Monday, June 11, 2018

Ruins & Landscapes, UT & CO; Part 2 - May 2018

Part 2 of 4 - continued from Part 1

Newspaper Rock, Montezuma Canyon, and Hovenweep National Monument

May 16, 2018 (continued)

Remember to click on a photo for a larger version (highly recommended.)

Newspaper Rock

From Bridger Jack Road we drove east on UT-211 and stopped at Newspaper Rock. This is a panel(s) of petroglyphs, many quite ancient, some of questionable heritage. There are an astonishing number of images and icons in this one small space.

Newspaper Rock. There are additional petroglyphs on either side for you to see when you visit there.

Frankly, I'm pretty sure some of the petroglyphs are from much more modern times.


We continued on UT-211 until the routed ended (began?) at US-191 where we turned south to the town of Monticello. I wanted to stop at the BLM District Office there to see if there was more information to be had on Beef Basin. They said there was nothing other than a map for $5, which had practically no detail, but was a nice overview of the district, so Dan and I each purchased one. Seems info on the ground is hard to come by - those BLM maps I found online were the best I'd seen. Any reader who knows more is encouraged to comment or send an email.

I also wanted to ask BLM about Montezuma Canyon. Some campers I'd met at Canyon de Chelley a couple years ago raved about its beauty, but I'd not been able to find details about it either, other than one short page on the BLM website. We were given directions on how to find Montezuma Creek Road, which is unmarked, south of Monticello. I asked if dispersed camping was available in the canyon, as I'd noted from my Benchmark Atlas much of the land was shown as private. I was told "Dispersed camping is available on all BLM lands where the ground has been disturbed," or words to that affect. Spoiler: there is no dispersed camping in Montezuma Canyon.

Montezuma Canyon

We filled our gas tanks before leaving town and headed south on US-191. The info we'd just been given said the county road was 5 miles south of town. I'll tell you, if a white Chevy Suburban had not been pulling onto the highway from that road, we'd have likely driven right on by. I just measured on Google Maps and the turn-off is 5.2 miles south of the intersection of US-191 and 491 (the only traffic light in town.) There was no signage on the highway at all, and no typical country road sign once we'd turned off. There was a short, white PVC pipe someone had stuck in the ground beside the road. They'd used those black vinyl, self-apply letters to affix "CR 146" vertically on the pipe.

The smooth gravel road ran past a number of residences and small ranches east into piñons and junipers. Then almost without warning the land dropped away and the road dramatically descended about 1000' down into Montezuma Canyon. The canyon walls are steep and the creek runs down the middle. There is no way to get to the creek due to the very dense underbrush. There is nowhere to pull off the road.

There is an interesting thick band of Navajo sandstone across the canyon that seems to follow the road. Apparently the whole landscape tilted at some point in the geologic past. We stopped in the road, as there was little traffic, to get a couple photos.

Looking back up canyon from the road. The creek is in the cut. You can just see the far bank.

Montezuma Creek Road. Looking down canyon (south.)

I'd been given a brochure at the Blanding Visitor Center for the Three Kiva Pueblo, so we were keeping an eye out for that, but as I had failed to note my milage when we turned off the highway, the milage shown in the brochure didn't narrow it down very much. And I didn't really know where we were, either, the canyon rather rapidly went from interesting to unchanging and mundane with a few run-down cattle ranches and homes every several miles. The road slowly narrowed, lost much of its gravel and became rougher, but still navigable by a full-size American sedan. We saw a couple places where storage for hay or farm equipment was dug into the bottom of the cliff side.

As I had my eye peeled for the Three Kiva Pueblo Ruins, I spied some new post fencing along the bottom of a cliff to the right. It looked like the type of jackleg fence that BLM used in San Rafael Swell where there were petroglyphs and they wanted to keep visitors at a distance. There was a pull out, so I pulled out, with Dan following. There were no markers or signs at all. The fence looked fairly new, so maybe signage will follow later. I was searching the rock face along the canyon bottom for petroglyphs when Dan said, "Look up." Wow! There were cliff dwelling ruins way up there.

Un-named cliff dwelling ruins.

South house.

Central house.

Northern ruins. Storage? Fortification?

Measuring with Google Maps, the ruins are roughly 20 miles from where the road enters the canyon. I still have no name for these ruins, but did note after the fact that they are marked on my Benchmark Atlas. If you have a GPS: 37.585741, -109.269097

After taking photos, we kept heading south on Montezuma Canyon Road and probably didn't drive more than a couple of miles before we came upon the Three Kiva Pueblo Ruins. This time there was a sign. We pulled in and looked around. I took a few photos of the one kiva that is visible. Archeologists have determined there were two more kivas.

Three Kiva Pueblo.

Inside restored kiva.

Dan climbs up from inside kiva.

We continued along our way. We came to an unmarked 'T' junction with CR-206. I guessed we should go to the left. The road was now wide with thick gravel. After a few miles I pulled over to consult the maps and see which way the GPS navigation app chose to take us to Hovenweep National Monument. The app's choice looked good, so we turned onto that route. Regardless of which direction your travel, getting to Hovenweep requires good maps and/or a trust-worthy GPS navigator.

Hovenweep National Monument

Note: trails in the national monument are open sunrise to sunset. There is currently no entrance fee. If you intend to camp and the campground is full, or you simply prefer to disperse camp, the national monument is surrounded by BLM lands where dispersed camping is allowed. I'd suggest driving NE from the main location on the paved highway. There are side roads that may contain camping spots, including the roads that lead to the outlying ruins. Camping is not allowed within the national monument boundaries.

When we arrived at Hovenweep, we drove directly into the campground. When I'd been here before there was one camper in the whole place (admittedly this was mid-day in late fall.) Today at about 6:30pm there were only a handful of the 30 sites unoccupied. After some hemming and hawing we chose a "RV Only" site near the top of the campground, figuring if anyone cared, two campers = one RV. No one cared and there were single vehicles in other RV sites. Though there are no hook-ups at the individual sites, there are centrally located facilities with running water and flush toilets.

Our sunny site in the Hovenweep Campground.

We were greeted like we were old friends by the fellow in the camp across the road. In response to our blank faces he reminded us we'd met him and his wife on their electric mountain bikes at Bears Ears. Small world. I also chatted with Jason next door in his lifted Tacoma.

We had been lucky with very mild and sunny weather these last few days. It was very warm here in Hovenweep, almost hot. Nonetheless, as we sat around the Little Red Campfire that night we raised a toast to our most enjoyable time together, as Dan would be heading toward home after we walked the loop trail in the morning.

Thursday, May 17

Hovenweep National Monument (continued)

Our campsite in the morning light.

We broke camp and drove to the visitor center parking lot where the main loop trail begins.

Hovenweep Square Tower Unit

Dan and I set out on the trail that runs along the canyon edge, then completes the loop by dropping down into the canyon and up the other side. I warned Dan I might skip that part to save my knees. It was a lovely morning with clear blue skies. We took lots of photos, admired the unique tower ruins, and wondered about the peoples who inhabited this land all those years ago.

Twin Towers, Eroded Boulder House and Rim Rock House.

Dan on the Tower Point Trail.

Hovenweep Castle.

Square Tower, for which the entire unit is named.

Looking back up canyon: Hovenweep House, Square Tower, & Hovenweep Castle.

A closer view of Eroded Boulder House.

I was feeling pretty good, so decided to attempt the canyon descent, but after just a few of those deep steps both my knees were crying "uncle", so shouted at Dan I'd meet him back at the visitor center.

By the time I made it back to the visitor center Dan was anxious to take off. He had reservations at Gouldings for the night and was going to drive through Monument Valley. I strongly encouraged him to drive the through road in Valley of the Gods on the way there. (He did and was glad I'd recommended it to him.)

Holly, Horseshoe, Hackberry

I turned right at the highway toward Colorado. I had originally intended to skip the three closest outlying ruins, but at the last moment decided to visit them. I'd driven the road last time I was at the national monument, but a big rainstorm was on the horizon, so didn't stop to walk to the ruins themselves. The road is impassible when wet. There were side roads that might lead to dispersed camping spots.

I first drove to the Holly site, the farthest from the highway. The last section of the road is a bit rocky and rough - definitely needed high-clearance. I parked and walked the short ways to the ruins. Wow! The tower built covering a big rock is amazing - it's almost like its floating in air. Construction must have been quite a feat.

Information board at the parking area.

Look how the towers cover the entire top of the rock.

Looking back from near Holly House to Holly Tower and the pueblo ruins.

I drove back and parked at the trailhead for Horseshoe and Hackberry ruins. The day was turning hot. I stood in what little shade I could find to consume a protein bar before hiking to the ruins. I was smart enough to take my Camelbak with me.

Information board at the trailhead.

Trailhead next to the road.

Both Horseshoe and Hackberry consist of pueblo ruins and a tower structure separate from the pueblo. The tower and main building for Horseshoe are standing, as is the cistern structure below at a spring.

Horseshoe Tower.

Horseshoe House.

Closer view of Horseshoe House wall. This is where I really began to appreciate the difference between the Hovenweep ruins and most others I've seen in the Southwest. Most, like at Chaco, are built with stone shaped by nature with minimal hand work. Here each stone is laboriously shaped to the desired form.

Here you can see the cistern structure below Horseshoe House.

The Hackberry tower is standing, but the pueblo - much larger than at the other sites - is in complete ruin with only a few short walls standing.

View of Hackberry House and pueblo ruins.

On the walk back to my truck from Hackberry I met a young man with a backpack and handcase. He was dressed much like a park ranger, but without NPS insignia. We spoke, he seemed friendly so I asked what he was up to. He said he was a volunteer walking to a remote climate monitoring station that logs temperature and precipitation. Once a year someone visits the monitor and downloads the previous year's data. It wasn't until later I realized I'd not asked for whom he was gathering the data (not that I don't think he was legit, just curious.)

I next drove into Colorado and visited Lowry Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, however I will save that for Part 4 to keep all of that national monument grouped in one post.

The narrative continues in Part 3.

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