(Some other visitor information sources:)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Fluid Mineral Leasing
Livestock Grazing Allotments
SEASONAL ADVICE FOR VISITORS
SPRING CONDITIONS: Weather in Canyons of the Ancients is changeable and difficult to predict at any time of year, but especially during the springtime.
Snow cover on foot-trails and roads often lingers through March, changing to mud with the onset of warm weather. Occasional snowstorms may take place through May. The first weeks of warm weather are frequently accompanied by persistent strong breezes blowing from the southwest.
Cedar gnats or "no-see-ums" (a biting midge from the Ceratopogonidae famly, genus Culicoides) can be a problem for several weeks during May and June, when they hatch from eggs laid in the bark of juniper trees. They bite most often around the ears, hairline, scalp, arms, and ankles. Bites are rarely noticed until they develop into swollen, itchy bumps similar to mosquito bites. Typical insect repellents (such as DEET) are often ineffective. The best defense is socks, long-sleeved shirts, and a hat or insect hood. They rarely bite in windy conditions, or if you KEEP MOVING.
SUMMER CONDITIONS: Daytime temperatures often exceed 86 F (30 C) and sometimes exceed 104 F (40 C) under strong sunshine. Always carry plenty of water, and DRINK IT as you hike. Brief, intense thunderstorms during July and August may cause flash flooding in canyon bottoms, threatening your safety and temporarily closing your hiking or driving route.
FALL CONDITIONS: Autumn may be the ideal season to experience Canyons of the Ancients. The months of September, October, and November are usually dry and sunny with moderate temperatures, and December can be mild as well. Daytime highs are often between 50 and 70 F (10 to 20 C) although nights are significantly colder. The lower angle of the midday sun brings richer color and more dramatic shadow to the canyon landscape.
WINTER CONDITIONS: Winter conditions typically alternate between dry, cool periods and snow storms. In some years, snow storms may be frequent and snow cover may persist for a week or more between storms. Overnight low temperatures often range between 0 and 15 degrees F (-17 to -10 C). Secondary auto routes in CANM are not maintained in the winter, and some routes may become impassible due to weather. Always check on current road conditions before planning to visit remote areas.
ARCHAEOLOGY AND HISTORY
Humans have been part of this landscape for at least 10,000 years.
The pre-Puebloan people called Basketmakers migrated into the area about 1500 BC. They were primarily hunter-gatherers but, unlike earlier inhabitants, they are associated with the earliest traces of corn agriculture. They excelled at basketry, and interacted with a wider cultural region including Mesa Verde and beyond.
By about AD 750 their architecture had developed from pit house clusters into square-roomed "pueblo" style villages. They developed excellent pottery and farmed extensively.
Factors including population growth, soil exhaustion, and changing rain/snow patterns began to reduce the natural resources of the area. By about 1300 AD the Ancestral Puebloans had migrated south, east, and west to where their descendants live today as the modern Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Arizona.
Soon afterwards nomadic Ute and Navajo bands began to frequent the Monument's mesas and canyons. Forked-stick hogans, brush shelters, and wickiups remain as evidence of these later occupants.
European settlers followed and established farms and ranches. Many of the settlers' descendants still live in or near their ancestors' homesteads.
If you have two hours, visit the
ANASAZI HERITAGE CENTER
Many of artifacts from excavations in the Canyons of the Ancients are housed at the Anasazi Heritage Center, a museum that is as the visitor contact point for the Monument.
Information and exhibits about the National Monument as well as the Trail of the Ancients Byway and Ancestral Puebloan culture can be found here. The Center also has a theater and library.
Interactive exhibits illustrate ancient life from archaeological and Native American perspectives. Artifact drawers, microscopes, a loom and computer programs encourage self-discovery and exploration of the past. A one-mile (2 km) interpretive trail leads from the Center up to Escalante Pueblo and a hilltop panoramic view. The trail and all other facilities are wheelchair accessible.
The museum shop sells interactive programs, books, teacher guides, music videos, and other materials about the ancient and recent history of the Four Corners area.
The Center is open seven days a week except for three annual holidays. Admission is $3 per person; children under 18 and Federal Recreation Pass holders are free. The Center is 10 miles north of Cortez and 3 miles west of Dolores on Highway 184. ANASAZI HERITAGE CENTER WEB SITE
If you have half a day-- visit the Anasazi Heritage Center and
Lowry Pueblo National Historic Landmark is the only developed recreation site within the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Lowry Pueblo has standing walls that have been stabilized, 40 rooms, eight kivas, and a Great Kiva. There are interpretive signs and brochures. The picnic area, toilet, and trail are all wheelchair accessible. There is no water or phone service. Overnight camping is not allowed.
To reach Lowry: Turn west off Colorado Highway 491 on to County Road CC (at the sign on the south edge of Pleasant View) and go nine miles. This asphalt road turns to gravel, but is drivable by passenger cars most of the year.
If you have one day-- visit the Anasazi Heritage Center, Lowry Pueblo, and
PAINTED HAND PUEBLO
Painted Hand Pueblo has a beautiful standing tower perched on a boulder. The site has never been excavated, but stone rubble shows where rooms were built against the cliff face and on boulders. The site gets its name from pictographs of hands painted on a boulder. Please don't touch these fragile paintings! The oil and dirt from hands can eventually destroy these remnants of past lives.
Painted Hand is a backcountry site. To reach it you should have a good map and a vehicle with good clearance. Drive north from Cortez on Highway 491 (formerly 666). Turn left (west) from the highway on County Road BB and travel 6 miles to the intersection with County Road 10. Turn south (left) and go 11.3 miles. Turn left onto a rocky, high-clearance dirt road (# 4531). Go about 1 mile and turn left into the small parking area. Please leave your vehicle here and walk the remaining short distance to the site. This trail is not wheelchair-accessible.You can also see the tower from the parking area by looking east along the mesa's edge.
The Cutthroat group of Hovenweep National Monument is farther down this same road (4531). Contact Hovenweep for information about visiting it. The Hovenweep Visitor Center, and adjacent Square Tower House archaeological complex, are about seven miles farther down the main road (Road 10).
To add a second day-- visit
SAND CANYON PUEBLO
One of the largest prehistoric settlements in this region, Sand Canyon Pueblo has 420 rooms, 100 kivas, and 14 towers; but today it has no exposed walls. Partial excavations during 1983-1993 were backfilled to protect intact features and preserve the site.
Interpretive signs provide Native American insights and archaeological perspectives, show how the site was laid out, and show what it might have looked like in the mid-1200s.
Sand Canyon Pueblo is adjacent to the upper (north) trailhead for Sand Canyon. There is a small parking area but no water, toilet, phone, or wheelchair access.
To get there, drive north from Cortez on Highway 491 (formerly 666) then go west about 8.5 miles on County Roads P and N. Be sure to pick up a map with more detailed directions at the Anasazi Heritage Center.
Sand Canyon contains many Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites. The popular Sand Canyon Trail is 6.5 miles (one-way) from Sand Canyon Pueblo down to the lower trailhead in McElmo Canyon.
The trail is open to hiking, horseback riding, and mountain bicycling, but the upper section is steep and rugged-- not recommended for bicycles. Part of the single-track dirt trail crosses slick rock marked with rock cairns. A vehicle shuttle is a good idea if you are going to hike the entire trail: leave one vehicle at Sand Canyon Pueblo, and leave a second vehicle at the bottom (south) end of the trail in McElmo Canyon.
To reach the McElmo Canyon trailhead, head south of Cortez on Highway 491. Turn right (west) on County Road G at the signs for the airport and/or Hovenweep National Monument. Go 12 miles on this paved road. Trailhead parking is an unimproved slickrock surface on the north (right) side of the road. No water, toilet, phone, or other services are available.
Near the McElmo Canyon trailhead, you can visit Castle Rock Pueblo surrounding the base of the large butte just beyond the parking area. Hike one or two miles up canyon to view several small cliff dwellings. This area is not wheelchair accessible.
Remember this is rugged and remote country.
Summer temperatures may exceed 100° F (38° C).
- Avoid traveling alone. Tell someone your plans and expected route.
- Carry a good map, a first aid kit, sunscreen, and at least one gallon (four liters) of water per day per person.
- Wear a hat, long sleeved shirt, long pants, sturdy footwear, and good socks.
- Watch for rattlesnakes, scorpions, mountain lions, and other potentially dangerous wildlife. Expect biting gnats in May and June.
Please Respect Ancestral Puebloan Homes...
Leave no trace of your visit.
The remnants of Ancestral Puebloan homes are scattered across the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. This legacy provides a link to the past. Impacts from human visitation pose the biggest threat to the cultural and natural resources of the Canyons of the Ancients. To preserve this historic legacy for future generations, please......
- Stay on existing roads and trails. Scars on the desert landscape heal slowly and increase soil erosion.
- Walk carefully in archaeological sites to avoid stepping on walls and trash mounds. Do not stand or sit on walls, move rocks, or climb through doorways. All cause damage to archeological structures.
- Never touch painted or plastered walls, petroglyphs, or pictographs. Skin oils damage them.
- Avoid picnicking in archaeological sites. Crumbs attract rodents that tunnel and nest in the site. Make sure that you pick up and carry out all of your trash.
- Do not camp in archaeological sites. It's easy to accidentally destroy walls and artifacts in the dark. Campfire smoke stains walls and cliffs, and charcoal leaves a mess. Leaving human waste in archaeological sites is unsightly and unsanitary. Never burn wood from archaeological sites.
- Never dig in archeological sites. If you pick up a piece of pottery, put it back where you found it. Leave all artifacts exactly where found for others to enjoy. Artifacts in their original context tell stories about the past. Out of context, artifacts mean little to an archaeologist.
- These sites are spiritually significant for Native Americans. Treat them with respect. Do not leave "offerings" as they only confuse the site's original story.
- The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and the Antiquities Act of 1906 prohibit anyone from removing or disturbing archaeological sites or artifact on federal public lands without written permission from the Department of the Interior. Do your part to preserve this rich heritage.
If you see anyone vandalizing archaeological sites, taking artifacts, or damaging natural resources, please call any of the following:
BLM law enforcement: 970-882-6849
Colorado State Patrol Dispatch: 970-249-4392