Over the fall, when the weather was relatively warm and our website was under construction, Mr.D went on some absolutely amazing hikes. Since it’s gloomy in Durango and we’re all getting a little stir-crazy here, we’ve collected our top 5 favorite hidden hikes in the southwestern Colorado area, and into northern New Mexico and Arizona.
Bandelier National Monument:
Nestled in the hills next to Los Alamos, New Mexico is the Bandelier National Monument. A great hike with petroglyphs, cliff dwellings, this is an area that you do not want to miss. With over 33,000 miles of protected wilderness, hikes criss-cross all over the area. You can check out more of the hike here on the National Park Service website.
Walnut Canyon National Monument:
This National Park is 7 miles east of Flagstaff on I-40 and 3 miles south of the park off of Exit 204. Established by President Woodrow Wilson on November 30, 1915, it protects a variety of mid-1200’s archeological and natural resources on approximately 3600 acres. The visitor center is very nice and has informative exhibits, and using the self-guided rim trail which is easy and fairly level, you’ll see 2 canyon overlooks, plus a pithouse and pueblo set back from the canyon rim. For the more adventurous, the self-guided island trail is for you. Note that this can be strenuous. You are roughly at an elevation of 7000 feet, the trail is a 1-mile loop, drops 185 vertical feet from the visitor center via stairs and paved pathways into Walnut Canyon where the dwellings are located. The trail hugs the cliff edges at times, and there are no railings on the level pathways. Pit houses and cliff dwellings can be seen throughout the trail, and you will pass roughly 25 cliff dwelling rooms. Stop and admire the beauty of the canyon at any point on the trail, enjoy the quiet save for the birds and wind, and marvel at the dwellings built in the upper parts of the sheer cliffs, beneath overhanging rock ledges along the canyon walls.
Hovenweep National Monument:
Once again, incredible dwellings await any traveler who takes the 1-hour drive west of Cortez, CO (40-45 miles). Farmland, sage brush. with prairie dogs waving to you as you drive by. Hovenweep is a National Monument, thus bathrooms, water fountains, and a visitor center. It is open year-round and trails are open sunrise to sunset. There is no fee to enter the site which is a wonderful gift and the rangers there are friendly and helpful. A pathway to a view of the ruins is easily accessible and paved, about 300 yards from the visitor center. But the main 1.5-mile loop is dirt, gravel, and rock, and there is a steep descent and ascent as you walk into the canyon floor (of course, Mr.D’s favorite part). The impressive Square Tower and a great collection of buildings are clustered along what is called Little Ruin Canyon, and the ruins at Hovenweep are some of the best-preserved examples of ancestral Pueblo canyon head communities around. The structures once filled the entire canyon you peer into, and were multiple levels all the way up to ground level. A high rise development built in the 1200’s.
Painted Hand Pueblo:
Painted Hand Pueblo from the 1200s, close to Hovenweep National Monument. You really have to want to go there because it is off the beaten track on County Road 10 and about an hour west from Cortez, CO. A mile off of the CR 10 is the trailhead, reached by a very rocky dirt road, and there’s nothing out there but the quiet beauty and the wind whispering through the junipers. A moderately strenuous hike in a short loop that will take about an hour and the trail is primitive, climbing and scrambling over rock shelves and navigating narrow slot pathways to reach the remote and scenic ruin site.
Sand Canyon Hike:
Sand Canyon, 22 min (15.6 mi) via County Rd G from Cortez, CO. Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. Walking just a mile or so, exquisite beauty and the most interesting and accessible cliff dwellings await your discovery. You can hike, mountain bike, or ride your horse on well-marked trails passing ancient ruins, pinion, juniper, and red sandstone streaked with desert varnish.
Here’s to adventuring, exploring, and (hopefully) get out of the house even in the dead of winter!
Do you have any hidden hikes you want to share? Tell us in the comments below!
Amy, Mr.D and the SWD Team