Friday & Saturday, May 14-15, 2021
After being constantly busy with school since January, Diane finally had a week off between semesters for a Spring Break and she was looking forward to getting away, so I planned a trip that would take us mostly to northern Arizona and New Mexico for the upcoming week. On our way down through the Four Corners area we would be spending our first day checking out the ruins and rock art at the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. The Tribal Park is found along the Mancos River and shares a boundary with Mesa Verde National Park. Thankfully that’s all it shares, since it doesn’t have the crowds, reconstructed ruins or the sterilized feeling of the popular National Park. A Ute guide is required to visit this park, so a few weeks before the trip I arranged for a private guide and a night in the campground along the Mancos River. Like many of the other trips I have done this spring, this was another one we had originally planned for last year, but which also got cancelled because of COVID-19.
I got out of work a little bit early on Friday afternoon, stopped home to pick up Diane and then we headed south through the western end of the San Juan Mountains. I grabbed a quick dinner in Delta and then we continued on to Lizard Head Pass where we followed the Dolores River toward the Four Corners. I topped off my fuel tank in Cortez and then we drove further south into the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation and took a left at Chimney Rock to follow the Mancos River to the campground.
We passed by Chimney Rock just after sunset.
Driving the dusty road into Mancos Canyon at dusk.
During our drive through the canyon we spotted a couple of ruins and rock art panels along the walls, but it was getting dark out when we saw them. I hoped those were sites we would visit the following day with our guide. We arrived at the campground just as it was getting pretty dark out and found that we were the only ones there! I was expecting there to be at least a couple other people, but I was certainly happy to have the place to ourselves. It had been a long drive after work and I was tired, so we quickly got the tent set up and went to bed early. There was a thin crescent moon over Chapin Mesa to the west as we got into our sleeping bags for the night. It was a calm and peaceful night along the Mancos River, and I slept very well.
Since our guide was going to be meeting us at the campground at 9:00am, we slept in and took our time getting ready on Saturday morning since there was not rush to get anywhere. The temperature out was around 50 degrees and it was a very beautiful morning. Just before 9:00am our guide showed up and we were off to explore the park for the remainder of the day!
Mancos Canyon Morning
A photo of our campsite on Saturday morning.
Our hike this morning began with a descent into Lion Canyon using a couple of ladders like this.
We quickly spotted these interesting ruins across the canyon.
Tree House Alcove
Metates & Doorways
If you look closely at the metates above, you will find these Wetherill inscriptions carved into them.
Tree House Ruins
A nice two-story structure above this kiva.
At the end of the trail we came to Eagle Nest House.
To get up to the ruins we had to climb this tall ladder. As I climbed the ladder I was a little worried about the climb back down and how I would handle it, but I ended up not having any problems. I guess my fear of heights continues to get a little better all the time.
Eagle Nest Kiva
Painted designs inside the kiva.
I liked this view of the ruin on a ledge below through the doorway.
Ruins on Ledges
Following the ledge with a low ceiling back from the Eagle’s Nest.
Lion House Alcove
Standalone Tower Wall
Upper Ledge Ruins
This was a tall wall!
After climbing back out of the canyon and retuning to the trailhead, we took a short break for lunch with our guide before continuing on. We had spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon visiting ruins in Lion Canyon and we saw almost no rock art at all. Thankfully, for the second half of the day we would be visiting a couple different rock art sites in Mancos Canyon.
We saw a bunch of potsherds all day, but I think the design on this one was one of my favorites.
Big Basketmaker Panel
Long Legs Sheep
This looks like it was the handle of a ladle.
The Emergence Story (Butterfly Site)
This is the right side of the above petroglyph panel.
Fringed Spiral Design
Our final stop of the day was at the Chief Jack House site. Chief Jack House lived in a hogan at this site and painted these pictographs sometime in the early 1900’s.
Big Red Pictograph
Ute Lady Pictograph
After checking out the pictographs we thanked our guide and drove back down the dusty road out of Mancos Canyon and back to the highway. We then headed further south and west through the Navajo Nation until we reached Holbrook, where I had reserved a hotel for the night. Tomorrow we would be returning to Petrified Forest National Park since we had such a great time there last year!