An American Adventure: Part Six

Canyons of the Ancients

Initially, when I proposed this trip to Steve, I said I wanted to see “Canyonlands”. I had just finished reading another Ed Abbey novel, The Fool’s Progress, after having submerged myself in Desert Solitaire late last summer. What I began to realize as our journey went on is that the American West is full of canyons of many descriptions. The rock type, the elevation, the water speed and volume – lots of things effect how a canyon is formed and what kind of environment is created around it.

Our campsite in the Black Canyon was visited by mule deer (just as we were setting about making dinner – obviously they were not shy!) foraging for vegetation and shaded by pinyon pines and serviceberry bushes at an elevation of about 9,000 feet. Our next campsite was on B.L.M. (Bureau of Land Management) land near Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, one canyon west of Sand Canyon. We were on a rock outcropping surrounded by juniper and yucca at an elevation of about 6,500 feet.

Oh, but before we got down to that level, we drove through Telluride. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, it’s a swanky ski resort town. The storm the week before had left the mountaintops covered in white, while the spring green aspen leaves were bright in the sunlight. It was a truly spectacular drive!


Descending to drier, warmer temperatures near the Four Corners region brought a dramatic change in the landscape. Steve started getting really excited; this is the country of his heart – the high desert of the Colorado Plateau. He became enamored of this place more than 25 years ago while volunteering on archaeology projects. He seems to thrive in the heat, both physically and emotionally.

We scouted through BLM roads and discovered a campsite on the rim of this little canyon. This is public land. There is no fee for camping here. Cattle were grazing in the area, but this side of the dirt road didn’t have much grass. There were some trails for ATVs and dirt bikes in the area, too, but not near the rim. It was Monday, so weekend recreation was over; we saw only three vehicles in three days. There’s no running water and no latrine, but someone had already made a fire circle and there was plenty of juniper and Gambel oak to gather for firewood. This is just what we look for in dispersed camping.  


It’s ironic that most people think of the desert as uninhabitable. The truth is, this is where ancient peoples set up robust communities: pueblos. In the next two days, we visited some. And we enjoyed this place and its hospitality more than any other this trip. 

6 thoughts on “An American Adventure: Part Six

  1. Awesome Priscilla. Your American adventure series gives the essence of both “place” and “experience.” Thanks for this. I’ll come back later to your previous posts because I want to savour this. 🙂 Cheers.

    • I saw a documentary on Ed with a panel discussion of some of his “Monkey Wrench” colleagues at the Wilderness Conference. I’d not known about them before, but was instantly charmed. Late to the party, but a definite fan for life now.

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