Friday, March 4, 2011

Cannonball Mesa Cliffs

The west end of Cannonball Mesa has impressive cliffs that overlook the rough Yellowjacket Canyon road at the junction of Yellowjacket and McElmo Canyons. This area is on the southwest side of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. Follow County Road G about 26 miles west of Cortez, CO to the Ismay Trading Post and turn north.

I started my hike about 0.25 miles northeast on the rough dirt road below the Ismay Petroglyph and Pueblo site that is based on a large boulder. I hiked along the road for about 1 more mile until I found a cow trail that leads to the rim in an area where the cliffs are not so impossible looking. From where I started, it took me about 0:25 minutes to find the trail and another 0:25 minutes to get to the rim. The road is rough but it is possible to drive to the cow trail.

At the canyon rim I turned left and followed the rim northeast for about 1 mile. There is a narrow finger of a point and then the rim turns east. In the east segment near the point, I spotted a boulder based ruins site well below the rim. I didn’t climb down to view it closer, but did look closer at the petroglyphs that were close to the rim. I was 1:10 hours into my hike when I stopped to view these images.

Another 30 minutes of hiking brought me to the neck that separates the east and west portions of Cannonball Mesa. The large Cannonball Mesa Pueblo site is on the east side of the neck, approximately 2 more miles of hiking. I turned around at the neck overlook point.

The Cannonball Mesa top is relatively dry compared to the mesas to the north. Juniper trees are few and scattered, with other plants including Mormon Tea, Cliff Rose, Narrowleaf Yucca, Prickly Pear Cactus, and desert grasses. I saw a few cows grazing up here and it looks like most visitors arrive on horseback.

Parts of the floor of Yellowjacket Canyon are privately owned, but in this east and west section there appears to be a 1 mile stretch of canyon bottom that is part of the Canyons of the Ancients. There is a faint road below, but I didn’t see any other development. The area visible here has a broad flat bottom and the creek has flowing water most of the year and there is good riparian habitat. I scanned the area with binoculars and didn’t spot any other ruins sites but they are not always visible from a distance.

The return hike took 1:30 hours out of a total hike of 3:10 hours for about 6 miles. My hike was on a 58 F degree early March day and carried and drank 2 liters of water.

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