Backpacking in an ancient homeland

Living in our city on the Colorado Plateau, we never lack for trip ideas so close to our home.

Less than an hour from where I am typing, I can access two mountain ranges of over 11,000 feet. Mountains that beckon with snow in the winter so I can ski or turn gold in the autumn with a carpet of aspen leaves.

Or we can walk out our front door and hike a mesa top and see no one all day.

We can drive to two national parks, explore vast tracts of BLM land, and explore the nooks and crannies of the desert.

We could live here for another decade and still not see all there is to see.

Since Joan and I enjoy exploring off-the-beaten-path places, you can find us walking empty jeep roads, or mountain bike routes not in use currently, or even going cross country. All these options open up lots of possibilities.

Throw in our shared love for history, and we found a place to call home that works well for us.

Our methods for finding these places aren’t too unorthodox overall. However, since we both enjoy hiking through history, some unique resources tend to be consulted at times.

And our latest trip to Canylonads and points south did not deviate from this template. We walked canyons that also happened to be old travel paths, walked a valley with an amazingly large concentration of Ancestral Pueblo dwellings, and, as always, embraced the striking landscape of the Colorado Plateau.

Near the BLM and Canyonlands boundary and looking to the Needles.

Our first day saw us hiking a mix of NPS grade single track and jeep roads not traveled during this time of the year.

Once we entered our valley, we also immediately saw signs of a past population.

We enjoyed the setting sun, made it to a spring marked on the map, and found a suitable place for camp as the sun started to set.

That morning we left our camp set up to come back to later in the day. Part of our research meant lining up some relatively well-known structures along with information gleaned from an academic paper Joan found online.

With this type of hiking, the thru-hiker mentality of covering miles fades.

Our idea of hiking efficiently means scrambling up to a promising hillcrest and having the time to explore an area thoroughly. Time spent walking, not miles covered, is how we tend to think of our days backpacking out here with these trips.

We clambered up ancient Moki steps, hiked along the ridge, and had our hunches confirmed.

People lived their lives here in this now lonely area Joan and I made a home for three days.

Some might consider us hiking off-trail, but when you find evidence of people who walked these paths for generations, are we hiking off-trail? Or just following a logical travel path known by many people over the years?

We followed a ridge crest for a bit and came to another impressive dwelling not far from a rough jeep track.

We then walked to where we did not have daylight the day before to explore as we enjoy.

An intriguing theory about this area is that people who rejected the Chacoan influence went off to form their society.  A logical choice in this broad and fertile land esp during a wetter period of almost a millennium ago.

I am not qualified to debate this theory, but the idea of leaving a crowded place for more open land appeals to both Joan and me on personal levels. 🙂

And the architecture,  at the very least, does show some possible Chacoan influence.

T-Shaped door

We made our way back to our first night’s camp, enjoyed a late lunch, and packed up our gear. We knew of some other potential arc sites near a canyon we’d follow back to Canyonlands.

A couple of hours later, we found the sites. And more evidence of a vibrant community with active trade.

As always, the stonework, preserved so well in this dry climate, never fails to impress me.

We continued to hike and scrambled up to a ledge and found a cozy place that people, no doubt, called home.

The setting sun indicated we’d soon have to find a place to camp. But we had to pause to enjoy some last views of the Henry Mountains.

Joan is sporting her home-made Melly hoodie clone. Made of 100wt fleece, it features a kangaroo pocket and a hood extended with grid fleece, longer arms, and weighs 9 oz on the dot. We do not plan on selling $100, or any, versions of it even if it is lighter than certain hyped up brands. 😉

We chose a campsite conveniently located near the canyon that leads directly back to Canyonlands.

The following morning some minor route-finding and scrambling let us get by any obstacles, and we soon walked along an increasingly widening and sandy wash.

We soon made our way back to NPS grade single track and quickly made it our vehicle. The late afternoon sun created a memorable ending to our trip.

A quick change of clothes, some awaiting cold drinks and fruit, and we drove home. And we discussed what we want to do next weekend.

Of course.

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Steven Magnanti
Steven Magnanti
4 years ago

Some beautiful country and great pictures, thank you Joan and Paul, wishing you wonderful travels and exciting adventures.. Stay safe..

Love Dad

Jason J
Jason J
4 years ago

Your post on ancient ruins always seem to come out art the right time (even though I am commenting a month later). This came out right before we headed to Cedar Mesa for what is becoming an annual trip (just before life got weird for us all). We went there looking for Canyon Ruins but stumbled about a great mesa top ruin, just a 5 minute walk behind our car camp. We found our first pot shards as well. We knew we would find ruins down in Bullet Canyon but the mesa top find was a truly unexpected thrill. What… Read more »