Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Free Things to Do in the Four Corners: Southwest Colorado

Why spend lots of money when you can find things to do for free? There are so many activities that can be enjoyed in the Southwest! In fact, there are so many in all Four Corners, I had to divide them up into the different states. I begin with Southwest Colorado, where Kelly Place Bed & Breakfast is located.

Every summer, the Cortez Cultural Center sponsors evening events every day except Sunday. Most of these are traditional Native American dances--great for the whole family! There are also special lectures, Native American music and sometimes drama. These events begin at approximately 7PM in the outdoor amphitheater next to the Cultural Center on Market St., one block north of Main St. Bring a warm covering because it gets cold later, even in summer.

One of my favorites is the talk by one of the few remaining Navajo Codetalkers of World War II, Samuel Sandoval. He explains how he was raised in the Navajo tradition with his grandfather as role model. Then when his country was attacked, he found a new role, helping to use the Navajo language as a communications code during conflict in the Pacific theater. It is an inspiring story, kept completely secret, even from their relatives, for decades.

Just 2 miles west of Kelly Place in McElmo Canyon is the southern trailhead to Sand Canyon. This is public access to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Sand Canyon is filled with Ancestral Puebloan ("cliff-dweller") ruin sites. The first one is right in front of you as you park--Castlerock Pueblo. The trail is about 6.5 miles one way, but the upper part of the trail is not as interesting, so it is mostly for people who want a challenging hike. The views of Sleeping Ute Mountain, Battlerock, and the Canyon below are spectacular. There are no facilities of any kind at the trailheads or along the trail, so be prepared with plenty of water and comfortable shoes. Other archaeological sites in Canyons of the Ancients are also free to visit, including Painted Hand Pueblo and Lowry Pueblo.

Just one of the cliff-dweller sites encountered along the Sand Canyon trail.
Saddlehorn Ruin in Sand Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Yucca House National Monument is a little known and consequently infrequently visited archaeological site. It is unexcavated and mostly under the ground. If you want to know what a site looks like before it is uncovered, this is where you find out.

Heading further west on McElmo Road (County Road G), you encounter numerous ranches and an old one-room school, called Battlerock Charter School, in continuous operation since 1915. Just before the Colorado/Utah border is the Ismay Trading Post. This is a very old trading post, marked by piles of old tires. There is a dirt road just east of the entrance to the Ismay parking area. If you take this and park to the left of a small hill, you will be in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument--BLM territory. Climbing up the hill brings you to a nice rock art panel and among an area of many Ancestral Puebloan ruins, mostly just piles of rubble. If you are going to Hovenweep National Monument, taking the McElmo Road is a scenic and more interesting route than Hwy. 160.

Two other worthy stops along the McElmo are the Guy Drew and the Sutcliffe Wineries. Free wine tasting is offered at both wineries, but you run the risk of loving their wines and wanting to buy some! Check the wineries for visiting hours.

Driving along Road G, you can't help but be overwhelmed by magnificent Sleeping Ute Mountain, rising just south of the road. This is an old volcano which never erupted (and we hope it stays sleeping!). It looms to nearly 10,000 ft. above sea level, 5,000 ft. above the road you are on. When viewed from Cortez, you can envision the form of a supine Ute Indian, with arms folded across his chest, down to the toes on his feet.

Coming soon: Free things to do in southeast Utah, northwest Arizona and northeast New Mexico.