Canyons of the Ancients
March 11-14, 2010
and Trip Leader:
Bill Priedhorsky - Bio
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
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
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
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
already on the Mountaineers schedule.