Monday, November 26, 2007

Anasazi Hertage Center Interpretive Trail-Escalante Ruins

The big bend of the Dolores River in southwest Colorado is now flooded under McPhee Reservoir, the second largest lake in the state. On the south bank, on the site of the Anasazi Heritage Center, there is a 1 mile round trip interpretive Lookout Trail that describes some of the plants and natural history of the area.

In the 1920's the town of McPhee, CO, on the big bend of the Dolores River, was a busy timber town. They suffered some setbacks, such as devastating fires, and the site is now submerged, along with many Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites. In the 1980's a large dam a few miles downstream created McPHee Reservoir.

Besides being scenic and providing fishing and boating opportunities, the reservoir stores irrigation water that flows around the area in canals and feeds the hay and bean fields making the area greener than it would be otherwise. The small Dominguez Ruins site is near the museum near the beginning of the trail.
 The trail up to the lookout point and Escalante Ruins site is paved and climbs with switchbacks. There are interpretive signs and benches along the way. This is a good botany trail with many of the key trees and shrubs identified with comments on their possible uses.

The small museum and visitors center on the site provides displays on the vanished pueblo people and information on the numerous archaeology sites in the area. The Heritage Center also acts as a visitors center for the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

In 1776 the first European Explorers, led by two Spanish friars, Escalante and Dominguez, came through this area, searching for a new route to California. They stopped on this hill overlooking the River of Our Lady of Sorrows, the name they just gave it, and examined the ruins, reporting that they looked like the ones they had seen over closer to Sante Fe, NM.

They wandered a little further north and west, but eventually wandered back without success. The expedition established part of the main branch of the Old Spanish Trail, a trade route that allowed goods to pass between California and the central part of North America.
There are two excavated ruins sites here named for the two Spanish Explorers. The larger site on the hill top is named for Escalante. This site is thought to date from 1129 and to show Chaco Canyon influence, though Chaco was in decline at this time and its influence was declining.

The thick walls surrounding a central kiva and T shaped doors are among the Chaco characteristics There are remains of 18 other small ruins sites on this same hill.

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