We’ve now progressed in my trip Out West to the second hike on my last day, August 31, 2016. I’d camped at Hovenweep and planned on trying to visit a site at the Canyons of the Ancients.
It’s nice to leave the best for last.
You may have noticed that all but one of the official sites I’d visited so far around Hovenweep were in specific Hovenweep units (Square Tower/Little Ruin Canyon, Holly, Horseshoe, Hackberry, Cutthroat Castle). The only one officially in Canyons of the Ancients was the Painted Hand Pueblo, one that is well-advertised. But my second hike today was to an obscure Canyons of the Ancients site: The McLean Basin Towers.
Here’s the topo map that shows where it is and (more-or-less) how to get to it.
Park on the main road (lower right), take the 4720 to Pedro Point, and then bushwhack your way down into, across, and back up the McLean Basin Canyon. As far as I knew, the Towers were supposed to be where that pink dot is.
I started by walking westerly along 4720. After about half a mile I approached a high spot.
Notice something in the distance right along the track of the road? Let me blow it up for you.
That sure looks interesting, doesn’t it? I had a hunch what I was seeing, but it was only after getting home that I was able to confirm my hunch. If you take the line of 4720 (approximately 14° north of west) and extend it 49 miles, here is where you are.
Yup. You’re looking at Bears Ears.
You may recall that President Obama designated them as a huge new National Monument. You can read a bit about the National Monument in Obama’s Environmental Legacy, in Two Buttes. However, many Utah politicians hated the designation and wanted to repeal it. See Republicans move to sell off 3.3m acres of national land, sparking rallies. It looks like that really pissed of sportsmen in the state, so they backed down (for now). See Republicans back off bill to sell 3.3m acres of public land after outcry.
I just found it really interesting that, not only could I see them on this hike, but that the road I was on was pointed right at them. Deliberate? Coincidence? I sure don’t know.
(By the way, if you are concerned that that lump does not look like bears ears, we’re looking at them edge-on, one right behind the other. Instead of looking at them WNW like we are, the good view is when looking NNE.)
My destination for my jumping-off-point (so to speak) was Pedro Point. While the topo map shows an old road leading there, the brush totally obscured it and I had to wander a bit to make my way to the point. 4520 was on was supposed to be limited to non-motorized traffic. You can see that on this transportation map for Canyons of the Ancients.
(I’ve extracted just a small portion of that map). You can see it is supposed to be limited to “Public Foot, Horse, [and] Bicycle” traffic. But while I was bushwhacking to Pedro Point I watched a car go by along the path. Unfortunately, there was no sign at the path’s beginning to warn traffic. On the brighter side, these were the only people I saw in any of my bushwhacking trips.
When I got to Pedro Point I then had to figure out just where across the basin I should be heading for. I finally decided it was off this way.
I could have gotten out my compass, I suppose, but I wanted to try to do it reading my topo map. What suddenly made it easy for me was noticing that (mostly dried) pond below me in the foreground. From Pedro Point the Towers should have been pretty much lined up with and behind that pond. (Look again at the topo map.)
In fact, I was able to spot the site with my naked eyes (even though it doesn’t show up in this picture). Here’s that same picture again showing where the Towers were.
Here’s a zoom that shows what I spotted (though the zoom shows better detail than my eyes did).
That made it easy to know what to aim for.
Except that Pedro Point is at the top of a 200 foot canyon wall. I had to figure out how to get down without killing (or injuring) myself. I scouted along a ways and finally found what looked like a (mostly) good route. Here’s a shot from about 1/3 of the way down looking back up.
[Click for the larger version.]
Steep. Ya think?
From a little bit farther down I took another picture across to where the Tower were. This picture is a stitched panoramic view across the basin.
[Really click. This is 1600×450 pixels.]
The Towers are just below that cliffy high point on the right. (Compare to the earlier picture, though now I’m low enough, and out-of-line enough, that the pond is not visible.)
From here I just headed downhill knowing I’d eventually hit the 4546a path. And I did. From there a right turn ought to do it.
While still down at the bottom, I came across this structure.
I think it is pretty clear this is not Puebloan. It’s probably pretty old (100-150 years?) but it looks to me like the remains of a house or a shack. That’s a pretty modern looking fireplace there.
Finding the Towers was easy, though a bit of a climb. They are protected by a fence, that you can see in this picture of the two tallest towers there.
There was a big wooden sign there that read:
MCLEAN BASIN TOWERS ARE UNIQUE DUE TO
BAND OF GLAZED ROCK AROUND SMALL TOWER.
RUINS WERE DESERTED BY PUEBLO INDIANS
ABOUT 800 YEARS AGO.
PROTECTIVE FENCE BUILT IN 1964 TO PREVENT
VANDALISM AND MALICIOUS DESTRUCTION.
You can clearly see the glazed stones in the picture.
I wandered around the fence and got this (stitched panoramic) shot that shows much of the extent of the site.
[Again, click. This one is 1200×450 pixels.]
What a great view looking down the basin/valley. That high spot way off to the left is where I came from. Below that to the right you can see a “small”, mostly bald hill. From my topo map I can see that its elevation is 5448 feet and that it’s about 200 feet high.
Inside the fence you can see the two towers, with the back of the wooden sign visible between them (but moreso on the right). You can also see that there are plenty more ruins; they’ve just fallen apart more than the two remaining towers.
You can get a better look at the extent of the ruins from the Google Maps satellite view.
Isn’t it cool the way the fence and structures show up? And if you look closely, you can see more rubble between the various towers. Those were part of a large square structure, which you can see in this diagram.
That’s a (slightly modified by me—mainly rotated) diagram from one of the Smithsonian’s Bulletins from the Bureau of American Ethnology. The article is Prehistoric Villages, Castles, and Towers of Southwestern Colorado by J. Walter Fewkes, published in 1919.
I now realize that I might have been standing on top of the rock marked “F”, which you will note, is outside of the fence (do a mental overlay). The rock was bare and I did not disturb any rubble getting up onto it (though I do recall seeing the rubble in front of it).
Here’s a better up-close picture giving a better look at the Towers.
One more leg around the fence square, and I got myself into a picture.
From there is was just a case of more-or-less retracing my steps to get back to Pedro Point and 4520, though I did take a more direct route since it was easy to see where I was going.
This picture shows the view of Pedro Point from the Towers.
The red arrow shows where I climbed back up (it was a slightly different spot than where I went down) and Pedro Point is a bit to the left of that. The whole hike took about 4 hours.
That evening at the campground, our old friend gave another stunning performance at sunset.
And that pretty much wraps it up. The next morning I headed home.
As I said, I think the McLean Basin hike was my absolute favorite on the entire trip. The bushwhack to Cutthroat Castle came next. The trip into and out of the Grand Canyon was fun and a nice challenge, but the route was a bit too “busy” to be fun the way the bushwhacks were, and the route was a bit too civilized—it was more of a physical challenge than mental challenge. I would next rank Lobo Canyon at El Malpais. That was my first test of bushwhacking in the desert Southwest. At El Malpais there was also the great views along the Narrows Rim Trail. Chaco Canyon was nice, as it always is, but again, there, I was required to remain on well-marked trails. All of the excitement there was in the well-preserved and well-presented ruins.
In the end, it was a heck of a trip and I thoroughly enjoyed it.