Category: Canyon of The Ancients National Monument

Canyon of The Ancients National Monument

August 9, 2022

53 degrees at 6:30

With 270,000 acres and hundreds of sites, there is a lot to explore and discover in Canyons of the Ancients. We opted to hike Sand Canyon Trail to Saddlehorn Pueblo and Double Cliff House for a 4-mile out-and-back hike. We were a little late getting started at 9:00, but it took us about 40 minutes to get there. It was 78 degrees when we started and 83 when we finished. That is not so bad, but at 5,400’ and clear skies, the sun is hot, and it is VERY dry, so we made every effort to drink a lot of water.

We could see others had made the hike already. Dirt bike tracks helped mark the trail. It looked like someone ran the trail, and horses had come up last weekend. The entire trail is 6 miles one way with a 700’ gain in elevation. I can’t imagine the biker went the whole way. A horseback ride would be a nice way to explore this vast region, but you would need a lot of water.

It was a very pretty hike. Just when you think you have seen all possible rock formations, a different group presents itself. The lower layer was bright red from oxidized iron. At one point I thought we were back at Goblin Valley. Surrounded by such history makes the hike pretty amazing. Natural features present many great home sites for cliff dwellers. It is so dry now, you have to imagine it when water was plentiful, especially at Double Cliff House. There would have been two waterfalls and perhaps a lake. Farming would have been good, with lots of game. When it all dried up abound 1200, the people migrated south to better water sources. to the east they followed the Rio Grande south. To the west they followed the Colorado.

We passed a lot of people out for a hike. One young man looked determined to do the whole thing – a 12-mile trip. Walking back down, we got a different view and perspective of Ute Mountain and the beautiful irrigated farms below. There are a number of other trails in the area. It would be fun to come back and do them.

We drove to the top of the trail to see Sand Canyon Pueblo, which has not been excavated. It is a huge site where hundreds once lived 1,000 years ago. Somehow modern technology is able to scan the area and see what is below the earth and rubble. Pictures on signs showed what it looked like, which is pretty amazing.

We had lunch in the shade at a picnic table. Then we drove to the cute, little town of Dolores and went to Dolores Market that Martha had heard about. It’s a small market, but it has everything. Browsing the store, I passed by a substantial kitchen where three women were working. The smell of freshly-baked cookies filled the air. I watched a lady carry out a tray of cookies. They are known for their pies, and we bought a tri-berry pie along with sausage they made and a few other things. 

I needed to get some emails out and work on the Virginia Airstream Club newsletter, so we went to the Dolores Library. It is a beautiful library with outdoor seating and a park-like setting beside the  beautiful Dolores River. Several people were tubing down the river on a hot afternoon. 

I was able to get a lot done in a few hours, until a storm came through, knocking the internet out. Then my email app wouldn’t load and didn’t like my password. In a panic, I remembered this happening several times before, and I wanted to get it resolved before leaving this nice library, but I could not. I got the emails sent by going to the email website thankfully. 

Driving, we saw the Dolores River flowing into the McPhee Reservoir then out through the dam downstream to our campground. We drove to the recreation area next to the campground and saw why so many come here. It is a great swimming hole with a rock ledge on the other side. A family was enjoying the day, and a young boy showed how you can jump off a 10’ cliff into the water. A big sign described the river and canyon below. It looks a bit muddy and low to be able to run the canyon right now. Apparently there are trout in the river, but it is awfully hot with little cover for trout. They would be looking for cold springs to hold out in. We agreed that the river offers a lot of opportunities in this area, but tomorrow we leave for natural Bridges National Monument. 

Lowrey Pueblo, Canyon of The Ancients National Monument

Monday, August 8, 2022

Canyon of The Ancients is a massive 270,000 acres on the Sagebrush Plains in the southwest corner of Colorado with 30,000 Ancestral Puebloan ruins, and more being found. Humans have been here for 12,000 years. Starting around 750 AD they started farming and building homes, starting with clustered pit houses – round building sunken into the ground and covered with a roof of woven timber with a hole in the top for entrance and exit. It provided warmth in the winter and cool in the summers. 

Their building skills developed to its peak in about 1300. Trade and travel between regions was extensive. Products from Mexico and the west coast have been found. They built towers, storage areas, water diversions, dams and reservoirs. Their basket-making and pottery skills were incredible. They farmed, growing crops of corn, squash and beans unique to this area. By 1300, they had all left the area, going to the Rio Grande areas, where there was water. With large population growth, the land could no longer support them, and mostly because the climate became drier. Some say this explanation is the easy way out.

Anna, a volunteer at the Visitor’s Center, gave us good directions and a plan of how to explore the area. We started by driving from Morefield Campground in the National Forest to Lowrey Pueblo. I was surprised to be driving through beautiful farmland, all made possible by a canal system and giant watering systems. Sound familiar?

Lowrey Pueblo is an impressive area built with thick walls, 40 rooms and a giant Kiva with two stone “summer and winter” figures in the bottom. What is the difference between a pit house and a kiva? As one of our guides said, “about 600 years.” Better construction, bigger with air vents and baffles to circulate the air. Some had windows, but most were sunken in the ground. Sinking these 10 feet into the ground would be difficult today with modern machinery working in this hard, rocky terrain, but how they did it then is pretty amazing. All of these sites are spiritual places for modern Pueblo, Hopi, Navajo and Ute people, all saying, “This is where we came from.” They believe the spirits of those before them are still there.

Moving to Canyon of The Ancients National Monument

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Only an hour drive from Mesa Verde National Park, I had a little maintenance to do. Someone described the inside of a travel trailer as being a small hurricane. Things get shaken loose. The latch had come loose on the door of the half-closet over my bed. I carry a dowel that I cut to length, then tap it to place with a small hammer, adding some super glue. Then I replaced the screws and made a mental note to leave it closed for 12 hours.

Since we were going into the boondocks with no services, we did several loads of laundry. In Cortez, I washed the trailer while Martha went next door to the grocery store. Once finished, I drove over to the grocery store where we unloaded groceries and filled the cooler with ice and drinks.

Bradfield Campground is on the Dolores River outside Dolores, Colorado. I was a bit nervous as we drove down the mountain on a gravel road. There is a recreation area on the river next to the campground. All campsites are first come-first serve, so I wasn’t sure we would get a spot. After driving around two loops, each with vacant spots, we settled on a site with a good shade tree. As soon as we set up, two boys on ATV’s rode up and down the gravel road, throwing up dust and making a lot of noise. I stood watching, wondering what to do. Finally I walked over to the pay station and filled out my information and site number, filled in my Senior Park Pass, and paid $12 for three nights! three men, three boys and one girl each reeved up their ATV’s with excitement in their eyes. One of the men gave the girl a verbal whipping since she let her machine cut off. He was looking for a jumper cable. I offered mine, but they had one. “Don’t worry sir. We are all going for a ride over the mountain, and will leave you in peace.” We both grinned, and I waved happily as they rode off. It’s hard to get mad when you look at the excitement on those kids faces.

We drove back to the Visitor’s Center to see what Canyon of the Ancients was all about. Unfortunately, it was closed on Sunday. It is a beautiful building with native flowers planted and labeled all around. Martha found a booth next to a path leading up the hill. A very nice volunteer was there to give information about the national monument.

“Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (‘the Monument’) encompasses 174,000 acres of federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The Monument is located in the Four Corners region of southwestern Colorado, about 50 miles west of Durango, 10 miles west of Cortez, and 12 miles west of Mesa Verde National Park. The Monument was designated on June 9, 2000 by Presidential Proclamation to protect cultural and natural resources on a landscape scale.

The Monument contains the highest known archaeological site density in the United States, with rich, well-preserved evidence of Native American cultures. The archeological record etched into this landscape is much more than isolated islands of architecture. This cultural landscape contains more than 8,300 recorded sites which reflect physical components of past human life: villages, field houses, check dams, reservoirs, great kivas, cliff dwellings, shrines, sacred springs, agricultural fields, petroglyphs and sweat lodges. Some areas have more than 100 sites per square mile. The number of sites is estimated to be up to 30,000.

This landscape has been used or inhabited by humans, including Ancestral Puebloan cultures, for at least 10,000 years, and continues to be a landscape used by humans today. Contemporary uses of the Monument include recreation, hunting, livestock grazing, and energy development.” From:

We drove back to the campground with brochures and a reasonable idea of how to approach it. Things had settled down in the campground, and on a Sunday evening, everyone but one camper had left. Then the next thoughts came into my mind – OK, here we are out in the middle of nowhere. Were we safe here? I scavenged the other campsites, picking up firewood and kindling. I built a fire, but didn’t light it. For one thing it was hot, and the other was it was very dry. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for starting another big fire in the west. Once the sun went down, it cooled off nicely.

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