Monday, June 11, 2018

Ruins & Landscapes, UT & CO; Part 4 - May 2018

Part 4 of 4 - Continued from Part 3.

Canyon of the Ancients National Monument

The section immediately below is out of sequence in order to make this blog post self-contained for those who are looking for information on Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado's Four Corners region.

Remember to click on any image for a larger version (recommended.)

May 17, 2018 (continued)

I drove back to the highway, CR-10, after visiting the outlying units of Hovenweep National Monument, and turned right toward the northeast. It wasn't long before I was in an agricultural area, leaving the piñons and junipers behind. As soon as you cross into Colorado you are entering Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, administered by the Bureau of Land Management. If you look at an official map, you will have visions of vast, empty open spaces. Had I not looked at the Google satellite view while planning the trip, I might have been shocked. All the relatively flat areas in the national monument are forage farms complete with giant storage sheds and farmers and workers homes.

Dispersed camping is allowed in the national monument, but not near the archeological sites or on private property, not unexpectedly. I'm suspect there are nice spots scattered around, but not many. The official brochure directs campers to the Bradfield Recreation Area campground east of Pleasant View (described in Part 3.)

Lowry Pueblo

I followed CR-10 to CR-CC where I turned left (west). If you are coming via US-491 look for CR-CC. There were directional signs for Lowry Pueblo, my destination. When I pulled into the parking area there were a couple of young men intent on their phones or something. Usually folks will glance up when you pass right next to them, but not these guys. When I got out I heard buzzing, but not very loud. They were flying a drone. I was curious, so went over to talk to them. They were from Kansas, if I remember right, and were traveling to Salt Lake City, stopping to video ancient ruins from the sky. They were flying a Mavic Pro - pretty cool. I chatted with them about it after it landed, as I've been curious if I wanted to add this device to my photo/video tools for exploring and the blog. After looking into it a bit once home, I've decided drones of the quality, and quietness, I'd want are priced a bit higher than petty cash.

A protective roof structure has been erected over Lowry Pueblo, as you can see from the photos. I assume they wouldn't go to that expense unless there were significant archeological items to protect, but it does distract from the ruins themselves.

The main path from the parking lot.

A close view of the main wall of the pueblo. This is very much in the style of the great houses in Chaco Canyon. It uses found stone and not shaped stone as I'd just seen at Hovenweep National Monument.

You can duck under a couple of low doorways to see this interior kiva.
There are steel screens to keep the curious out of this area.

The main structure as seen from the south side (I think.)

Pueblo walls next to the main structure.

Looking back at the pueblo walls with the ruins of a round room in the foreground.

This great kiva is about a hundred feet from the pueblo.

If you are following along chronologically then you'd jump to Part 3 at this point. Otherwise keep reading.

May 19, 2018 (continued)

After visiting the Bradfield Recreation Area and that section of Dolores Canyon (See Part 3) I returned to the bridge and at US-491 again turned south.

Anasazi Heritage Center

At CO-184 I turned east and drove about seven miles to the BLM Canyons of the Ancients Anasazi Heritage Center. This would be my first visit. I pulled into the parking lot of an attractive modern building, with a style reminiscent of an ancient pueblo, and past a large solar array.

I had read online that the center was placed here as there were ruins on-site. After parking I decided to visit the ruins first. I followed the paved trail that climbed the hill behind the center. There were small signs identifying plants and trees along the way, as well as, larger signs pointing out landmarks and conveying a bit of history. At the very top of the hill was a great view of McPhee Reservoir of the Dolores River and the Escalante Pueblo ruins.

View of McPhee Reservoir of the Dolores River from atop the hill.

Turning to the right you can see the San Juan Mountains.

Information sign.

Escalenta Pueblo was not large, but what a vantage point they had.

I was surprised and delighted that one of the signs in addition to pointing out Sleeping Ute Mountain, and Abajo Peak behind Monticello, also pointed out the Bears Ears just poking above the horizon. I thought it was so cool that my entire week's journey in Utah and Colorado was essentially within sight.

Sleeping Ute Mountain

To see Bears Ears you will need to look at the horizon above the larger building at left. Click for larger image.

At the bottom of the hill, as I was walking toward the Center, there were more ruins between the building and the parking lot. These were walls for a small unit called Dominguez Pueblo, though perhaps, as they conjecture only one family lived here, it should be called a house, not a pueblo.

Information sign.

Dominguez Pueblo

There were planting beds surrounding the circular brick plaza in front of the Center. The plants were very small, I guess spring comes late here, and each little plot had a small sign for what was expected to grow. There was also an interesting ceramic sculpture of a Mountain Lion decorated with ancient symbology.

Entrance to the Center.

Mountain Lion sculpture with Sleeping Ute Mountain in the background.

Inside I was greeted by a friendly BLM Interpretive Ranger. We spoke for a little while, a little about the Center and surrounding national monument, but also about my trip and especially Dolores Canyon. He agreed the canyon was a little known treasure. I asked what kind of oak trees I saw all along the river. He didn't remember clearly, but believed them to be Gamble oak. I remarked that all the Gamble oak I'd known in New Mexico were shrubs. He allowed that in the right circumstances and with plenty of water they could grow quite high. When asked about rafting and visitation, he was the one who told me about the high flow last year and the low flow this year, and that when the river was low flow very few people visited the canyon.

I moved on to the collection which was very interesting. It is along the same lines as Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding, Utah, though not as extensive. I felt my time was limited as I wanted to be home by a reasonable hour that evening. Consequently, I took lots of photos and tried to absorb what I could from a relatively quick walk-though anticipating returning for a more leisurely perusal on another trip.

Banner as you enter the collection.

I present these photos, without captions, in the hopes you see something that peaks your curiosity enough to put the Anasazi Heritage Center on your list of places to visit. There were a number of exhibits that I did not photograph.

They had recreated what's believed to be a typical ancient living space.

Looking across the collection from near the edge of the living space exhibit.

A view of the entrance plaza as I left the building.

One more look at the cool cat. I didn't see any info on the artist.

Leaving the Center I turned left on the highway, then south on CO-145 to Cortez. I stopped for lunch there (though not at a place worth recommending), then back south on US-491 to Shiprock, NM and home.

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you found something interesting, or informative, or fun.

Ruins & Landscapes, UT & CO; Part 3 - May 2018

Part 3 of 4 - Continued from Part 2.

May 17, 2018 (continued)

Chronologically, this post should begin with Lowry Pueblo, but I've skipped that for now so I can keep all the Canyons of the Ancients part of the trip grouped together in Part 4.

Dolores Canyon

Remember you can click on any photo for a larger version (recommended.)

Dolores Canyon Overlook

Next on my agenda was Dolores Canyon. I'd seen a photo somewhere and it looked very rugged and beautiful. I was only able to find a small amount of information on the area on the BLM website. No one I knew was familiar with the area. It was still relatively early in the afternoon, so I thought I'd check out the overlook I'd found on Google Maps, first.

I'd seen recreation and/or forest access signs along US-491 every time I'd driven between Cortez, CO and Monticello, UT and wondered about them. These are the typical brown, rectangular highway signs and easy to see if you're paying attention. The country the highway passes through is rolling farmland as far as you can see in both directions. I found the sign just south of the village of Dove Creek for "Dolores River Access" and the canyon overlook. I turned off the highway and followed the BLM directional signs.

After a few miles the road climbed slightly and the land changed from agricultural fields to pine forest. I turned up into the forest and continued.

[Note: this road would be impassible in wet weather!]

I noted a few side roads as I drove along as possible dispersed campsites. At the end of the road is a parking area with picnic tables and vault toilet, but no view. You have to walk a trail a hundred yards or so to come to the actual overlook.

Looking up the canyon toward Dolores.

Looking down the canyon. Note Abajo Peak and the mountains west of Monticello on the horizon.

Panorama taken with my phone.

I looked up the canyon and down. In one place I could see the Dolores River far below. When I looked to the northwest I saw a road descending down into the canyon. I bet myself that this was the road down to the river.

From this spot you can see the Dolores River below. I was happy to see a lovely flowing river with trees all around.

I closer view down canyon. You can see both the town of Dove Creek on the plains and the road diving down the side canyon toward the river. I would be driving this road very soon.

This is the "staircase" that leads from the trail on top down to the actual overlook point.
I quite liked how they simply laid slabs of mudstone on the ground to form the path. This was much easier on my knees and provided plenty of grip to negotiate the incline.

On my way out I tried a couple of those side roads and they did indeed lead to dispersed campsites. A couple were in meadows surrounded by pine trees; one was closer to the canyon edge, but with heavy undergrowth and no shade.

Dolores Canyon

I drove back toward the highway and picked up the directional signs leading to the river access. After a few turns on various farm roads, the route began dropping down into the canyon. FYI, on this road there is one dispersed campsite by the road, and perhaps another up a side road. They're only about a mile from the last turn-off and before the road gets really steep and narrow. The steep road and the canyon are definitely not recommended for trailers.

The road down into the canyon and the Dolores River.

At the bottom of the road is a pumping station for Dove Creek and then a BLM area for picnics and raft launching/retrieval called Mountain Sheep Point Rec Site. I didn't see any sheep. When the water is high enough this is a rafting river. Rafters can put in at Bradfield Bridge and get out here or continue for nearly 100 miles in favorable conditions according to a brochure I found online; it also showed locations for river accessible campsites all along the way. I was told later that last year there was good rafting from April to June, but this year the river never had enough flow.

About a quarter of a mile farther is BLM's no-fee Box Elder Campground. I drove in to check it out. I saw maybe a half-dozen sites and a vault toilet (although the BLM website says there are 11 sites and two toilets). There was lots of shade, but it felt a bit too closed in for me. Also, there was so much brush along the river there was no good access. There was one car there, but they weren't camping.

I left the campground and continued north, downstream. In about a hundred yards the road climbs up over an ancient landslide and is rocky and rough - high clearance is needed here; four wheel drive is not necessary, but did help with traction.

[Note: past the campground there are sections of road that would be impassible in wet weather. High clearance is also recommended. The farther you go, the narrower the road, with limited turn-around opportunities.]

The road down the canyon just past Box Elder Campground right before it climbs an old rock slide.

Looking upstream from the same place as the photo above.

About half a mile from the campground I found a dispersed camping area - you can easily see it in Google satellite view. There were a few sites in the main area, but none really grabbed me, however there was one at the north end that I quite liked. It was sheltered on three sides by oaks, in case the wind came up later, and had nice access to the river... and beautiful views of the dramatic, red canyon sides!

My campsite. The river is just down from the rock fire ring.

I found a level spot, popped up the camper, and got my chair out. The temperature was in the upper 70s with just a slight breeze. I sat and marveled at the gorgeous scenery.

Another view of my campsite. This one includes a bit of river.

Looking at the far side of the canyon by the river near my campsite.

Looking downstream from near my campsite. Note the tall Ponderosa pines.

My campsite as seen from the river bank and showing the canyon walls on this side.

Friday, May 17

Dolores Canyon (continued)

A beautiful morning in a great camp site. I sat out enjoying the view and the river. There were lots of interesting bird calls in the oaks, but the vegetation was simply too thick to see anything, much less photograph it.

Morning view of my campsite.

Telephoto of a rock formation down canyon that I thought looked like a face in profile.
Note also the commercial jet flying by in a roar.

One more photo from my campsite looking down river. I don't think the large pine actually leaned over this far. I think much of that lean is due to wide-angle lens distortion.

I was wrestling with myself on whether to stay here one more night or go explore down river both to see what was there and to see if there was even a better site to camp. Frequently the need to move proves overpowering. I decided I'd stay here as long as my chair was in the shade. I could tell that the site would lose all shade around noontime. I had my lunch and broke camp.

I continued down the road that parallels the river. The views continued to be wonderful. I passed one Tacoma pulled over on the side of the road - no sign of people, perhaps fishing or hiking. I found another dispersed campsite, then another, but kept going.

Lots of beautiful views as the road follows the river.

View of the Dolores River where the canyon was somewhat wider. I believe I turned around near here.

I was using the Avenza Maps app with the USGS Quad loaded to track my progress and guess what would be ahead. After the first couple of miles, dispersed campsites became much less frequent and the scrub oaks at the sides of the road began to encroach, scraping the sides of my rig. The soft green leaves hid the stiff limbs beneath. Keep that in mind if you drive a full-size truck. I was approaching the top of the topo map, and though I knew the road continued, the next Quad did not show the road. I decided I'd turn around next chance, as the wider canyon was becoming less dramatic, and go back to one of the campsites I'd spied earlier.

I returned to the site I liked the best. It was a little more than a mile farther north (downstream) from the previous night's encampment. It was a beautiful little spot with a few trees for shade all day. Nice view of the river and easy access, too. Someone had arranged rocks across the river, perhaps for fun, perhaps for raft access. This also provide a pleasant background bubbling-creek sound. There was also a large boulder that had fallen from the western cliff face maybe 30 years ago, judging from the ways the trees had grown around it.

My second campsite - a bit smaller with better shade and view of the river.

I set up the camper, placed my chair in the shade overlooking the river, and relaxed. After a while I decided my feet were hot, so I strapped on my water sandals and cooled them in the Dolores River for a while. It was a beautiful afternoon, probably around 80º.

View of the campsite from the other direction.

Looking downstream from near my second campsite. I was standing in the cool waters to take this shot.
You can also see a high-water cut on the left bank.

Looking upstream.

Dolores Canyon is a gorgeous area, lightly used, and the views of rock cliffs and the river are beyond compare. The photos do not begin to convey the majesty of this wonderful landscape. The only negative, and it's a small one, is that the air corridor above the canyon is busy with commercial aircraft and the sound of their jet engines is reflected by the canyon walls both coming and going.

Evening view of the canyon. The double-track at left leads to my campsite.

Saturday, May 18

Dolores Canyon (continued)

This is the boulder that sat at the head of my campsite.

What can I say?... another beautiful morning. It was tempting to stay out and not head home, but a friend I hadn't seen for years, as he lives back east, was passing through Albuquerque on Sunday and wanted to meet up, and it's very unlikely I'll get back to the Eastern Seaboard anytime soon.

A last fond look at my second Dolores Canyon campsite.

I figured I'd have time to check out the upper canyon access and visit the Anasazi Heritage Center near the town of Dolores, and still get home at a reasonable hour. So, I packed up and headed out. I stopped briefly to take photos at the picnic/raft-launching area, before climbing up out of the canyon.

Mountain Sheep Point Rec Area

Bradfield Recreation Area

Upon reaching US-491 I turned south toward Cortez. Just before the town of Pleasant View I spotted a recreation access sign for Lone Dome Recreation Site. It didn't mention Bradfield, but a quick look at my map confirmed this was the northern route (coming from the south, I believe the sign is before you come to Pleasant View.)

This time the road dropping into the canyon was wide, gravel, and not very steep. Dolores Canyon at this point is pretty tame - more of a valley than a canyon. I pulled into BLM's Bradfield Campground just to see what it was like. It was wide open grassland, no shade other than from each site's ramada. Access to the river was from a picnic area/raft launch site before you get to the campground. Not a very attractive choice for us dispersed camping types. I had time to explore a few miles upriver.

Bradfield Recreation Area Campground. Suitable for trailers.

Bradfield Bridge

Bradfield Bridge as seen from the campground access road.

After you cross the bridge, you need to climb a short ways up the ridge to the second junction before taking the road toward McPhee Reservoir. Once you drop down into the valley there were a couple, marginal dispersed sites in the first two miles that would be better than the campground as a last resort.

An abandoned cabin near where the sandstone is exposed in the canyon.

The Cabin Canyon Recreation site shown on Google Maps is apparently permanently closed (I've reported this to the maps team, who knows maybe it will be updated before you look). I drove 6 miles up the road and did not continue to the dam. At 6 miles there were a couple slightly better dispersed sites. I see now that had I driven just a little farther I would have come to the Lone Dome Recreation Site. If the satellite view is anything to judge by this tiny campground may be open, but it is impossible to tell if there's a gate closing the road or not.

This section of Dolores Canyon is very different from that farther downstream.

One last look at the sandstone canyon walls here above Bradfield Bridge.

From here I drove to the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores, CO, however Part 4 will actually begin with Lowry Pueblo in Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, which should have been at the start of this post, chronologically. I chose instead to keep all of Canyons of the Ancients in one post to make it more concise for those who later wish information only on that subject.

Continue to Part 4.