Friday, September 23, 2011

Hamilton Mesa Trail

Hamilton Mesa forms the south side of McElmo Canyon in the area where Cannonball Mesa forms the north side. This relatively dry area is the southwest corner of the Canyons of the Ancients in southwest Colorado. The trail is the unmarked BLM road that is a south turn from County Road G, 26 miles west of Cortez, CO. There is a roadside boulder with some petroglyphs about 100 yards west of this turnoff.

The Hamilton Mesa Trail is lightly used as it requires visitors to get across McElmo Creek, which carries irrigation water much of the year. I brought river sandals for the out and back creek crossings. In late September the water was knee deep with enough current that I used a long Tamarisk stick to help with balance and walked carefully. The footing was firm on the mostly rocky bottom. It reminded me of the creek crossings on the popular hikes at Mill Creek in Moab, Utah.

The trail heads south for about 1 mile along the west side of Hamilton Mesa and then turns east and follows the south side. There are large power lines crossing the area near the trail. After about 2 miles, there is a fence with a gate at a large inlet on the south side of the mesa.

The canyon area on the south side is very wide and very dry with only grasses and scattered shrubs growing. I was walking slowly and scanned the cliffs for Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites but didn’t notice anything.

The road continues into the distance along the floor of the mostly featureless canyon. I crossed through the gate and walked up the draw. There appeared to be a place to climb to the mesa top. Once up on top, there is a lot of level area to explore. There are more Juniper trees on top but it is still a dry environment.

The Hamilton Mesa top isn’t very wide and it is easy to walk to the north rim for views across the green irrigated bottom of McElmo Canyon. There is a road on the mesa top that leads to the east. It is probably possible to walk up on the mesa top using the road system rather than climb up like I did.

There are good views in the area where I hiked but I didn’t find any ruins sites. My total hike in the Hamilton Mesa area took 4:30 hours for about 6 miles. The small scale maps for this area at the Anasazi Heritage Center show some archaeology sites for this area and there is lot more area to explore. I carried and drank 3 liters of water on a sunny late September day that was 60 F at 9:45 AM and 82 F at 2:15 PM.

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