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A Most Beautiful Success

By Dale Brech

After waving to Matt and the gang from a rock platform that overlooked the valley floor, Scott and I continued to make our way toward the ruins. We were the “under 40” crowd who had decided to keep going after we discovered our GPS coordinates of the Pueblo Canyon Ruins were incorrect. They were on the opposite side of the deep canyon that we were now hiking along. Given what we’d already hiked, we knew what remained was not going to be easy.

Leaves rustled in the distance.

I stopped. “Did you hear that?”

More rustling.

“There it is again!”

This time we heard enough to determine direction, looked across the canyon, and spotted the “noise” in a controlled tumble down a steep slope on the other side of the canyon.

“Bear!”

“Bear!” Scott shouted over the radio.

The bear had spotted us before we spotted him, and was making fast tracks out of there.  It was amazing how quickly he scampered on the other side of the cliff, given that the steep slopes only turned into tall drop-offs.

After failing at snapping a picture of the bear (but getting a lot of good shots of the trees that he scampered behind), Scott and I continued on.  

We also took a mental note: there may be bears in the ruins.

We still couldn’t see the apex of the canyon or any signs of a manmade bridge that would quickly take us to the other side of the canyon. So we continued to put one foot in front of the other.

Physically, this was challenging, but mentally, this was pure bliss. Cliff faces and rock spires stretched to the heavens. Cliff overhangs canopied the trail with millions of tonnage of rock awning. Fallen rocks created natural tunnels at areas where the ledge was wider. The cliff showed spectacular views to the river bottom a thousand feet below. More ruins across the canyon were coming into sight with every step. This was the ultimate Indiana Jones adventure, and we hadn’t even reached the transition to the north face cliff ledge or actually explored the ruins themselves.

However, I was thankful for two very important facts at this point: 1) a friend and his six year old son had not been able to join us on the trip. The hike is not a place for small children. Every foot placement was critical – in places, the trail was no more than 6” wide. And 2) for the weather. We had failed the first time when we tried the trail in the spring when it was raining. At that time, we had difficulty keeping the vehicles on the road in the wet and very slippery mud. This section of the trail would have been like Chutes and Ladders if it was wet, just with no ladders. The bear may have enjoyed that game better, though.

We could see the full set of ruins on the south face at this time. There were three sets of ruins, separated by a bit more than a hundred yards in between. The first set, or most westward, looked the most impressive. About eight visible sections could be seen, and all looked in very good shape. The last set, or eastward set, also appeared to have weathered the last 650 years very well. These were much smaller of maybe three or four apartments, and their doors and windows were still visibly intact.

The middle set, however, looked like it had fallen in. Some features were still distinguishable, such as the posts and walls next to the center. It appeared that we were a few centuries too late for the center section, though, as it now seemed to be reduced to a simple pile of boulders. We would discover shortly that this was not the case. These turned out to be the most impressive of the lot!

We continued up and down the cliff ledge trail. The ups were never more than 20 feet up, and the downs were never more than 20 feet down, which continued the full length of the southern side of the canyon.

Scott and I had time to discuss and postulate about the natives who lived here long ago.

“How did they get water?” I asked. It’s a very long hike to the river below. Even being in much better shape than us, this still would be challenging.

“How did they get food?” Scott replied. The cliff ledges were remote, so this would be a challenge like the water. Here and there, the cliff faces were wet, forming small puddles, which we thought might make enough water to sustain them if they captured it.

There was quite a bit of foliage at the areas where the trail widened, and soon we started running into some natural berries. It was conceivable that the natives didn’t need to go to the canyon floor every day to eat or drink.

Finally, we reached the top of another “up” section. Scott stopped in his tracks.

“We made it,” he said.

This was the first set of ruins, located on the north face of the cliff. It was right next to a big hole in the cliff, presumably a 20th century uranium mine. This set of ruins was almost non-existent. Worn by the weather and right next to a defunct mine, it was amazing that it still existed whatsoever. There were two walls left standing around about an eight foot by eight foot square room. The rest had been returned to dust. Since this was on the southern side of the canyon (facing north), it was a bit chilly, modest, and not all that close to the rest of the ruins. We figured this must be the mother-in-law’s house. We also spotted a mini-corncob that we let our imaginations claim was from the natives six centuries ago. The bear didn’t argue with us.

Having limited water, food, and energy, we carried on without exploring the mine. After all, a uranium glow wouldn’t compliment the color of the knee braces I was wearing.

Not much further down the path, one of our perplexing questions was answered with absolute certainty. The natives obviously got water from this nice, steady flowing waterfall at the apex of the canyon. Waterfall! Apex! Yeah, we found the end of the canyon.

The rest of the trail was a breeze from here, mentally. After all, we were more than half way now. The trail, overall, was much flatter on this side of the canyon. It was also much narrower in spots. At one point, we had to hold onto a small shrub to swing across portion where the trail wasn’t there – just a chute to the canyon floor. We could have jumped across had it been four hours ago, but we couldn’t trust our bodies when a slip meant you were bear food at the bottom of the canyon.

It was only perhaps fifteen minutes later that we came to the ruins on the west. As could be seen across the canyon, these indeed were in good shape. There were about eight or nine sections, or apartments, and each one had one or two rooms that went rearward under the cliff. The ledge was fairly wide at this point, so it accommodated the deep cliff dwellings easily. The rear-most rooms under the cliff appeared to be where they stayed warm. Black soot still covered the walls and ceiling. Tiny doors led from room to room, and Scott and I had to duck to get through. The adobe bricks were held up with posts and planks likely cut from the foliage on or near the cliff. This set of ruins looks like it had hosted multiple two story buildings. The second floors were long gone from all of the structures.

Only a couple minutes further to the east, we moved to the center set of ruins, and this is when we found our eyes had deceived us. Standing in front of us was a glorious three (maybe four?) story building, constructed of the indigenous rocks. This explained why we couldn’t see it from the other side. It blended in very well. Standing at the foot of it now, it was by far the best set of ruins of the whole bunch. The “tower”, if you will, only had a door on the bottom and a window on the second floor that faced the canyon. Otherwise, the canyon face wall was only rock. On the inside, wood beams still spanned from wall to wall, marking where floors once sat. The cliff side of the tower, or inside wall, was a vertical, clean faced cliff that stretched for the three or four stories of the tower before it reached the overhang of the cliff above.

Exiting the tower, there were still more two story apartments attached to the east. These also had the well protected wooden remains of the beams and some flooring. However, the furthest east most structures showed us what the original floor looked like. These ruins were another couple minutes along the path to the east, and were just a small set of ruins of three or so rooms. One structure still had the second floor hatching, showing small cuts of the tree forming the floor sitting upon medium size cross timbers.

Hopefully the residents had covered this with grass, though, as that floor did not look very comfortable to walk or sleep on. I had heard reports that this floor was still in place on the second floor, but when we were there, one side had already fallen.

We had lunch at 1:30 pm in this last set of ruins. As you could surmise if you have read this far, the view was spectacular. From this last outcropping of ruins we could see the entire canyon and valley to the east. It was a secure place for a settlement. Nobody would be going up Cherry Creek Canyon or Pueblo Canyon without being spotted from here. And it wasn’t a bad place to grab a bite and a rest either.

I must be truthful. I was exhausted at this point, and I think Scott was too. While we rode a euphoric wave of actually being in the ruins that we had worked so hard to get to, we also knew that it had taken us about 5 hours to get to this point. We knew we had to take a break so that we could rebuild some strength, but we were also nervous of the journey ahead. For this reason, I cannot actually tell you if the tower had three or four floors, or many of the other details ruins. We were taking it in real-time with every breath, and not actually expending much effort documenting what we were experiencing. Looking back at the pictures to help fill in some of the details, I admit, they don’t do it justice. Many are zoomed in too far – hey, here’s a timber; hey, here’s a wall – and don’t let you see the expanse of the full buildings. At the same time, the ruins blend so well into the cliff and surroundings that I found it difficult to capture what I was seeing anyhow.

The video ended up Blair Witch-style, in that we moved to quickly to actually gather the surroundings for an electronic device to record. But we were here, lost in history of 650 years ago. Gazing upon where they slept. Peeking upon where they communed. Losing our breath over the magnificent tower that we had thought was a pile of rocks just a few hours earlier. Feeling the warmth of the November sun as we sat, eating our lunch, silently rejoicing in the fact that we were here. At last. A most beautiful failure no more.

I could give you the details of the hike back out, and some of it would make you chuckle. But I rather wrap-up with the sense of awe that we felt while sitting and eating in the dining room of our brethren that sat here years before, gazing upon a most beautiful success.

This will go in my records as another “once in a lifetime experience”.

“I felt a wave of relief pass through me as Scott and Dale drove into the campsite just before dark. When they couldn’t reach me from the ruins, they had turned off their radio and forgotten to turn it back on.”
-  Matt

Click here for Part I - A Beautiful Failure!

Stay tuned for full hike details, video, etc.

Pictures from the Trip

Dale at the ruins

The ruins from across the canyon

The ruins from across the canyon

The ruins from across the canyon

Success! Coming up to the first set of ruins

Looking through a doorway of time

Incredible ruins

Ruins and the canyon

A sign next to an alternate trailhead

The view from the trailhead showing us where the trail leads

Scott at the ruins

The trail to the ruins

The trail goes under the boulder

The trail to the ruins

A small apartment

Very old corncob

Much of trail was narrow and cliffy

The waterfall at the apex of the canyon

A small trickle of water

The trail along the canyon walls

Scott looking through a hole in the wall

The ruins

Incredible ruins

Dale next to a large apartment

Partial flooring

Beautiful architecture and views

Scott along a tall wall

Post and beam

Ruins

Ruins

Ruins

Looking up at the floor from below

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