All out-of-town company has gone home, sadly...time for a much needed blog update - the buffalo needs a rest! Welcome to the Anasazi Heritage Center/Escalante Pueblo at the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Dolores, Colorado. As always, clicking and double clicking on any photo here will enlarge it for you.
The Four Corners area, where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet (the ONLY spot in the United States where this happens), is also home to the modern day Navajo and Ute Mountain Indian Nations, as well as untold Anasazi ruins throughout the area (one of the largest being Mesa Verde, which I will cover next week, ALL week, with a bit more history on the Anasazi peoples - these are pueblos, with Mesa Verde being more cliff dwellings). On this day, we stopped here - the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Anasazi Heritage Center, located 10 miles north of Cortez and 3 miles west of Dolores, both in Colorado.
The Visitor Center houses a beautiful museum displaying archaeological finds from the surrounding ruins, and chock full of historical information regarding the Native Americans who first inhabited these lands. A small, excavated pueblo sits just outside the front doors of the Center, and was thought to have housed a family of four to six people at the time. Through the side doors, and up a winding 1/2 mile hill (paved and wheelchair accessible), sits the Escalante Pueblo - a hilltop ruin overlooking the beautiful Dolores River.
The stunning vistas on the way up the "hill" (OK, I have to come clean - this little trail climbs right up the side of this "hill", but with switchbacks so it's not STRAIGHT up. It IS paved, with park benches along the way for those who need to rest - make SURE you take water!) provide a view of the Sleeping Ute Mountain. This is a sacred mountain to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of today, as well as their ancestors before them. The Sleeping Ute is said to resemble a Ute Chief lying on his back, with his arms folded across his chest (see the diagram above the actual mountain photos).
The Escalante Pueblo is believed to have been occupied three different times, based on tree-ring dating of wood used in its construction. Ancestral Pueblo people built the main complex in 1129 AD, and then remained there for at least nine years. Spanish Explorers Escalante and Dominguez noted this site during their trek across the American Southwest in 1776.
The pueblo is a rectangular block of about 28 rooms, surrounding a large kiva - usually the center point of any pueblo. The kiva was a subterranean room used for religious ceremonies. Other rooms of the pueblo were used as work areas, sleeping quarters, and for storage.
Architecture and masonry indicate that this pueblo was one of the northernmost settlements influenced by the culture of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, some 100 miles to the south. There is speculation that such villages were part of an interdependent system of pueblos spread across the Four Corners area. It is thought that the Escalante Pueblo may have been the hub for religious or social gatherings of people from smaller, surrounding villages.
The hilltop where the pueblo is located (yes, the trudge up the "hill" IS worth it) provides a 360 degree view of everything below and beyond (those are the San Juan Mountains visible to the east, in the top photo). With the incredible view, for safety purposes of the pueblo from above, and the Dolores River for water below, this was probably just about the perfect setup for these people.
You are free to walk about the top of the ruins, on well-worn paths - there are several covered picnic sites at the top, as well. As with any archaeological site, staying off walls, and not disturbing the area is paramount to the survival of these ancient sites for future generations.
It is believed that in about 1150 AD, after a short abandonment of the pueblo, that it was briefly reoccupied by people from the local Northern San Juan group of Anasazi Indians. The third (and final) occupation by these same people was very short, and occurred sometime around 1200 AD.
On your way back down (before leaving the parking lot), do look over the smaller Dominguez Pueblo, which you might have missed when you first arrived (these photos are the Escalante Pueblo - the Dominguez walls can be seen in the second photo up top, among the trees in front of the Visitor Center). This small site has four rooms with low stone walls - all that remains of a roofed structure that was built about 1123 AD. Just south of these little rooms sat a dirt-wall kiva, 11 feet in diameter. It was not possible to stabilize this kiva, so it was reburied to keep it intact. Although MUCH smaller and simpler, the site is significant in that it shows that these people lived close to the upper pueblo, and their overlapping dates suggest that the two settlements did share some community activities - yep, just like subdivisions of today.
As I said before, the much larger Mesa Verde National Park is in this same proximity, but this is a FAR less crowded (in fact, we saw no one else, save a Park Ranger, that morning) journey back through time. There is a nominal fee of $3.00 per adult (you can use your Parks Pass for this one) for entrance, and looking over the website for the Canyons of the Ancients, this is just the TIP of the proverbial iceberg for this National Monument, with plenty of hiking trails through a much larger area beyond these two pueblos. We may have to go back! Want to go, yourself? Click here: