Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Side Canyons east of Lower Cross Canyon

In the central part of the Canyons of the Ancients in southwest Colorado, the lower part of Cross Canyon, south of Pedro Point, has several east side canyons that don’t seem to have names.

 In this area, there is a loop road that is an established mountain bike route.  The loop has a starting point near an old corral that is about one mile north of the turn off to the Holly and Hackberry outlying Hovenweep National Monument sites, along County Road 10. This corral area is also about 3.6 miles south of the turn off for the Painted Hand Trail.

Across County Road 10 from the old corral, there is a dirt road trail that leads northwest. I followed this trail for 0.3 miles to a junction with another road trail that is closed to vehicles. At this junction, there is a rock outcrop with many large boulders sliding down the hillside.

Near the base of this rocky hill there is a rubble pile Ancestral Pueblo ruins site. I was only a few minutes into my hike when I noticed this site, a good start.

A collection of boulders is usually a good place to look further. Up near the rim, there is a very small alcove with a small structure. Other than the Sand Canyon area, there aren’t very many alcove sites in the Canyons of the Ancients.
At this trail junction, there is a choice of continuing to the northwest, or turning left and going mostly southwest, toward a rim area with overlooks of the lower Cross Canyon area. I turned left. I was able to continue for about 0:45 minutes, scanning the side canyons with binoculars.

There are a lot of good canyon views, but I didn’t see any more ruins in along this segment of trail. I returned back toward the junction and could have ended my hike after about 2:00 hours. But I cut north across the canyon head and looked a little further to the north and east.

There is a very long side canyon that extends northeast all the way to the south side of the Pedro Point area. I hiked along this south rim of this long side canyon and for a while I was back on the established trail, which seems to end at the rim.

I used a compass and started to hike southeast back toward my starting point when I came across a large semi-circular ruin structure. This site seemed to have a curious location. It wasn’t very close to the canyon rim or on a hilltop.The concept of shrines is somewhat vague, but this might be one. This site might be hard to find again. Looking east from the site, I could see vehicles on the paved Road 10 about 0.5 miles away, and the old corral is about 1 mile to the south.

There was lot of pottery visible at this site, including a few of the largest shards I’ve seen. There might be a small check dam across a small wash near the site. Check dams are easy to see when they are pointed out at Mesa Verde, but I don’t seem to see them in the backcountry areas.

Associated with the large circular structure was a site with several flat rocks turned on end. The interpreted sites at Mesa Verde describe rocks like these as possibly being the lining of underground food storage structures. From this site it took me 0:50 minutes to return to the old corral. My total hike took about 4:00 hours for about 8 miles. It was 72 F degrees at 9:20 AM and 86 F degrees at 1:30 PM on a late August day. I carried and drank 3 liters of water.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pedro Point Southeast

The Pedro Point road leads to one of the easiest to find of the unpublicized Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado.

The Pedro Point route follows the BLM dirt road marked 4720 west. This road is about 1.4 miles south of the turnoff for the Painted Hand Pueblo along paved County Road 10, and about 8 miles north of the Visitor Center for Hovenweep National Monument.

About 0.25 miles south of the Pedro Point Road, there is a cattle guard and a sign that says “No Blading in Barrow Ditches between Signs.” The reason for no blading is the rubble pile ruins site that is very close to the road.

If you don’t hike to any of the hundreds of wild ruins sites while visiting the Canyons of the Ancients, you can at least see this one driving by. I started my hike by visiting this site and continued hiking southwest, using a compass as there aren’t any old roads or trails to follow. The walking is easy through sagebrush with scattered Utah Juniper trees. About 1 mile southwest is an obvious rocky hilltop that I headed for.

I didn’t notice any ruins on this hilltop despite seeing a number of pottery shards that had washed down the drainages. Looking north, there is another rocky hilltop between the one I was on and the Pedro Point road hilltop. I had good luck there later.

After about 1:15 hours of hiking to the southwest, I came across a trail that leads northwest. This trail looked like a mineral exploration trail. I decided to follow it until it seemed to fizzle out at the drainage between the two hilltop areas. Looking at Google maps, this trail looks like it connects with County Road 10 further south. There was more pottery visible in the washes through this area, but I didn’t see any ruins sites.

While traveling north and east across the drainage, I spotted a fairly large site on the south side of a hilltop that overlooks a junction of large drainages. The site was mostly on the rim and spilled down below the rim. There are a couple of places where the brickwork is still mostly intact. I was 2:00 hours into my hike when I arrived at this site.

The site has a good view down canyon to the southwest. Some of the formations in the northern part of the Navajo Reservation were visible in the distance, like Black Mesa.

Much of the rubble material had spilled downhill with a few bricks still standing. On the way to this site, I walked over a very small rubble pile site in the small valley directly south. That site was obscured by sagebrush so well that I was walking on it when I noticed it. It would be hard to find it again, but it is in easy range of this larger ruins site.

It took me about 1:15 hours to return to my starting point close to the beginning of the Pedro Point Road. This ruins site is about 1.5 miles west, more or less, of the junction with County Road 10 and about 0.5 miles south of the Pedro Point Road. There are no trails around this site and it doesn’t appear to get many visitors.

Hiking north and east I intersected the Pedro Point Road close to the rubble pile ruins site that is in the first mile from the junction with County Road 10. This site might not be noticed if you drive to the large Pedro Point site but should be noticeable to hikers.

My total hike took 3:15 hours for about 4 miles of mostly slow hiking. On a late August day it was about 75 F degrees at 9:30 AM and about 88 F degrees at 12:45 PM. I carried and drank 3 liters of water.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sage Hen Hilltops

The Sage Hen area is located on the north and west end of McPhee Reservoir on the Dolores River in southwest Colorado. There are two established trails in the area that horse riders, mountain bikers and a few hikers use. This area is part of the San Juan National Forest.
One of the trails is the very rutted and rough Forest Road 500, leading north to the Dolores River McPhee Dam for about 4.3 miles. The other trail is a single track that starts at the same Forest Road gate and also heads generally north but in a more winding way. There are other minor trails that the horse riders might use. This area has been closed to motorized vehicles since about 2008.
The Forest Road 500 trail climbs through a sagebrush plain area with scattered Pinon Pines and Junipers and patches of Gambel Oak, and provides good views of the reservoir with Mesa Verde becoming visible the higher you go. The LaPlata Mountains with Mt. Hesperus are also visible to the east. Some of the hilltops in the Sage Hen area have archeological sites. I went on a series of short hikes looking at some of these hilltops.

There are two side Forest Roads that turn east from Forest Road 500. The first is after about 1.5 miles and the second is after about 2.3 miles. In the vicinity of the second side road, there is a hilltop that has some features that appear to be an archaeology site.

The pottery shards that are visible on some of these hilltops seem to be plain gray without any painted designs or corrugations. Some of these small pieces wash down toward the sides of the hilltops

On the top of the hill there are vague rubble piles. These seem to be less defined than many of the rubble pile sites in the Canyons of the Ancients, but seem organized enough to look like something was built here.

This hilltop area has a view of the main channel of the Dolores River, now flooded with McPhee Reservoir. It is within site of the hilltop area where the Escalante and Dominguez Pueblos are on the south side of the reservoir, and Mesa Verde is visible. The current vegetation includes sagebrush and patches of Oak with Pinon Pines and Utah Junipers mixed in. There are also grassy fields nearby.

There are several rubble piles scattered across the hilltop, two of the piles using larger and flat shaped stones.

All my hikes in this area have taken two to three hours, usually just visiting one of two hilltops at a time. In some places there are minor trails to follow and sometimes the oak thickets are too difficult to get through. There are also some ranching artifacts in the area including old corrals.