Discover Painted Hand Pueblo: Canyons of the Ancients

Underneath the rocky overhang of Painted Hand Pueblo is the faint, painted outline of a hand that gave this ruin its name. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Underneath the rocky overhang of Painted Hand Pueblo is the faint, painted outline of a hand that gave this ruin its name. ©Laurel Kallenbach

[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:

10 Reasons To Celebrate America’s National Parks

Did you ever stop to think that you own a park? That’s right: American citizens own the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains and the Everglades—and it’s time to celebrate!

There are still several days left in National Park Week (April 20–28, 2013) to discover the country’s most spectacular scenery, historic landmarks and cultural treasures. This week, admission to all 394 national parks is free.

Mesa Verde, in southwest Colorado, is one of my favorite national parks. Its cliff dwelling, built by Ancestral Puebloan tribes, inspired my love of archaeology. © Laurel Kallenbach

I’ve been enjoying those parks all my life. My parents took my brother and I camping and hiking in national parks from Acadia to Zion from the time we were old enough to ride in a papoose. I’ve been deep inside Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave and toured the battlefields of Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge.

But National Park Week isn’t the only time to appreciate and support the national parks. All year round, you can visit and even volunteer in the 84 million acres of nationally owned land.

Here’s how America’s national parks make the world a better place:

1. Conserve wild lands for generations to come.

2. Preserve historic landmarks of national interest.

3. Protect ecosystems and biodiversity.

Iconic Half-Dome in California’s Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service

4. Provide spaces for outdoor recreation (there are more than 13,000 miles of trails on both land and water).

5. Offer recreational benefits that improve health, boost energy and get people outside in nature.

6. Are sources of natural sounds, clean water, and fresh air.

7. Provide free Junior Ranger programs that encourage kids to learn about nature—including plants, birds and animals—and environmental stewardship in the parks and at home.

8. Offer Electronic Field Trips, educational tools for classroom use that teach students about a national parks they might never get a chance to visit otherwise. Examples: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Manzanar National Historic Site, and Gulf Islands National Seashore.

9. Train high school aged leaders in the science and effects of climate change through an immersion experience in national parks via its Parks Climate Challenge program.

10. Are repositories of nature’s beauty.

Yorktown Battlefield National Park, in Virginia, celebrates the final battle in the American Revolution. © Laurel Kallenbach

Hit the Road and Help the Parks

You can actually support the national parks just by traveling—if you book your next trip at NationalParks.org.

Get out and discover something new about your 394 national parks. Whether you prefer a 20-mile backcountry hike in Yosemite or a leisurely stroll around Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, moving outside is good for you and offers a chance to explore these places you own.

Remember: This land is our land!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels in America’s national parks and monuments: