[May 2017 update: The Trump administration has placed Canyons of the Ancients National Monument under review for possible removal from the National Landscape Conservation System, which would endanger the monument’s irreplaceable, ancient archaeological sites.]
If you’re driving through Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwestern Colorado, don’t miss a sweet little ruin down a mile of dirt road off Road 10. (It’s not too far outside of Hovenweep National Monument, another enchanting site for prehistoric ruins in the Four Corners area.
My husband, Ken, and I bumped down the road (it can be a little rough) until we found the Painted Hand Pueblo trail leading to a lovely 13th-century Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) tower gracefully perched over the canyon.
We parked and then took the short ¼-mile hike. The beginning is easy, leading through piñon and juniper forest. Scrambling down the banded sandstone to reach the tower’s base was more challenging (I was glad to have sturdy hiking boots!). However, the view of the stacked-brick tower beckoned.
As we explored and enjoyed the tower, it was Ken who found and pointed out the faint shape of three white hands painted on rock—the reason for the ruins’ name. The lonely call of a hawk overhead got me wondering about the long-ago artist who left handprints handprint on this peaceful valley.
What’s There: Painted Hand has interpretive signs and brochures at its trailhead. There’s no water or toilets—and the road is rough. (We made it in our Toyota Camry, but if the roads are muddy, you might need a four-wheel drive.)
About Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Declared a National Monument in 2000, Canyons of the Ancients contains some of the most scenic and archaeological important land in the American Southwest. This unique, federally protected area—176,056 acres—contains the highest known density of archaeological sites in the United States. More than 6,000 ancient sites including cliff dwellings, kivas, and rock art have been identified.
For more information on the region, visit Mesa Verde Country visitor information bureau.
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
(originally published October 2008)
Read more about my travels in America’s national parks and monuments:
- Sea Kayaking in California’s Channel Islands
- Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Fossils Come Alive at Dinosaur National Monument
- 10 Reasons to Celebrate America’s National Parks
- Castles in the Utah Desert: Hovenweep National Monument
- Solar Power Lights Ft. McHenry Historic Monument
- Mesa Verde: An Archaeological Pilgrimage
- Sleep in a Sustainable Hotel in Mesa Verde National Park
- Treasures of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
- Explore a ruined pueblo: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument