Thursday, May 26, 2011

Northeast Hovenweep Canyon

The west rim of Hovenweep Canyon is frequently visited as the site of the Painted Hand Pueblo Trail, one of the few publicized trails in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. The trailhead is about 1 mile along an east turn off of County Road 10 about 10 miles north of the Visitor Center for Hovenweep National Monument.

 About 0.5 miles south of Painted Hand is the upper trailhead for the Cutthroat Castle Trail, one of the outlying Hovenweep sites. A short distance south of the trailhead there is an old road that leads down into Hovenweep Canyon and heads north.

After about 1.5 miles, at the point where the old road crosses the dry wash, a good Ancestral Pueblo ruins site can be found with some exploring to the east, on the first level of the mesa top area overlooking the drainage. I visited this site before on the hike I called Painted Hand Neighbors. On this hike I continued north along the mesa top area. It has taken me about 1:00 hour to arrive at the Painted Hand Neighbor.
I climbed two more levels of mesa top and walked along the east canyon rim overlooking the northern part of Hovenweep Canyon. The canyon floor has a level sagebrush field and it looks like a forest fire has burned some of the canyon floor trees. There is a side canyon to Hovenweep Canyon coming in from the east.
Viewing the east side canyon from above, there is a gap in the mesa top area between Hovenweep Canyon and Negro Canyon to the east. The old road that is visible below is the extension of the trail that I started my hike on. That road appears to connect to the well maintained gravel road that enters the north end of Negro Canyon and is used by the gas and oil well activity.

I think that gravel road has a normally closed gate like the Mockingbird Mesa area. Hikers can enter but vehicles are blocked. From above, I spotted a ruins site near one of the cottonwood trees that is visible on the floor of the side canyon. I didn’t notice any ruins sites where I walked on the mesa top.
Walking along the mesa top far enough, there is another old road that climbs up the mesa top area between Hovenweep and Negro Canyons. This road provides a relatively easy descent to the canyon floor and then leads very close to the ruins site. The ruins site isn’t visible from the trail, so keep an eye out for the light green cottonwood tree.

The rubble piles are very high at this site, perhaps these were multi story structures. The site doesn’t appear to be based on any large boulders and has small drainages passing between the structures. The cottonwood trees indicate that there is water here, but I didn’t see any flowing water.

There are two large circular structures on the south side where there are some wall sections still intact. It took me 2:15 hours to arrive at this site, counting my visit to the Painted Hand Neighbor and slow walking and scanning on the mesa top. I spent about 0:45 minutes visiting this large village site.

I followed the trail for my return hike; it leads all the way back to the Cutthroat Castle trail head. On the return I sighted a small storage granary ruin high on the west side of the trail. In the same area, on the east side there is a small alcove with a wall across the front. My return hike from the northeast canyon floor village took 1:40 hours. My total hike took 4:40 hours for about 7 miles on 66 F degree late May day. I carried and drank 3 liters of water. I was prepared with repellant for biting gnats but wasn’t bothered by them.

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