One of our all time favorite hikes in Southwestern Colorado is in Sand Canyon, which is part of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. There are spectacular views, solitude, Puebloan ruins scattered throughout the trail, and it is a desert hike — perfect for recovering from the long, cold winter! It is south of Cortez – follow Hwy 491 to County Road G (look for the signs for the airport), and then enjoy the drive through the beautiful McElmo Canyon where there are vineyards and orchards soaking up the sun. The parking area is on the right before you see signs for Sutcliffe vineyard (a favorite of Erin’s brother & sister-in-law).
On this specific trip we did one of the loops with our friends, Jeremy & Lindsay – taking the whole day to hike, explore, eat a picnic lunch, and check out the remains of mining that happened in the area (Jeremy is a bit of a rock geek).
There are many ruins set into the rock and most people can access them using designated trails. In this picture, Lindsay and Jeremy are checking out the natural and human-made handholds used to climb into the living or storage space.
It is important to not create trails off the main trails because it can destroy the environment leading to erosion, especially in the southwest due to the delicate nature of cryptobiotic soil. Stay on established trails, solid rock, drainages, or worst case, patches of grass – as Matt says,”It is better to smoosh the grass than to destroy the cryptobiotic soil.”