Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Visitor information centres are our best friends. “Where can we go hiking?” It’s our standard refrain. And when they give us an option like McElmo Canyon, just southwest of Cortez, Colorado – we jump for joy.

Anasazi – okay, I know the term is no longer vogue, that technically I should be writing Ancestral Puebloan, but I love the way one rolls off my tongue and hate the way the other gets stuck in my craw – cliff dwellings on a bright blue day. What more could we ask for?

At the trailhead. (Photo: B. Kopp)
At the trailhead. (Photo: B. Kopp)

To reach the McElmo Canyon trailhead, we went south from Cortez on Hwy 491 and then headed west towards Hovenweep National Monument. The trailhead was nothing more than a pullout on the road – with a big sign saying “Canyons of the Ancients.” There are scattered remnants of ruins right off the parking area on Castle Rock – but proximity to the road has made these targets for vandalism. The resulting piles of rubble are not exactly inspiring. Hiking up the canyon a few miles leads to small, but spectacular, cliffside ruins.

Cliffside ruins. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Cliffside ruins. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Even without the ruins, the landscape is worth journey – because you never know what you might see along the way!

Tarantulas are common in the southwest. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Tarantulas are common in the southwest. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Although it is possible to continue six-and-a-half miles (one way) to Sand Canyon Pueblo, we opted for a shorter return hike. Next time we’ll take more time and go further afield. The monument has over 6000 sites – up to 100 per square mile in some areas. Who knew that Canyons of the Ancients had so much to offer?

Precision-built by Ancestral Puebloans. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Precision-built by Ancestral Puebloans. (Photo: B. Kopp)

If You Go: 
For more information, visit the Bureau of Land Management website.

Affiliate Links:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *