Exploring the Four Corners Area

8/30 – 10/3

I had intended to stay in the Telluride area through Labor Day. With lots of rain in the forecast for early next week, I decided to take advantage of a sunny day on Thursday 8/30 to pull out of my Last Dollar Road campsite. The plan is to head south to the Dolores/Cortez area for an extended stay. I have spent very little time in the Four Corners and would like explore that area. Also, I have a lot of chores that I want to do which would be easier in a campground with full hookups instead of a boondock campsite. 

I don’t have a reservation anywhere, so I find a place to camp on USFS land on the mesa above Dolores for a few days while I check out RV Parks in the area. As you see from the photo my camp isn’t so scenic, but it is quiet and private.


Dolores, CO campsite

With this big clearing I anticipated that other campers may come in over the holiday weekend. But I didn’t see anyone else during the several days I was here.

I am able to get a reservation for a month at Sundance RV Park in Cortez, beginning on Saturday, 9/8. The park is right in town which will be convenient for the errands I’ll need to run. Cortez has a Walmart, City Market grocery, large True Value hardware and other stores. So I should be able to purchase most any item I will need.

I’m in site #25, which is okay. It is fronting on a road that has a lot of traffic, so pretty noisy. And I don’t get much shade. But it is somewhat private compared to most RV Park sites.


My home for a month in Cortez, CO


Anasazi Heritage Center

Most of the areas of interest here revolve around Ancestral Puebloan ruins and other archaeological sites. On Thursday, September 20th, I visit the Anasazi Heritage Center.


Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, CO


Anasazi Heritage Center

The center was established to house artifacts found during excavations of the lands that would be flooded by the McPhee Reservoir once the dam was completed. It has grown over time and is now one of the largest archaeological repositories operated by the BLM.

The facility is beautiful and their collection has some amazing items.


Very attractive presentation

There is a daily presentation by a staff member explaining the history of the area and the peoples who inhabited it. One fact that amazed me is this area, known as the Great Sage Plain, is believed to have had a population of 20,000 plus people at its peak around AD 1250. It extends from Mesa Verde to the red rock country of southeastern Utah.

If you visit the Center on a Thursday, at 2pm they offer a curated tour, which takes participants down to the basement for a closer look at the center’s operations. It is limited to 12 people, so sign up early. I found this to be the most interesting part of my visit.


These shelves move so each side can be accessed.

The thousands of artifacts are housed in rows of these movable shelves.


Some of the beautiful pottery designs

This little fox container was my favorite.


What a beautiful item!

The first couple weeks in Cortez I focused on getting my work done. This included defrosting refrigerator, flushing out the hot water heater, thoroughly cleaning the Nash inside, including washing down the walls, cleaning out cabinets, and many other little tasks. My truck tires had very little tread left and were at the point of being unsafe. I purchased a new set of Wrangler All Terrain tires at the Goodyear store.

One nice perk of Sundance RV Park is they permit washing RVs and vehicle at one’s site for a fee of $3 for a vehicle and $5 for an RV. I washed and polished the truck and the Nash – that was a job! They were last polished when I was in Florida last Nov/Dec. I used Nu-Finish polish then, which claims to last for one year. Water was still beading up on the surface whenever it rained, so it did seem to last pretty well. I used the same polish again this time.

Million Dollar Highway

Another reason I wanted to stay in this area is to be able to view the aspens when the leaves turned. The peak comes much later in this area than further north in Colorado. I didn’t actually realize that before. On Saturday, September 22nd, I take a drive up the Million Dollar Highway (which is US 550). I intended to only go from Durango to Silverton, but ended up going all the way to Ouray. The leaves were still a ways from peak from Durango to Silverton, but were pretty much at peak from Silverton to Ouray. This is a classic Colorado road trip, and was even more beautiful with the colorful aspens.


Along US 550


Million Dollar Highway (US 550)


The colors are awesome!

This is the Treasury Tunnel entrance to the Idarado Mine. The Idarado was one of the largest mines in the San Juan Mountains, containing close to 100 miles of tunnels. The western side of the mine is at the Pandora Mill site in the box canyon east of Telluride.


Treasury Tunnel, Idarado Mine at Red Mountain Pass


Lovely stand of aspens


Glowing in the sunlight


Red Mountain

Canyon of the Ancients National Monument

This national monument is comprised of 170,000 plus acres and is managed by the BLM. It contains thousands of archaeological sites. Most are inaccessible by vehicle or only accessed on unimproved dirt roads that may become impassable if wet. So only a few areas are easily accessed.

The Sand Canyon Trail is one of the most popular. The south trailhead is in McElmo Canyon on Road G. At the RV Park I met a very nice couple in the site next to me. One morning Lisa and I did a short hike on this trail. Beginning at about the ½ mile point, there are several Puebloan ruins visible. The rock formations in the canyon are also beautiful.


Sand Canyon, south trailhead


One of the ruins along the trail


What an amazing place to live!


Some of the interesting rock formations

After the hike, we visited the Sutcliffe Vineyards, which was just on the other side of the road from the trailhead.


The family lives here but were away on this day


McElmo Canyon is a beautiful spot

Their wines were very good, I would say the best Colorado wines I have tried. The pinot noir was excellent and I purchased a bottle.

I had pretty much finished all the work I wanted to accomplish and planned to spend my final week in the area doing some hiking and more sightseeing. The weather wasn’t real cooperative, so I didn’t get to do everything I had planned.

Lowry Pueblo

Within the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, there is one pueblo site that has been excavated and partially restored. The other sites that have been excavated over the years have been backfilled to protect the structures from erosion and defacement.

On Wednesday, October 3rd, I drove to the Lowry Pueblo site. It is fairly large with numerous rooms.


The rooms are 3 or 4 deep, it’s difficult to see from the lower angle

There is also a small kiva that has been protected by a roof covering and supporting infrastructure inside. Visitors are permitted to enter this portion of rooms to view the inside of the kiva. Small kivas such as these were meeting areas for the family group that lived there. Here they would gather to weave and perform other tasks and to socialize.


Small kiva used by the family group that lived here

A short distance away there are the remains of a Great Kiva. Great Kivas were public structures used for ceremonies or other gatherings where people would come from the surrounding area.


Lower portion of the Great Kiva. The walls would extend high above the ground


Looking back towards the pueblo

Hovenweep National Monument

From Lowry Pueblo, I continue on to Hovenweep National Monument, which is operated by the National Park Service.

The main area for visitation is Little Ruin Canyon. At the head of this canyon is a group of exceptionally well-preserved structures. There is a 1.5 mile trail that goes around the canyon rim and then traverses back across the canyon below the ruins. The visitors center and campground are also located here.

Across the canyon are the Twin Towers on the rim. On the canyon floor is Eroded Boulder House, which makes use of a large boulder as part of the roof.


View of several of the structures around the canyon


Closer view of Twin Towers and Eroded Boulder House


Tower Point


Another view of Tower Point


Hovenweep Castle, some of the best preserved structures at this site


Square Tower and Hovenweep House (across canyon)


Hovenweep House


Twin Towers

I have only a few more days here in Cortez. I have accomplished a lot during my stay, so I’m happy 🙂 A final image from my trip to Ouray on the Million Dollar Highway.


I love Colorado!


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