Explore a Ruined Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Ken explores some of the passages at the ruin of Lowry Pueblo. © Laurel Kallenbach

Ken explores some of the passages at the ruin of Lowry Pueblo. © Laurel Kallenbach

[May 2017 update: The Trump administration is placing 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.]

Along Colorado Highway 491, pinto and Anasazi bean fields line the road—as do spectacular sunflowers. (Dried Anasazi beans, sold as local souvenirs, are an heirloom variety grown from seeds found in ancient pottery.)

At the hamlet of Pleasant View, Ken and I followed Road CC nine miles (on asphalt and gravel) to Lowry Pueblo, just one of Canyons of the Ancients’ multitude of archaeological sites, most of which are unexplored.

This settlement was home to about 40 people in the late 1100s, and the stabilized masonry walls mark small rooms.

Lowry has one of the region’s largest kivas—47 feet in diameter—with floor stones laid in a decorative pattern. The signs tell about the various interpretations of the patterns, which supposedly tell a story.

There’s no gas or food in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, so pack food and lots of water. And be sure to have a hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt and pants, and plenty of sunscreen to shield you from the intense sun. Sturdy footwear and good socks will protect you from rocks and cactus.

What’s There: Lowry Pueblo is a small site with reconstructed ruins to explore. There are interpretive signs, brochures, a picnic table and pit toilets—but no water.

About Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Declared a National Monument in 2000, Canyons of the Ancients contains some of the most scenic and archaeologically 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 on October 18, 2008)

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

Digging into the Past at Crow Canyon

If, like me, you dream of being a real-life Indiana Jones, grab your fedora and trowel and head to Crow Canyon Archaeological Center just outside Cortez. This research and educational organization gives you hands-on experience—for a day or week—with real archaeologists at actual dig sites. Crow Canyon is one of the only scientific groups currently excavating in the Mesa Verde region.

Archaeologists use a screen and toothbrush to wash dirt from artifacts they find while digging.

I loved going into the archaeology lab to see how artifacts are washed, categorized and finally numbered. It’s exacting work—but it seems so important in helping piece together time.

Ken and I also got to visit a current Crow Canyon archaeological site. Archaeologists excavate trenches (2 feet wide by 10 or 15 feet long) and once they’ve recorded their finds, they refill the trench with the dirt they removed.

Crow Canyon offers several experiential programs:

  • Day Tours: You’ll visit an excavation site and go behind the scenes at Crow Canyon’s archaeological lab where you’ll see ancient artifacts and visit an ongoing archaeological excavation. Day tours (8:30 to 4:30) are held on Wednesdays and Thursdays from May through September. Lunch is included. Adults: $55; children (ages 10 to 17): $30.

    Archaeologist Grant Coffey points out layers in a trench excavation.

  • Adult Archaeology Research Week: Join a professional archaeological team and help uncover the past. You’ll learn to dig for and identify artifacts you find. In the lab, you’ll wash and catalog pottery and stone tools. All meals, lodging and transportation to dig sites included: $1,475 per person.
  • Family Archaeology Week: Plan your next family vacation around an Ancestral Pueblo archaeology adventure. Adults: $1,520; children (ages 10 to 17): $1,125.

For dates and information on Crow Canyon, contact 800-422-8975.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

One of the buildings at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center