San Juan River - June 2000

The purpose of this trip, originally, was to float down the San Juan River and view Anasazi ruins not visible from any other vantage point other than the banks of the San Juan River. The trip turned into much more, all of it interesting and fun. We did not take our Corvette on this trip, preferring to take our Oldsmobile Bravada because of its all-wheel drive capability and greater ground clearance. We wanted to be able to drive the rugged dirt roads that led to the more remote Anasazi Ruins at Hovenweep National Monument, and the BLM lands north and south of the San Juan River.

Goosenecks of the San Juan
Goosenecks of the San Juan

Flagstaff, Arizona

The gateway city to many destinations in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, Flagstaff is a peculiar town. This town has been the jumping-off point for many of our trips, primarily because it is approximately a 6 hour drive from our Southern California home. We usually leave at 5:30AM, stop in Barstow, California for breakfast and fuel, stop again in Kingman, Arizona for lunch and fuel, and arrive in Flagstaff in early afternoon. We can either continue on or find a motel for the night, depending on where we are going and how much time we have to spend.

Most people only see motel row, the stretch of Santa Fe Avenue/US 189/Historic Route 66 that runs along the Santa Fe Railroad. From a tourist perspective there is not much to see in Flagstaff itself. Most of the interesting places are at least a half hour drive from Flagstaff (Wupatki National Monument being the closest).

Bluff, Utah

We stayed at the Desert Rose Inn located on the western end of Bluff (population 290) on Highway 163. It is a very nice motel with friendly staff and great views of the surrounding countryside. You can purchase topographic maps of the surrounding country at the Recapture Lodge, just east on Highway 163. This is also a very nice motel. There are only four restaurants in Bluff, and two gas stations. But there are two grocery stores.

We made reservations to go rafting on the San Juan River with the nice folks at Wild Rivers Expeditions ( These folks conduct educational raft trips down the San Juan River. If you want the hooping-and-hollering, crush-the- beer-cans-on-your-head crowd that indulges in the white water rafting trips, look elsewhere.

We happened to pick a date for our trip when the San Juan River was at its lowest level in recorded history. This didn't really bother me much, since our goal was not to ride a wild river but to use the river as a means to get to the otherwise inaccessable Anasazi sites in the bottom of the San Juan canyon. As it turned out, the river was so low that we would have to carry the raft over rocks that during normal periods are white water stretches.

Wild Rivers offers several trips of varying lengths. We choose the one-day trip which includes stops at the Butler Wash Petroglyph Panel, River House cliff dwelling, lunch under the cottonwoods, and fossil outcrops of the Upper Canyon of the San Juan. This is a good choice for people with limited time. Total length of the trip is 26 miles which takes about 8 full hours.

If there is enough demand, and if the river is high enough, they sometimes launch from Montezuma Creek, 17 miles upstream from Bluff. The additional 17 miles adds one day to the trip length but includes more Anasazi sites, all of which are seldom visited.

We arrived bright and early for our trip and were issued USCG approved floatation gear. We launched the motorized rafts from the Sand Island recreation area and proceeded southwestward, towards Mexican Hat and the Goosenecks of the San Juan.

The scenery along the river is gorgeous. It is typical slick-rock country topology with some additional types of geologic features included. For example, it is possible to follow a line of oil-bearing shale which runs from around Aneth, Utah (not coincidentally site of the large Aneth oil fields), all the way to Mexican Hat.


Rare Big Horn Sheep come down to the banks of the San Juan to drink and despite their shyness it is possible to photograph them from the raft.

Big Horn Sheep
Big Horn Sheep
Big Horn Sheep
Big Horn Sheep

The river passes by the Butler Wash Petroglyph Site.

Butler Wash Petroglyph Site
Butler Wash Petroglyph Site
Butler Wash Petroglyph Site
Butler Wash Petroglyph Site

There are many Anasazi ruins along the canyon bottom, but the Wild Rivers Expedition tours stop at only one site. It's not clear whether the number of sites visited is set by the BLM, the NPS, the USFS, the CIA, or the KGB, but the reasoning is clear, if not frustrating. The more people who visit a site, the more impact on the site and the faster it will deteriorate. So to preserve sites, they must not be visited.

River House Ruin
River House Ruin
River House Ruin

Rest break
Navajo SEALs
Strata near Mexican Hat
Mexican Hat
Hauling out
The crew of U-571

Hovenweep National Monument, Cortez, Colorado

Not suprisingly, Hovenweep gets few vistors in the summer months. This is partly due to the temperature, and partly due to the fact that most maps show the road to Hovenweep as unpaved. In fact, the road is paved and is in excellent condition all the way from Utah Highway 163 to the tiny visitor center. The temperature was as-advertised, well into the 100's. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a floppy hat to shield you from the sun's UV and infrared energy.

Square Tower Ruins.

The first structure you see when you start the long trail is Hovenweep Castle. The trail winds around the upper end of the canyon to Hoevenweep House. View from Hoevenweep Castle towards Hovenweep House.
Square Tower and castle
Twin Towers
View up Little Ruin Canyon from the trail that crosses the lower part of the canyon for the return trip to the visitor center.

Boulder House

The northern outliers.

Highway 10, a graded dirt road, which heads north from the visitor center, leads to a turn-off which provides access to the more remote and less visited ruins that are part of Hovenweep. From the road at this turn-off you can reach Cuttthroat Ruin, Hackberry Ruin, and the Holly Ruin. We choose to visit the Holly Group Ruins in Keeley Canyon.

Not suprisingly, this site contains Anasazi dwellings built down in, as well as on top of the canyon.

Isolated Tower
Tilted Tower
The Holly Group
Sleeping Ute Mountain

Lowry Pueblo Ruins National Historic Landmark, Pleasant View, Colorado

Nine miles west of Pleasant View, Colorado, on US highway 666 is the site of Lowry Ruins. It can be reached by following Highway 10 from the Hovenweep visitor center and making a left turn on another dirt road which leads directly to the ruins.

Lowry Ruins main pueblo
Lowry Ruins
Lowry Ruins Great Kiva

Delores, Colorado

Anasazi Heritage Center on Colorado Highway 184.

A very nice museum is only part of the attraction at this superb site. There is also a rather extensive Anasazi ruin called the Escalante Ruins located on the hill behind the visitor center. If you make the trek up the hill you are rewarded with superb views of the surrounding countryside, including Mesa Verde, and Big Sleepimg Ute Mountain.

At the top of the hill is Escalante Ruin.

In each of these three panoramic views looking south from the Escalante Ruins you can see the hazy effect of air pollution.

This photo shows the Point, and Weatherill Mesa Panorama 1

This photo shows Mesa Verde, the town of Cortez, Colorado, and the eastern edge of "the Gap". Panorama 2

This photo shows the west side of "the Gap" and Sleeping Ute Mountain to the west Panorama 3


Located 19 miles south of Kayenta on US Highway 160 is the Navajo National Monument. It contains the Betatakin Ruins in Tsegi Canyon. Take the turn-off for Arizona Highway 564 to reach the vistor center.

Closeup of Betatakin
Tsegi Canyon

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, AZ

The name comes from the orange glow of the volcanic rock, which is the color of a summer sunset.

Sunset Crater Color
Sunset Crater Lava
Road to Wupatki

Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

Wuptaki is actually a series of Sinaguan ruins. It is not an Anasazi site. The ruins are spread out over a considerable distance.

Wukoki Ruin
Wupatki Pueblo
US 89 passing Black Mesa

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Last Modified: Sunday, June 25, 2000
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