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Ute Mountain Tribal Park: The Other Mesa Verde

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.

Chimney Rock

Driving the dusty road into Mancos Canyon at dusk.

Mancos Canyon Road

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

Mancos Canyon Morning

A photo of our campsite on Saturday morning.

Mancos Canyon Camp

Our hike this morning began with a descent into Lion Canyon using a couple of ladders like this.

Ladder Into the Canyon

We quickly spotted these interesting ruins across the canyon.

Across The Canyon

Tree House Alcove

Tree House Alcove

Metates & Doorways

Metates & Doorways

If you look closely at the metates above, you will find these Wetherill inscriptions carved into them.

Wetherill Inscriptions

Tree House Ruins

Tree House

Tree House Rooms

Tree House Tower

Tree House Ruins

A nice two-story structure above this kiva.

Ruins Over the Kiva

At the end of the trail we came to Eagle Nest House.

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.

Eagles Nest Ladder

Eagle Nest Kiva

Eagle Nest Kiva

Painted designs inside the kiva.

Painted Kiva Designs

I liked this view of the ruin on a ledge below through the doorway.

Framed

Ruins on Ledges

Ruins on Ledges

Following the ledge with a low ceiling back from the Eagle’s Nest.

Ledge Across

Square Room

Square Room

Lion House Alcove

Lion House Alcove

Standalone Tower Wall

Standalone Tower Wall

Upper Ledge Ruins

Upper Ledge Ruins

This was a tall wall!

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.

Potsherd Design

Big Basketmaker Panel

Big Basketmaker Panel

Upper Petroglyphs

Upper Petroglyphs

Dotted Panel

Dotted Panel

Long Legs Sheep

Long Legs Sheep

Allen

Allen

This looks like it was the handle of a ladle.

Ladle Handle

The Emergence Story (Butterfly Site)

Emergence Story / Butterfly Site

This is the right side of the above petroglyph panel.

Right Side Petroglyphs

Fringed Spiral Design

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.

Chief Jack Pictographs

Horseback Rider

Horseback Rider

Horse Face

Horse Face

Big Red Pictograph

Big Red Pictograph

Ute Lady Pictograph

Ute Lady

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!

>> Ute Mountain Tribal Park Photo Gallery

2 Comments

  1. Randy Gerdes
    Randy Gerdes June 8, 2021

    What a great place, and I was unaware of it. You excellent (as always) photos really highlight the beauty of the ruins. I always enjoy your posts!

  2. Dianne
    Dianne June 8, 2021

    I loved seeing these sites again. You did such justice to Eagle Nest. Thanks.
    I look forward to seeing the rest of the week’s visits. I do love that place because
    I feel I’m seeing a glimpse of what early explorers saw when they ventured into
    the canyons beyond MV.

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