The day after visiting Painted Hand Pueblo I decided to visit Cutthroat Castle. You may recall that from the parking lot I headed east (and north) while Cutthroat Castle was in the other direction, north. However, I wanted to do something a bit more challenging and I didn’t want to repeat myself driving to that parking lot.
So I did something else.
I wanted to do more bushwhacking and I wanted the challenge of relying on my map skills. So what I decided to do was to see if I could get to Cutthroat Castle from the back.
Here’s a topo map of the route I ended up taking to Cutthroat Castle. I’ve marked my route with red dots, and added some big numbers in red as discussion points.
[As always, click for a larger, more readable version.]
In purple, 4525 is one of those one-lane sand/rock/high-clearance roads that are so fun (and slow) to drive on. I drove down to where 4525 is marked in green (trails marked in green are restricted to non-motorized traffic) and parked. I took that trail a bit south and a bit east before leaving it and heading north up the dry wash.
You may notice that, from the map, it starts to look a bit narrow as you head up-stream (ok, up dry-streambed).
Here’s the Google Maps overhead of what that looks like, and my route.
A couple of points:
You may notice the orange dots of my route that seem to highlight a straight feature. That was a barbed-wire fence. When I first encountered it, along the trail, there was an open gate (with a sign to close the gate when done). I tried, but couldn’t stretch the wire gate enough to do so.
Don’t forget that Canyons of the Ancients in on Bureau of Land Management land, which is often open to various other uses, including grazing cattle. That’s what the fence was doing there.
After I left the trail (heading northwest) I had to cross that fence again (the second set of two orange dots). Unsurprisingly, there was no gate there, and I was there barefoot, in shorts, and shirtless. Here’s a trick for getting through a barbed-wire fence: do it where it passes over some sort of creek bed (dry again, in this case). The fence usually sits a bit higher over the bed and there will be enough space for a human (but not a cow/steer) to slip under it.
Having crossed the fence, I took a look back where 4525 had descended toward the stream.
Looking ahead from the same location, you can kind of see the gap I was headed for (and the end of a mesa that defined the gap).
As I got up into there, the gap, and my choices narrowed considerably. The stream-bed was extremely narrow with debris in it, and the slopes above were steep, something like 30°-45°,
I ended up entering the narrows about halfway up the slope. Bare feet were very useful for keeping a good grip on the slope.
In that picture, the stream-bed is way below on the right. Up ahead you can maybe see where it makes its first curve to the right and then curves left again. You can also see what I call “The Sentinel” overlooking the chasm. Here’s a close up as I passed it.
From a distance I wondered if the Ancestral Puebloans had maybe enhanced it to look more human. I now suspect not (but am not sure). But I wonder if they also considered it some sort of sentinel.
After passing the Sentinel I descend the slope onto the stream-bed and followed its curves until it suddenly opened out.
Going back to the topo map, the light blue paths mark mostly indistinct unofficial paths. I noticed them on the Google Maps satellite views and drew them onto the maps I used for hiking here. So, once I made it to the spot marked #1, I looked to see if I could see that path, particularly since I was planning on trying to use it on my return trip.
Looking left, there it was, descending down the canyon wall.
As I was walking along I tried to keep my eyes open for hints of ruins. I wasn’t real good at it—my eyes were not attuned to what to look for.
However, as I passed by #2, I saw this.
That cave looked interesting (about 1/3 from the left), and I think I saw some sort of wall or rubble near its entrance. I promised myself to check it out on the way back.
This is one of the mistakes I sometimes make when hiking. I get intent on my goal (in this case, getting to Cutthroat Castle) and forget to make interesting diversions anyways. Then, on the way back, I’m ready to finish the hike and end up not visiting what I promised myself I’d visit. That happened here, too.
I made another one of my common mistakes when I got to the spot marked #3 on the topo map.
I had intended to take the major stream-bed all the way to Cutthroat Castle, but I didn’t do a good job keeping track of distance, and there was a stream-bed heading up to the right, so I took it. It looked fairly big (at least compared to that piddly marking on the map) and I didn’t want to overshoot the route to the Castle. (I wasn’t a total idiot, though. I figured if I’d headed up too soon, I’d end up on top of the mesa and maybe even hit a fence at the private property—yellow line—that I could follow.)
Well, I got up there and never did find a fence. Officially, I was “lost”. But not lost lost. I did have a wonderful view of everything, though, and had no trouble turning north and eventually running into Cutthroat Castle (at #4).
One thing I like about this shot is that I suspect that very few other people have had this particular perspective on these ruins.
Here’s the overhead view from the Google Maps satellite, so you can get a feel for what you are seeing.
And here you can get a closer look at the ruins. Note all the rubble around that also used to be buildings.
If we could get on the ground here we’d find the remains (depressions) of 14-16 kivas that used to be there. In the front of the Castle (also called the horseshoe house) sits another kiva. It has a tunnel that can be used to enter it. You can see it here (very bottom, just off-center) in this close-up.
By the way, I couldn’t find anything that said that archaeologists (or others) ever found any evidence of cut throats at this site. However, in this whole region, in the 1300s things dried out considerably and there was a lot of dissention. Plenty of evidence of violence has been found at other nearby sites.
Here I am in front of the ruins.
Remember that these ruins are part of Hovenweep (limited access), not Canyons of the Ancients (free roaming). Thus, there was a fence around the place (just below me, but not visible). To get in I would have had to circumnavigate the fence until I found an entrance. But I was happy with what I was seeing, so this was as far as I went.
Oh, hey! Guess who was visible from the top of the mesa as I headed back?
Descending the mesa, I looked ahead to see if I could spot the path that I would use to get back to my car. From there, it was easily visible (right in the center).
Here’s the topo map for my route back.
At #5 the ground was actually wet due to that small pond formed from a small dam. Obviously, there must also have been a small seep feeding it.
Once I was back in the valley, I hopped onto that light blue path and looked ahead.
Again, it was reassuring to be able to see the path leave the canyon in the distance.
When I made it to the top, again there was a barbed-wire fence (#6). Again, the gate was open and uncloseable. I’m guessing that there are no more cattle grazing around here, but it is just too much work to go back and remove the fences.
At the top, I took a look back.
Cutthroat Castle is . . . uh . . . off that way somewhere.
I ended the day back at my campsite.
The rain in the distance never made it to me.