Photo Essay

Canyon of The Ancients

Cliff Dwelling

The Canyon of The Ancients National Monument, is 164,000 acres of high desert near Cortez, Colorado. Located in the Four Corners region, this area has the highest density of archaeological sites in the U.S., more than 6,000 sites have been identified.

I spent nearly eight hours hiking Sand Canyon, an arid place with only sparse amounts of water in pockets here and there. However, the effects of water coursing through this canyon are visible everywhere. The red sandstone has been carved away over time, to create a maze of side canyons. The mesas are hundreds of feet higher than the trail through the main canyon.

The desert is in bloom during my hike. Claretcup, and Pricklepear Cactus with their bright flowers, subtle whites and yellows of flowers and plants that I am not familiar with. The scent of Juniper and Pinion waft in the air, sprigs of sagebrush when picked and rubbed between fingers is mesmerizing. It is sweet and lightly musky.

After a mile of hiking I came across the first of the dozens of Anasazi ruins that I saw during the day. It is amazing that these relics are still partially intact after the hundreds of years since they were inhabited. All are cliff dwellings that were occupied in the 13th century. Unlike nearby Mesa Verde, this national monument is so new that very little has been done to it. You can walk right into the remains, careful not to damage anything. In more than one site I came across pottery shards, painted in intricate patterns. Upon close inspection, I realize that these dwellings were not just stone and mud thrown together. Indeed patterns emerge with smaller stones of similar size and shape carefully placed between layers of larger rock.

It's a humbling feeling to look out from a ruin across the canyons and valleys to Sleeping Ute Mountain, its flanks clothed in green, and see what these former residents must have seen. I imagine what it must have been like to live such an existence. The land in its majesty providing all that they needed to thrive.

The desert is not only in bloom, but it is alive with the sound of birds, the scurrying of lizards and the mooing of small herds of cattle that roam the lowest canyon areas, where there is enough water and grasses to sustain them. The lizards were curious. As I sat on a log, one or two would completely circle around me, careful to stay at a safe distance. Some were shades of gray and black, but some were the most dazzling turquoise with yellow feet, faces and stripes along their back, and white dots all over. One was not camera shy, posing for nearly ten minutes on rocks and logs, seeming to study me as much as I studied it.

As I neared the end of my eight mile hike having returned to the trailhead by a side canyon, I was startled to see dozens of rock sculptures! It appears to me that some enterprising hikers had stacked rocks in amazing patterns and shapes. I couldn't help but laugh, thinking of the fun the sculptors must have had!

At days-end to stand there and just see, hear and smell; what a privilege!

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