Sunday, November 14, 2010

Little Ruin Canyon Trail in Fall

The Little Ruin Canyon Trail is located at the Visitor Center of Hovenweep National Monument along the south Utah and Colorado border. The 2 mile loop visits at least 10 Ancestral Pueblo Ruins sites, mostly perched along the canyon rims.

Little Ruins Canyon appears to be dryer and more desert like than most of the surrounding Canyons of the Ancients area. The mesa top area is mostly Sagebrush, Mormon Tea, Cliff Rose, Prickly Pear Cactus, with a few scattered Utah Juniper trees. These plants are identified with small signs on the trail segment close to the Visitor Center. The canyons only a few miles further north are much thicker Pinon Pine and Juniper forest. Most of these plants retain some green color into the fall and winter seasons.

The trail here at the Hovenweep Visitor Center provides more ruin site viewing in a short distance than most trails in the region. The nearby Sand Canyon Trail has many small sites and Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico has very large sites. Sun Point at Mesa Verde has many sites visible from one view point.

Following the loop trail clockwise, there is an 80 foot descent into the canyon and a climb out the other side. The canyon interior is closed except for special tours. Several of the ruins sites can be viewed from this low angle including Stronghold House, the Twin Towers and Eroded Boulder House. Climb a little higher and Point Tower, Unit Type House, and Rim Rock House are visible. The canyon bottom has thicker vegetation than the canyon rim area, with some Rabbitbrush visible. The canyon head area has some Hackberry Trees.

The upper end of the south fork of the canyon head has some of the largest and most impressive of the Hovenweep Towers. Hovenweep Castle across the canyon head is the largest and most impressive. The Square Tower down below the rim is the most mysterious and seems to have been build with slight spiral. It overlooks the spring that provided water for the overall site.
There are a few small structures that aren’t pointed out. From the Tower Point loop segment looking north there are some small storage structures in the shallow alcoves under the rim. In fall, these small storage areas were probably stocked with the produce of the summer season.

Another unnamed ruins structure is at the point where the trail begins to descend into and cross the small canyon. This unnamed site would be a major find along the wild canyons of Canyons of the Ancients but is easily ignored here. Looking east, there is a view toward Sleeping Ute Mountain. 

The Holly Trail leads from the campground 4 miles north to the Holly Ruins Group, the nearest outlying site of Hovenweep. The Little Ruins Canyon Trail takes 1 or 2 hours depending on how long you linger at each site. I hiked in mid November on a sunny 45 F degree day and there were about 10 other vehicles at the visitor center during my visit.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Woods Canyon Square Tower

There is an old road that provides an easy descent down into Woods Canyon in the Canyons of the Ancients in southwest Colorado. The access is at the corner of County Roads U and 14, west of the community of Yellowjacket, northwest of Cortez, CO along Highway 491.

There is some parking along the road across from one of the carbon dioxide plants in the area. The south leg of the trail leads to a large Ancestral Pueblo ruins site after about 0:45 minutes of hiking.

I continued on the trail past the Woods Canyon Pueblo for another 0:40 minutes until the route seemed to fizzle out in a thick sagebrush field. In the fall, the creek at the bottom of Woods Canyon had a healthy flow of water. The northwest canyon slope appeared easy to climb at this point, so I decided to walk up hill to get a better view. I didn’t realize it, but the mouth of a side canyon was only a short distance ahead.

At the hill top, I had a good view into the side canyon and noticed a square tower perched on the west side cliffs, below the rim. From the distance, I couldn’t see any other structures nearby. This location made it appear that the tower kept a watch on the side canyon entrance. The area below the tower appeared to be steep and I decided just to view the tower from the distance. I was 1:50 hours into my hike at this view point.
I turned back north along the east rim of this side canyon, expecting to see more ruins sites, but didn’t notice anything. I made my way back to the main Woods Canyon and descended back to the canyon floor trail in the vicinity of the Woods Canyon Pueblo. My total hike took 5:30 hours for seven or eight miles. It was a 60 F early November day and I carried 3 liters of water.