When we left the RV Park this morning, it was cool, as most of our mornings have been. By the time we’d hiked about a total of three hours though, it was quite hot, and I wished I’d packed shorts or my zip off hiking pants before leaving today. Our first stop of the day was at the Sand Canyon Trail in Canyon of the Ancients. The rail begins at Castle rock, and the entire trail is about a 12 mile round trip, so we didn’t try to do it all; we did enjoy the hour hike we did choose to complete. The pathway was almost entirely sandstone rocks, so rangers have marked the path with rock cairns and a few small wooden signs to help keep hikers headed in the correct direction. There were many fascinating rock formations along the trail and in the nearby canyon. As I moved around the rocks, they seemed to change, according to my own location. There was some red bentonite clay in the sandstone cliffs, but mostly we walked along large semi-flat sandstone boulders. We didn’t see too much wildlife – a few birds, a desert rat, a couple snakes, and some lizards – but there were many wildflowers in bloom and lots of different rock formations to enjoy.
Along the road to our next hike, we traveled through some very barren areas; most of the land was part of Canyon of the Ancients, but we also passed some private ranches where horses and cows looked like they wished we’d throw them some hay since their pastures were pretty bleak. However, when there was irrigation, either through ditches, canals or center pivot rigs, the fields were verdant with alfalfa. We even passed by two vineyards in the middle of the desert! After stopping at a trading post built in 1920 before roads had been built and passage was still by horse and wagon, we entered Utah and headed toward Hovenweep National Monument. Designated a National Monument in 1923, this park is named for a Ute/Paiute word meaning “deserted valley.” Although it is deserted now and no one has lived in the region for over 700 years, while hiking around the puebloan ruins, it was easy to imagine how vibrant the communities had once been, especially after going to the Visitor Center and watching an excellent video about the area’s history. The park houses six Puebloan era communities, each built sometime between 1230 and 1275, about the same time other Indians were building the famous cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. The Hovenweep inhabitants however, were mesa top dwellers, and built villages with tall towers that were round, square, or D shaped. They were also excellent architects, like their Mesa Verde neighbors, as evidenced by the remains of the communities. We hiked around Little Ruin Canyon and viewed many of the excavated buildings, and then also hiked to see Horseshoe and Hackberry units, two other communities in the park. The hiking trails to all three of these communities were well marked with stones, but there were no barriers to the nearby canyons at all so we were cautious while hiking. While hiking we noted lots of desert roses, a collared lizard, some flowers that looked a lot like Indian paintbrush, blooming prickly pear cactus, and some unidentified yellow and purple wildflowers. The Puebloans in this region used many check dams to harness water for their agricultural needs, and there is strong archaeological evidence that during the 13th century, this Cajon Mesa, part of the Great Sage Plains region, housed several thousand inhabitants. Toward the end of our hour long hike, we descended via a switchback trail into the bottom of Little Ruin Canyon and then ascended again to reach the Visitor’s Center once more. At this point, the trail was not as easy to navigate, and I am glad I was wearing my trusty old hiking shoes that have taken me on hikes in Costa Rica, California, Alaska, and along trails in the Smoky Mountains and the Appalachians.
We continued our day with a hike around Lowry Pueblo, also part of the Canyon of the Ancients. This national monument includes documented evidence of over 5000 architectural sites and in fact, has the highest known archeological density of any in the United States. Spread over a large area of 164,000 acres in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, the area is very important to the Indian tribes in the Four Corners region and also to archaeologists and anthropologists. At Lowry Pueblo, we found stabilized standing walls, forty rooms, eight normal sized kivas, and one Great Kiva. This was the largest kiva we have seen in the past few days, and was very intriguing. On the way home, we drove through an area of high plains, where the alfalfa farmers used center pivot irrigation and lots of irrigation canals; the farms were in strong contrast to the rugged land formations only a few miles away.