The Sand Canyon Pueblo is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument and there are two places to catch the trail. The best Sand Canyon Trail starting point is well marked and very easy to find on County Road G, just southwest of Cortez, Colorado. The second option is the Sand Canyon North Trailhead, which is a bit more difficult to find and the hike into the canyon from this starting point is more strenuous as well. The roads can be confusing in this area, so the best way to pinpoint the location of the north trailhead is to start the venture at the Canyons Of The Ancients Visitor Center where detailed maps of the park are provided.
Upon arrival at the Sand Canyon North Trailhead, it is best to read the signage before heading into the deep woods. The main pathway connects with the Sand Canyon Trail downhill on the floor of the canyon. The ascent is fairly steep and there are rock outcrop obstacles to contend with, along with the deep juniper and piñon forest. In fact, the forest is so thick, that it becomes difficult to keep one's own bearings, especially after taking a few steps off the trail. Getting lost in this place is very easy to do, so packing a GPS device with a bread crumb trail feature will ensure a safe trek. Packing plenty of water and snacks will be necessary too, because the entire Sand Canyon Trail is about seven miles long. Just getting to the ancient pueblo will require trekking a few miles through rough terrain, so be sure to stay hydrated in this high elevation to ensure a pleasant experience.
There also is a spur trail that heads to the right from the North Sand Canyon Trailhead starting point. This little side trail is is featured in the photos of this article because very few other resources mention that it exists. Another reason why only the spur trail is focused upon is because I highly suggest starting the Sand Canyon Pueblo Trail at the south trailhead on County Road G, simply because it will be a better overall experience. The woods on the north side are thick, hot and sweaty, especially during the summer season and this is reason enough to give it a second thought!
The spur trail immediately goes to the right of the North Sand Canyon Pueblo Trail and heads right into the deep woods. It only takes a few steps into the thicket to encounter the first evidence of an ancient civilization. There is literally one stone block rubble pile after another in this section of woods and each is the remnant of an ancient structure. None of these pueblo sites have been restored and they lie in state. Some of the stone block piles have been excavated while others have been ransacked by looters. The foundations can be seen in some places, but most of these ancient structures are in total shambles, so imagining what they originally looked like is very difficult to do. As a rule of thumb, the structures on the high ground tended to have utilitarian purposes and some served as defensive lookout posts, so noting how they are positioned will provide clues.
This little spur trail does get some traffic so it is fairly easy to follow at first, but the further one goes, the more difficult it is to see any traces of the path. The path does run just beneath the canyon ridge line toward the end and there are some nice panoramic views. As mentioned earlier, taking a few steps off-trail will leave a hiker completely lost in these woods, so it is best to only go where other footprints exist. The Sand Canyon North Trailhead Spur certainly is an interesting little venture, especially if ancient native archaeology is your cup of tea!
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