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.

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