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.

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