Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

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Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwestern Colorado is a hidden gem for vanlifers seeking a unique blend of ancient history, rugged landscapes, and outdoor adventure. This vast monument offers a glimpse into the past, with thousands of archaeological sites set amidst stunning canyons and mesas.

Overview

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument spans over 176,000 acres of high desert terrain, making it one of the most significant archaeological areas in the United States. The monument is a haven for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike, with its well-preserved ruins, petroglyphs, and scenic hiking trails. Located near the towns of Cortez and Dolores, this monument provides a perfect escape into the wild beauty of the American Southwest.

History

The history of Canyons of the Ancients dates back thousands of years, with evidence of human habitation stretching from the Paleo-Indian period to the present day. The area is most renowned for its Ancestral Puebloan ruins, which include cliff dwellings, kivas, and ancient villages. These structures offer a fascinating insight into the lives of the people who once thrived in this arid landscape. Established as a national monument in 2000, Canyons of the Ancients was created to protect and preserve these invaluable cultural resources.

More than 8,300 recorded sites reflect physical components of past human life: Villages, field houses, check dams, reservoirs, great kivas, cliff dwellings, shrines, sacred springs, agricultural fields, petroglyphs and sweat lodges—some areas have more than 100 sites per square mile. The number of sites is estimated to be as high as 30,000.

Hiking

Hiking in Canyons of the Ancients provides an opportunity to explore both the natural beauty and historical significance of the area. Some popular trails include:

  • Sand Canyon Trail: This 6.5-mile trail winds through the heart of the monument, offering views of impressive cliff dwellings and rock formations. Hikers can explore the ruins and enjoy the striking desert scenery along the way.
  • Lowry Pueblo Trail: A short, easy trail that leads to the well-preserved Lowry Pueblo, featuring a large kiva and numerous rooms. This trail is perfect for those looking for a shorter hike with rich archaeological interest.
  • Painted Hand Pueblo Trail: A 0.5-mile trail that takes visitors to a secluded site with a small tower and impressive petroglyphs. This lesser-known trail provides a more intimate experience of the monument’s ancient history.

Tourist Information

Before setting out to explore Canyons of the Ancients, visitors should stop by the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores. This museum and visitor center offers exhibits on the area’s archaeology and cultures, along with maps and information on hiking trails and sites within the monument. The Heritage Center is an excellent starting point to gain a deeper understanding of the region’s significance.

Camping

Vanlifers will find dispersed camping options within the monument and nearby campgrounds, such as the McPhee Campground in the San Juan National Forest. For amenities and supplies, the towns of Cortez and Dolores offer grocery stores, gas stations, and dining options.

When visiting Canyons of the Ancients, it’s important to respect the fragile nature of the archaeological sites. Practice Leave No Trace principles, avoid climbing on ruins, and stay on designated trails to help preserve this remarkable area for future generations.

It’s a privilege to have the Canyons of Anchiets National Monument for our enjoyment, so please practice Leave No Trace principles.

Directions: 

The Monument is located in the Four Corners region of southwestern Colorado, about 50 miles west of Durango, 10 miles west of Cortez, and 12 miles west of Mesa Verde National Park. 

References and Links:

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