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.

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Pipe Springs National Monument

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Travelling from St. George, Utah to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona, we were looking for a place to pull over to make lunch when we saw a sign for Pipe Spring National Monument. Washrooms and maybe a picnic table – perfect!

We didn’t know anything about the site, but with hunger sated and a National Park Pass already in hand, we thought we’d pop in and have a quick look.

Two hours later we managed to pull ourselves away.

Overlooking Pipe Spring National Monument. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Overlooking Pipe Spring National Monument. (Photo: B. Kopp)

A Mormon Tithing Ranch
Pipe Spring National Monument was established in 1923, but it started as a Mormon Tithing Ranch. Mormon pioneers in the 1870s often paid their tithes to the church with livestock – not cash. The Southern Utah Tithing Office often accepted cattle as tithes and the stock was sent to Pipe Spring.

In 1870, the Mormons began building a fortified ranch house at Pipe Spring. Master stone masons Elijah and Elisha Averett and dozens of workers laboured for over a year and a half to build Winsor Castle, named after the first ranch manager.

Catwalk joining the buildings of Winsor Castle. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Catwalk joining the buildings of Winsor Castle. (Photo: B. Kopp)

The “castle” is made up of two separate two-storey buildings that face each other. Rock walls at either end enclose the courtyard and join the buildings together. Large wooden doors on either end are wide enough for a wagon to pull through. One building was the home of the ranch manager and the other offered extra bedrooms, cheese and butter-making rooms built over the spring, and a telegraph office.

A Telegraph Office
When the transcontinental telegraph went through Salt Lake City in 1861, Brigham Young was inspired to create a communication network owned by the Mormon Church.  After 1864, Civil War-surplus telegraph materials were cheap. The Deseret Telegraph system was started in 1866.

The Desert Telegraph (Photo: B. Kopp)
The Desert Telegraph (Photo: B. Kopp)

Pipe Spring became a telegraph station in 1871. Sixteen-year-old Eliza Luella (Ella) Stewart was the first telegraph operator at Pipe Spring. From 1871 to 1888 at least seven women operated the telegraph instruments at Pipe Spring.

Interpretive panel photo of Ella Stewart - the first telegraph operator at Pipe Spring.
Interpretive panel photo of Ella Stewart – the first telegraph operator at Pipe Spring.

A National Monument
The Mormon Church sold the property to a private owner in 1895. In 1920 the newly appointed Director of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather, passed by the spring on a road trip. Mather believed that one day Americans would explore the West in their own cars and he believed that Pipe Spring would be a perfect stop in between Zion and Grand Canyon. It took him three years of lobbying – and money from his own pocket to help buy the Pipe Spring property – before it was declared a national monument.

If You Go:

  • Don’t miss walking the Ridge Trail. It’s a short climb up to the top of the low cliffs that overlook the monument. The views are spectacular.
  • Pipe Spring is 45 miles east of Hurricane, Utah on AZ State Route 389. For more information about Pipe Spring, visit the National Park Service website. http://www.nps.gov/pisp/index.htm

 

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Human History in Dinosaur National Monument: Josie Bassett Morris

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

There are countless colourful characters that make up the patchwork quilt of the past. Josie Bassett Morris was definitely one of the brightest in what is now Dinosaur National Monument, Utah.

Josie was one of the infamous Bassett sisters (her sister was “Queen Ann”), involved off and on with the Wild Bunch gang. Married five times, Josie decided at age 40 that she wanted a home of her own. She chose a little spot on Cub Creek, just off the Green River, in 1914. One year later, this spot would become part of Dinosaur National Monument.

Here she carved out a home in the wilderness. Josie heated her cabin with a wood fireplace and lit it with oil lamps. She planted fruit trees, tended her garden and reportedly took a neighbour’s cow or two now and again. Josie was tried for rustling twice, but never convicted.

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Josie’s Cub Creek cabin built in 1935 (photo: Brad Kopp)

In 1963, one of Josie’s horses pushed her and she fell, breaking her hip. She remained alone at her cabin with a broken hip until neighbours popped by for a visit a few days later. Josie was 89. She died a few months later.

An interpretive sign photo of Josie at her ranch.
An interpretive sign photo of Josie at her ranch.

Bib overalls, a broad-rimmed hat and  – I’m positive – a devilish twinkle in her eye. I’d like to have met Josie. Echoes of her spirit still resonate in the canyon country she called home.

If you go:
To reach Dinosaur National Monument, drive 13 miles (22 km) east of Vernal, Utah on Hwy 40 to Jensen. Follow 149 north for 7 miles (11 km) to the entrance.

You can visit Josie’s homestead 12 miles (19 km) down the Cub Creek Road from the Quarry Visitor Centre. Be sure to pick up a copy of the Auto Guidebook for the Cub Creek Road, “Tour of the Tilted Rocks.” Josie’s place is Stop #15.

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Human History in Dinosaur National Monument: The Chews

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Something always draws us to ghost towns and abandoned homesteads.

Maybe it’s the stories that linger in the hand hewn wood of the old homes. Perhaps it’s the sense of discovery in finding a piece of the past. It might be admiration for the sheer grit and determination it took to carve out a place for themselves in the wilderness. For whatever reason, historic places garner attention.

An old chuckwagon sits rusting in the yard. (photo: M. Kopp)
An old chuckwagon sits rusting in the yard. (photo: Brad Kopp)

We drove down into the heart of Dinosaur National Monument in the northeastern corner of Utah searching for petroglyphs carved into sandstone walls. We eventually found them, but along the way discovered this historical nugget.

Remains of the corral. (photo: M. Kopp)
Remains of the corral. (photo: Brad Kopp)

Jack Chew settled at Pool Creek with his wife Mary and six of their 12 children in 1910.  In 1911, they were living in a one-room cabin. Imagine preparing dinners for the lot – root vegetables pulled from the nearby garden or root cellar, chicken fresh from the coop, eight hungry bodies gathered around a wooden table…

Jack and Mary’s son Rial eventually became sole owner of the property. Were the other siblings bought out? Did they decide that ranch life was not for them?

Under Rial’s direction, the Pool Creek ranch grew to more than 2,250 acres. Rial raised cattle and sheep on nearby pastureland.  Summers were spent at Pool Creek. Winter’s were spent in Vernal. This is where the kids went to school. What was the drive (or wagon road in Jack and Mary’s time) like back then? How long did it take them to get from the ranch to Vernal?

In the 1940's, Rial built the ranch house for his family. (photo: M. Kopp)
In the 1940’s, Rial built the ranch house for his family. (photo: Brad Kopp)

In 1966, Rial Chew sold 1,900 acres of the ranch that were in Dinosaur National Monument to the National Park Service. Today, visitors drive through the Chew’s homestead on the way to Echo Park. Interpretive signs tell the history of the family and their farmstead.

Black-and-white photos on interpretive signs show Rial Chew and his family in 1955.
Black-and-white photos on interpretive signs show Rial Chew and his family in 1955.

Chew family descendants now run the ranch located directly across from the Green River Campground on the Cub Creek Road.

Chew family property today. (photo: M. Kopp)
Chew family property today. (photo: Brad Kopp)

If You Go: 
Pool Creek is located in the heart of Dinosaur National Monument. To access, drive east on Highway 40 past the town of Dinosaur and take the exit north (left) past Canyon Visitor Centre. Follow the road up onto the plateau 25 miles (40 km) to the Echo Park Road.

Note: Echo Park Road descends a set of narrow switchbacks and can be impassable when wet.

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