird Mesa and the large power lines to the industrial sites there are visible.

The wall section that I saw from the distance appears to be part of a circular tower that has a precarious perch over a steep cliff and is well below the rim top rubble remains. There is a notch in the cliff that might be a steep and narrow way down, but I didn't try it. It was hard to get a good angle to see the tower from the rim above. A juniper tree has taken root and perfectly blocks the view. Unfortunately, I didn't notice this structure when I was down below, only about 200 yards to the south.

There are some rough 4WD trails in the area below the tower. There is a road that enters the north end of Negro Canyon but there is a normally closed gate that blocks unauthorized vehicles, though a hiker or mountain bike can enter.

The view of the tower wasn't better from the south angle, but there is a good side view of the overall site. If a tower in this position was used for communication, there might be another to look for on the east side of Negro Canyon. I spent about 2:00 hours in the area of these three close together sites.

From a previous hike I know there is another boulder based site about 0.5 miles north of this area along this same rim. My return hike from the tower site took 1:10 hours for a total hike of 4:15 hours. The temperature at 9:30 AM was 70 F and it was 82 F at 1:45 PM on an early August day. I carried and drank 3 liters of water.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cow Canyon West of Lowry Ruins

The large mesa top Lowry Ruins is one of the featured sites in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. It sits on a hilltop between two forks of the head of Cow Canyon and is the center a large community of outlying sites.

Near the parking area a primitive road heads south and allows hikers to explore for some of the surrounding sites. Lowry Ruins is located 9 miles west of Pleasant View, CO on County Road CC.

I hiked south of Lowry Ruins along the primitive road for about 0.5 miles, and then turned west to the east rim of the Cow Canyon west fork. Scanning with binoculars, it looked like there was a nearby alcove site below a canyon rim and further on I could see a rubble pile in a higher layer of cliffs. The alcove site was a little vague but there was a rubble pile under the cover of a shallow rock covering.

The rubble pile site was a little tricky to find, even though it was clearly visible from a distance. From above it was hard to get a good angle to view it, and several trees have taken root right in the middle of the site. It took me 1:00 hour of scanning and hiking to arrive at this moderate sized site.

From below, it appeared to be based on a large boulder with a lot of rubble having slipped off and formed a pile down below. I spent about 1 hour exploring the area around these two ruins sites. After viewing these sites I hiked slowly south about 1 mile along the east rim of the west fork to the point that overlooks the junction of the two forks of Cow Canyon. I didn’t notice any ruins sites along the way to the point.

This junction had very steep cliffs and a good view down Cow Canyon. I thought that the jumble of rocks at the point looked like a good location for ruins site but all the sites in this area appear to be closer to the canyon bottom in the east fork, which seems to have better southern exposure and was closer to the water source. Continuing back north along the rim I saw three likely boulder based sites well below the rim, close to the creek at the bottom. The northern most of these three sites I had visited before. On this hike, I only viewed these sites from the rim.

My total hike took 4:40 hours for about 4 miles. I carried and drank 3 liters of water on a 75 F degree day that had higher humidity than is typical in this area.