Thursday, December 8, 2016

Through the canyons

Sand Canyon is the only part of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (in southwest Colorado) where you have to stick to the designated trail. But that’s OK. There are plenty of other places for rambling off elsewhere. This is one of the more popular areas in the Monument, so staying on trail helps protect it.
Ancestral Puebloans built this.
Small signs point the way to “spurs” off the main route. They don’t say what you will find and the map doesn’t show the locations of the sites. It's up to you to keep your eyes open and see what there is to see. It's up to you to choose to take the side trails.  It's good practice for long trails where sometimes it's hard to remember to take the turns off the main path. (Hint: always take the side trails.)
What will be around the next bend?
I’ve hiked this trail a few times over the years but it is the first time I spot a cliff dwelling on the other side of the canyon. With it being so quiet here now, it is easy to forget that 800 years ago there were many people living throughout this area. But evidence of their presence is here if you know how to look carefully.
Way over there.
Anything up there?
Over here.
Another thing I do find is poop. I assume it is dog poop because it is carefully wrapped up in little doggie bag and standing by the trail. (Why do people do this?) It's still smelly and gross and no one is around. Maybe I can just walk past and pretend I didn't notice it?

But then I remember I have my "Junior Ranger" patch on my pack, so I can't just leave it... because, you know, the junior ranger oath. And cause I've started volunteering here so I'm caring more about this place as I learn more about it, and also most importantly, cause it's the right thing to do.
Double bagging the dog poop to carry it out.
The snow has had a few days to melt. But it still hangs on tight to the north-facing slopes.
More snow.
More melting.
Beyond the “Most difficult/  Next mile is Rocky and Steep” sign, the ratio of animal to human prints improves. Eventually, there are just two humans that have passed this way in the last few days.

The switchbacks tightly zigzag up a sunny slope through boulders.
Almost to the rim.
At the top, I sit on the canyon rim feeling the warmth of the sun. The air is so still. The silence is so large.

Ravens circle, then swoop above. Their shadows dance along the rocks.

Thank goodness there are still places to find this much silence.

More info

Sand Canyon Trail is 6.5 miles one way from the lower trailhead to Sand Canyon Pueblo. My app calculated that with all the spurs and exploring around Sand Canyon Pueblo the total mileage was 14.5ish miles.

Stop by the Anasazi Heritage Center before you go to visit the museum and pick up the trail guide.

This trail can be popular so arrive early because parking is limited. Or go during the dead of winter during the week and see no one (like I did).

No matter what, respect this place and do your part to preserve it for future generations. Stick to the trails to avoid creating confusing social trails and to avoid killing the delicate cryptobiotic soil crust. Leave all artifacts where you find them.
Sleeping Ute.


  1. Dog poop?

    No, Junior Ranger, evidence that was.

    On to something Eric the Demeusy thought himself to be, but now gone he is, and never may we know where. And no evidence now to follow.

    Bye, Eric.

    Step lightly, Junior Ranger.

    Proof, such as it is these days:

    1. Haha, well... speaking of poop, I just learned how archologists can tell what people of long ago ate by studying coprolites (fossil poop). Fascinating stuff.

  2. I was at Sand Canyon over Thanksgiving. What a great place. Regarding the dog poop they probably meant to pick it up on the way back. That is what I would do, so I didn't carry poop up and back. But I would remember to take it out!

    1. Ah yes, I'm sure that was it. I was being cranky and judgemental is all.

  3. Hovenweep and Canyon of the Ancients are both gems. I need to get back.

    1. It is a nice, quiet time of year to be here too. This trail is a winner, but lots of off-trail exploring to be had in Canyons of the Ancients as well.