Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cross Canyon Trail-Lower

The lower Cross Canyon access road is a west turn 5.9 miles south of the turnoff to the Painted Hand Pueblo site along paved County Road 10, along the Utah and southwest Colorado border. The access road is marked as San Juan County 2031 and descends somewhat steeply for 2.3 miles down into Cross Canyon.

At the bottom there is a creek crossing. Just west past the creek there is a right turn that enters Cross Canyon and heads toward McLean Basin and the Cross Canyon Wilderness Study Area.

After 3.2 miles there is another crossing of the same creek. I started hiking at the crossing but the road is drivable for another mile to a sign marking the San Juan Resource Area where there is room for parking. Past the sign, the road becomes rougher.

After 0:15 minutes of hiking past the sign, the road veers away from the flowing creek while a trail that is marked as closed to vehicles continues north following the creek up Cross Canyon. Except for the no vehicles sign, the trail isn’t marked. This trail seems to weave back and forth across the Utah and Colorado border for a while before settling into the Canyons of the Ancients Monument area in Colorado.

There is a creek crossing at the trail starting point and many more crossings as the stream meanders across the canyon bottom area. The crossings during mid October were 6 to 10 inches deep and usually only 6 to 8 feet across. In some cases there are some rock stepping stones, but my feet got wet with every crossing.

The canyon bottom area has a lot of sagebrush, greasewood, and three wing saltbush with cottonwoods and tamarisks close to the creek. Sometimes the trail pushed through dense patches tamarisk. The canyon sides were steep with Pinon Pine and Juniper in the segment I walked. I scanned the canyon rims with binoculars frequently but didn’t notice any ruins sites up above.

About 1:00 hour of hiking past the San Juan Resources sign, there is a large boulder based Ancestral Pueblo ruins site that sits in the middle of the canyon. Rubble from the site flows down the steep slopes below the rocky outcrop.

Some of the wall sections have held together on top. There are good views up and down the canyon from the boulder tops. To the east, it looks like there might be an old trail that starts to descend part of the way down from the canyon rim.

Most of the pottery shards I saw were on top. Mostly I saw plain white pieces with a few corrugated and a few painted designs.

On the south side below the top, there is a rock overhang with walls still intact. This large castle rock type site was the only one I noticed in the first 1:20 hours of hiking.

About 0.3 miles north of the castle rock ruins I thought I had found a tower, but it appears to be a historic ranching type ruins. There is a piece of metal bed hanging on the wall and other ranching artifacts lying among the rubble. There is some cement plaster helping to hold the walls together.

About 0:30 minutes of hiking further, as the creek makes a turn to the east, there is a petroglyph panel in an alcove a short climb above the trail. The horse images must mean that at least some of this is the work of the Utes.

Below the petroglyphs there are two rock walls forming a set of level terraces. These level spots have a good view of the creek below and look like a good place to relax. I turned around here about 3:00 hours into my hike. My return hike without any stops took 2:00 hours. My total hike was 5:00 hours for about 9 miles. I hiked on a 65 F sunny mid October day and carried 3 liters of water.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Squaw Point near Lower Cross Canyon

The Cross Canyon access road is 2.7 miles northeast of the turnoff to the headquarters of Hovenweep National Monument along paved County Road 10, along the Utah and southwest Colorado border. The access road is marked as San Juan County 2031 and turns west descending steeply for 2.3 miles down into Cross Canyon.

At the bottom there is a creek crossing. Just past the creek there is a right turn that enters Cross Canyon and heads toward McLean Basin and the Cross Canyon Wilderness Study Area. The trail I followed is about 1.2 miles up this road on the left. It is clearly visible while descending into the canyon. This rough uphill road connects to other roads on top of Squaw Point. This area is slightly outside the official Canyons of the Ancients, but still BLM managed land.
I’ve started up this trail before but turned back about halfway up due to biting gnats. Continuing to the mesa top, there is a side road that turns south. I followed this route to the end of the trail. After about 1:00 hour of hiking the trail ends and a large boulder based ruins site is visible further south. It took me another 0:20 minutes to arrive at the site. There are two short side canyons between the end of the trail and the ridge location of the boulder ruins.
There is a lot of rubble on the top of the boulder, but only fragments have held together as walls. This site has one of the most dramatic of locations. It is on the point that overlooks the very broad junction of Cross Canyon and Squaw Canyon. The rocky point location is visible from miles around but it is not obviously a ruins site from a long distance view.

Most of the interesting features are along the east side. There are two small sections of wall structures that have been sheltered with some brick fragments visible above.

Further on there is a kiva depression with some wall brickwork visible. There were many pottery shards around the kiva.
The largest and most conspicuous pottery shards were white with black smudges. This style seemed unusual. There were also corrugated and a few painted designs.

Further on there is a large circular rubble pile. The sides of the boulders are tall and very vertical and I didn’t notice any easy way for the residents to climb to the top.

I noticed three petroglyph panels. One of them had some very clear and interesting images. There is a good image of a hunter with a bow and arrow aiming at a mountain sheep.

On the left side of the same panel are two reclining figures, one playing a flute. I can’t tell what the other figure is doing. The pair seems to be enclosed in a frame.

Looking back north along the east rim of Squaw Canyon, I think another boulder based site with wide views is visible two or three miles away. The Squaw Point road leads close to that site. It is interesting that these two sites have a very clear line of sight. My return hike took 1:10 hours and the total hike was 3:15 hours for about 5 miles. I carried and drank 2 liters of water on a sunny 68 F degree mid October day. The sunny mild days of fall are probably the best time of year for hiking in the Canyons of the Ancients.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hovenweep Canyon near Mockingbird Mesa

The route to Mockingbird Mesa in the Canyons of the Ancients is to follow County Road 12 south from the junction with County Road BB for 7.2 miles and make a left turn at a BLM road junction. This area is west of Pleasant View, in southwest Colorado.

Staying to the right at the Mockingbird junction and right at the next junction for 1.2 miles leads to a south leading dirt road trail that provides an access to the east rim of the upper part of Hovenweep Canyon. There is a carbon dioxide plant visible 0.3 miles past where I started hiking.

The unmarked dirt road trail leads about 2 miles southwest and then is blocked by a gate at private property. Near the end of the road, a carbon dioxide pipeline crosses the road and provides a cleared route down into and across Hovenweep Canyon.

Hiking along the road, I didn’t notice any Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites. Scanning up and down the canyon, I thought I saw a rubble pile and a wall with a doorway about one mile back to the north. I didn’t follow the pipeline down into the canyon, but instead hiked back north and found a gentle slope leading down.

The canyon bottom here is a side canyon to the east of the main Hovenweep Canyon. The Cottonwood trees along the dry wash made me think that there might be a ruins site in this canyon bottom area. Even though there wasn’t any flowing water here, there must be some not far below the surface.

I’m surprised by how often I stumble into ruins sites without any hint that they are here. This large site is completely obscured by thick Pinon and Juniper forest and isn’t visible from more than 50 feet away. This isn’t the site I saw from the canyon rim. The rubble piles at this site are tall and cover a large area but are overgrown and it is hard to view the overall site.

I didn’t see any walls that have held together. The good news is that the site is marked by the Cottonwood trees growing along the small drainage that joins the main drainage from the west. The L shaped pattern of the Cottonwood growth along the watershed is easy to spot from high angle views. I was about 2:00 hours into my hike when I arrived at this hidden site.

I continued north, climbing up a slope to a mesa top area. I didn’t see the ruins sites I was looking for on the way up, but I saw many pieces of pottery. At the rim I scanned around and spotted some rubble. Close to the rim, there is a circle of large stones and below was the wall and doorway that I had spotted from a mile away.

This wall and the circle above are supported on massive slabs of stone that have separated from the main cliffs. From this unusual large stone structure I couldn’t see anything else, but the rubble pile I had spotted from the distance was lower and slightly to the east.

The rubble pile could have been this large boulder based site. There are other small structures around the base of this large boulder.

I was stunned to find that there are two boulder based sites nearly side by side. This must have been an impressive place when these twin structures were standing tall. Both of these boulders have small wall sections still holding together toward the back of each.

Behind the east boulder, there is a wall constructed between two boulders. The upstream side of the wall has filled in with sediment such that you can stand at the level of the top of the wall. I wondered if this was a device to catch water flowing through the site and save it in a cistern.

The pottery shards I saw were mostly corrugated. There were only a few painted visible along with some smooth gray pieces.

For the return hike I walked the short distance west to the east rim of Hovenweep Canyon and followed the northeast leading rim back to the carbon dioxide plant. Close to the plant in a small drainage, I saw what I think is a check dam. I didn’t notice anything near the check dam but I was at the end of my hike. My return hike took 1:00 hour of slow walking.

My total hike took 4:30 hours for about 5 miles. On a late September day I carried and drank 3 liters of water. It was about 65 F degrees at 9:30 AM and 83 F degrees at 2:00 PM.