Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sand Canyon

Daph at the Canyon entrance

Sand Canyon, or as the BLM sign says, "Canyon of the Ancients", a path to spectacular Anasazi ruins in the very southwest corner of Colorado, about 20 miles west of Cortez. Daphne lives in Mancos, just up the road, but she's leaving for Philadelphia soon, so I flew down from Alaska to visit. I've always had a great time with her, so we decided to take a day-hike up a local canyon with her two hounds, Diddy and Archie. Sir Didymus, "Diddy", is a Pomeranian named for the dog in the David Bowie movie, "Labyrinth".

Looking through a hole in Castle Rock back down to the road

Right in front of the parking lot is Castle Rock. I hiked up to the backside and saw the site of a storage bin, a rock structure down the trail, and the great view of the area. All within sight of the road.

A yucca in bloom

The weather in Colorado has been cool and wet, so the grass along the river bottoms is green and the flowers are out in profusion. Cacti are all in bloom, too.

Daphne with Archie in the pack

Archie is a long-haired Chihuahua that Daph rescued from a puppy mill several years ago. In spite of their size, they are tough little guys. Archie was feeling poorly, the heat was turned up high, and we had a ways to go, so Daph made a nest in her pack and carried him in.

The Entrada sandstone showing a slight defect
The trail winds up over slickrock on the west side of the canyon. To our left short cliffs of creamy pink Entrada sandstone barred the way. The BLM has marked short "Spur" trails that lead to the Anasazi ruins that dot the way.

Scarlet Gilia

I couldn't help photographing every flower: the colors were stunning, like the Scarlet Gilia, small cacti, and bushes. If I didn't think it would overload the site, I'd have published dozens.

Diddy on the precipice

About two miles out the trail overlooks Sand Canyon, 250 feet below. Diddy was fascinated, but Daphne called him back from the lip. I was fascinated, too!

The onion shaped Anasazi house

All the ruins were spectacular, little homes and granaries set in alcoves in the cliffs. One looked like an oven, or an onion. I is my favorite setting.

Looking back at Sleeping Ute Mountain

We settled in for lunch and looked south to Ute Mountain, a high pinion and juniper covered peak. On a cooler day I'd like to hike to the top and get a view of the whole countryside. To the east is the long Mesa Verde, home to the National Park Service park where some of the most profound, intact, and complex cliff dwellings are located. Our canyon today was special, too. At one point we saw the outline of a kiva, a circular structure that is generally thought to be for ceremonial purposes. The modern Hopi and Zuni are the descendants of the ancients who built these structures between 2000 and 700 years ago, so the modern kivas give archeologists a clue to their use.

Daphne in the house

I photographed Daphne in one of the little structures to give a sense of scale here. The masonry, composed of sandstone blocks and red mud, often mixed with organic material, is still strong and intact, because the dwellings are sheltered under cliffs and haven't suffered the damage rain and the elements would inflict. The upright slabs of storage bins poked up through the dirt.

Lunch with the Anasazi

The floor of this little room was built on the sloping sandstone ledge, then filled with sand up to the point of Daphne's shoe. Diddy hung in the cool shade of the corner out of the afternoon sun, which was likely a cooking 80 plus degrees.

Cactus flowers

These little barrel shaped cacti were in exotic full bloom and sucked us in until we were down on our knees with the camera inches away.

A spectacular example of Anasazi architecture

Many of the cliff dwellings are multi-storied, or on several levels in one sheltered alcove, as above. Small steps, "Moki Steps", are carved into the rock to facilitate passage to the higher levels, or wooden ladders, still in place and strong after at least 700 years are used.

Diddy on the trail

The day wore on, we leisurely inspected every small path and ruin, but by late afternoon we turned around and headed back to the car. Time flew by as we checked out more flowers, more stones, and admired the scenery. The dogs seemed not to notice the distance. Archie, much improved, and likely a little barn sour, headed home like a cockroach, right on my heels.

End of the day!