Sunday, March 13, 2011

Risley Canyon Trail

Risley Canyon is a tributary to Yellowjacket Canyon in the south central part of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. The trail head that I used is 3.4 miles north on the BLM road that is about 20 miles west of Cortez, CO along County Road G. At this starting point, high on the south side of Risley, there is a rough road leading east.

This point is north of the starting points for hikes to the Cannonball Mesa Pueblo site and the Lucy’s Warbler habitat area. The Lucy’s Warbler hike is west along the south rim of Risley Canyon to its junction with Yellowjacket Canyon. After about 20 minutes of hiking east, there is a junction with a left turn that pushes into the central area of upper Risley Canyon.

After about 1:00 hour of slow hiking, with a lot of scanning with binoculars, I spotted a large boulder outcrop in the center of the canyon area with some rubble on top. There are vague ATV tracks that lead down toward the boulder site, making it easy to walk to. It looks like there was a lookout structure on top of the boulder.
Not visible from a distance are all the structures on the south side. Many of these Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites would be easily missed in the forest if it weren’t for the rubble that is frequently on the tops of large boulders. A circular structure on the southeast side is protected under a small overhang.

There are additional wall sections to the left of the circular structure and built into other rocks in the vicinity. The pottery shards visible here are mostly the corrugated style.

From this site I hiked north a short distance to the cliffs on the north rim of Risley. I didn’t see any more ruins sites, but there are good views back toward the boulders and the surrounding area. Rather than return the same way I came, I hiked west, gradually descending down the drainage until I arrived at the main BLM road.

My total hike in Risley Canyon took 3:30 hours for about 4 miles. I carried and drank 2 liters of water on a 60 F degree mid March day.

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