Member Trip Report



Canyons of the Ancients
March 11-14, 2010

Author and Trip Leader: Bill Priedhorsky - Bio

Participants: Kelly Place guests, Kathleen Gruetzmacher, Elena Brown, Sharon Kappel, Lorrie Bonds Lopez, Jackie Little, Larry Cox, Laura Cox, Dave Gemeinhart, Donna Gemeinhart, Kei Davis, Lisa Biehl, Bill Priedhorsky, Allyn Pratt, Terry Morgan, Zita Morgan, Marilyn Yeamans, Dave Yeamans, Karen Grace, Ellynn Ragone, Jan Watson, Melanee Hand, David Hand, Linda Klosky, Lu Rojas, Judy Buckingham, Mary Thompson, and Bob Williams; and staying elsewhere, Bob Brothers, Esther Brothers, and Alexei Klimenko.

For seven years running, 2003 through 2009, the Mountaineers ventured forth in mid-February to Bluff, Utah. Up to 43 Mountaineers took part in the annual event, and we never ran short on opportunities to hike slickrock country and explore Anasazi ruins. But for our 2010 outing, we decided on something different, moving our base of operations eastward to the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. For such an early season outing, camping was not an attractive option. Fortunately, Kelly Place bed and breakfast, 10 miles down McElmo Creek road from Cortez, made an excellent base of operations. Also breaking with tradition, the trip date was moved a month later into mid-March, in search of warmer weather and to avoid conflict with the trip leader's growing passion for downhill skiing.

The trip was advertised to the Mountaineers in March 2009. To my surprise, it filled within a week. Something about the Canyons of the Ancients intrigued of the Mountaineers. After a year of tracking logistics and finances, March 2010 finally arrived. To complicate matters, 2009-2010 was one of the finest ski seasons in some years for Northern New Mexico, so a weekend away from the slopes was looking unfortunate. But to ease the pain, Larry and Laura Cox agreed to join me for a day at Purgatory on Thursday the 11th, on the way to Kellys' Place. We left Los Alamos not long after 6 AM and arrived at the ski area at 11 AM, which proved to be plenty of time to exhaust ourselves, finishing with a wild run down Styx in time to catch the last lift. We reached Kelly Place at 8:30 PM, at the tail end of the procession arriving from Los Alamos. 27 of us stayed at Kelly's, in 10 rooms and cabins. The accommodations were excellent. The best was the Deluxe Cabin, which had a patio and fireplace for apres-hike socializing, and was our gathering place between late afternoon and the 7 PM dinner setting.

Dinner at Kelly's Place with 29 of my closest friends.
Photo courtesy Terry Morgan

Two other pleasant surprises were wine and microbrew draft beer, sold by the glass, and a large collection of Zuni fetishes at very attractive prices, sold on consignment for the artists.

We had two outstanding days of hiking, catching a window of clear weather between two snowstorms. For Friday's adventures, the 28 of us split into three groups. I led a party of 10 due north from Kelly's, starting on a trail that began at the door of my cabin. We hiked about a mile north to a cliff line - the White Rim - which ran for miles roughly east-west. We hiked eastward for about three miles, viewing four major ruins. Some of the hiking was on clean sandstone along a canyon rim, but some was a major mud wallow thanks to the thawing snow from two days previous. Boots grew as large as snowshoes. To clear the mud, and get a better view, we found a route on the top of the White Rim, which averages about 75 feet in height. We thus hiked back to the west, with fabulous views of snow-clad Sleeping Ute Mountain on our left. We passed the trail junction that would return us to Kelly's, but found not a single way down the cliff. Only after traveling a mile farther west, just about to give up and detour north on a well service road, did Mary find an easy route down the White Rim, which let us complete the loop back to camp. In spots, we could hardly keep our balance in the slippery mud. We were on the trail from about 9:30 to 4:00, covering eight miles.

Jackie looking through a ruin along the White Rim. Note the lintel and fine rockwork.

The other two parties, led by Laura Cox and Dave Yeamans, explored Sand Canyon, both the main canyon and the East Fork of Rock Creek, just to the west. Sand Creek is a busy trail, but the ruins are special for their well-preserved high-quality masonry. The mud was exceptional also. While ruins can be found in almost every south-facing alcove, petroglyphs are rare. The prominent exception was the battle scene at Castle Rock.

There was a trace of mud along the Sand Canyon trail.
Photo courtesy Melanee Hand

We fragmented into several groups on Saturday. Dave Yeamans led a  party of five on the route below the White Rim, retracing much of yesterday's route without ascending the rim. Melanee, Dave Hand, Linda, and Lou toured Mesa Verde including a 3-mile hike in and out of the snow. Larry Cox took three companions on a detailed tour of Castle Rock, at the foot of Sand Canyon, followed by an outing to the Anasazi Heritage Center. Three of the ladies headed for Telluride, a two-hour drive each way, but worth the trouble in the pursuit of steeps and bumps.

The largest group, 14 strong to begin, headed for Sand Canyon. The mud had dried considerably from the day before, making the hiking halfway accepted. We toured several of the ruins and lunched at a canyon-edge tower. There the party split, with 7 of us crossing Sand Canyon where the streambed rises to cross the trail, and the rest returning to their cars, Kelly's Place, and enroute, the winery 4 miles to the east. After crossing Sand Canyon, we followed a trail south, parallel to the stream, along the same level as the westside main trail. The hiking was fast and not particularly muddy, and we again found several ruins in south-facing alcoves. Some of the rockwork was strikingly fine, with a smoothed surface and decorative small rocks pressed into the mortar lines. The trail connected with a southbound service road, which we followed for about a mile. We then turned east at the site of one tower and hiked past another, on the way to the top end of Cactus canyon, which flows directly south to Kelly's Place. Three of us rounded the canyon to find the cairn (hard to miss at 6 feet high) that marks the trail back to Kelly's. Mary, Jackie, Elena, and I went down the canyon, which required one challenging detour around a pouroff, and the usual stretching to get past small pools. When we finally stuck our heads above the canyon rim, we were a hundred feet from the main lodge.

One of many beautiful ruins along the main Sand Canyon trail.
Photo courtesy Lorrie Lopez Bonds

We awoke on Sunday morning to six inches of new snow. We hadn't planned any hikes, but enjoyed the new look of the landscape as we packed for our departure. Several cars stopped at the Anasazi Heritage Center on the way home. We pressed uneventfully through fog, snow, and slushy roads, home to Los Alamos.

The participants were happy with Kelly Place. The rooms were comfortable, and ranged from almost luxurious (the better rooms and deluxe cabin) to tight but comfortable. Allyn and I ended up as roommates after both our significant others canceled. When made up, my sleeper sofa touched his double bed, making a tight space that we named the "Mancave". Expenses were modest. The per-person cost was in the $150 range for 3 nights accommodation, 3 breakfasts, and 2 dinners, which beats sleeping out in the cold. Only Mary, a late addition who chose to camp, had to do just that.

There is a lot more to explore around Canyons of the Ancients, both from the McElmo Creek side, and the canyons, ruins, and wilderness study areas that are reached from the Dove Creek highway. Depending on conditions, snowshoes, cross-country skis, and downhill gear can also find good use. As we drove home, we were already thinking about possibilities for our return. The March 2011 trip is already on the Mountaineers schedule.

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