Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. National Monument in Colorado, United States

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

National Monument in Colorado, United States

Cortez, Colorado Photo © Larry Lamsa

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Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

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The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is a national monument in the southwest of Colorado. It protects a huge number – more than 6,000 – of significant archaeological sites in an area covering 176,056 acres. The monument was proclaimed in 2000 by President Clinton to preserve the largest concentration of archaeological sites in the United States, most of which are ruins from the Ancestral Puebloans (Wikipedia Article). It is managed as a so-called integral cultural landscape containing a wealth of environmental and historic resources.

There aren’t many roads through the monument and most of the ones that are present are unpaved and rather rough. The majority of the archaeological sites aren’t visible to the untrained eye and exact locations aren’t publicized. This is a place to explore on foot and with a map.


While the geological history of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument dates back hundreds of millions of years, the human history starts way more recently, at about 10,000 years ago. It was the Basketmakers, as the pre-Puebloan people were called, who first migrated into the area at around 1500 BC. Although they were mainly hunter-gatherers, they are also accredited with the first corn agriculture. The craft they excelled at, as their nickname suggests, was basketry.

Their architecture had developed from clusters of pit houses to square-roomed pueblo-styled villages by 750 AD. By then they had also mastered agriculture and pottery. By 1300 AD the Puebloans had migrated to the west, south and east because of various reasons, mainly agricultural. The regions to which they migrated are now known as New Mexico and Arizona.

Shortly afterwards the region was frequented by the Navajo and Ute (Wikipedia
	Article) peoples, who also left behind traces of their architecture and styles of living. The Spanish came in the 1500s and were followed by English speakers in the early 1800s.

Lowry Pueblo was excavated in 1926 and restored in 1965. Two years later it became a National Historic Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It became a National Monument in 2000.

Geography and Geology

The monument is located in southwestern Colorado, close to Mesa Verde National Park and about nine miles to the west of the town of Pleasant View. It is bordered by the Ute Mountain Reservation and McElmo Creek in the south, the Colorado-Utah border in the west, and canyons in the north and east.

Most of the area’s surface is gently sloping and fairly even, although it reaches heights of up to 6,700 feet. The surface rocks are sedimentary Cretaceous, which are covered by much younger sand and gravel. The area is also cut through by several canyons that exposed to underlying older rocks. The oldest rocks in the monument are exposed in the McElmo Canyon in the south; those rocks date from the Jurassic age.


The national monument’s main purposes are the protection of geological, archaeological and natural resources and land conservation. There are three wilderness study areas in the monument: Capone Canyon, Cross Canyon, and Papoose Canyon. Wildlife is abundant in the region and includes lizards, golden eagles; Mesa Verde night snakes, bobcats; peregrine falcons, and mule deer among many others.

Anasazi Heritage Center

The excellent Anasazi Heritage Center is the premier archaeological museum of the Ancestral Puebloans, also known as the Anasazi, in southwestern Colorado. It also features other native cultures from the region. The information center and museum houses exhibits on local history, native cultures and archaeology, a research library, a collection of more than three million objects and two 12th-century archaeological sites. It’s also the official visitor center of the national monument.

Lowry Pueblo

The Lowry Pueblo is the one and only developed touristic site within the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. It consists of eight kivas, forty rooms, a Great Kiva, interpretive signs, a toilet, picnic area and wheelchair-accessible trails.

Painted Hand Pueblo

Set on a boulder, the Painted Hand Pueblo is not excavated, but is made up of a standing tower and pictographs of hands on the rocks. This site is located in the backcountry and can only be reached by 4-wheel-drive. Further down the road lies the Hovenweep National Monument.

Sand Canyon Pueblo

Consisting of 420 rooms, 100 kivas and 14 towers, the Sand Canyon Pueblo is one of the largest prehistoric settlements in the entire region. It is located in Sand Canyon, which is a great area for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking, and can be reached with a sturdy car. There are no facilities.

Visiting the Canyons of Ancients National Monument

The Anasazi Heritage Center and the national monument itself can be explored all year round. It is open from 9 a0 feet to 5 p0 feet from March through October, and from 10 a0 feet to 4 p0 feet from November through February. Admission is $ 3.00 USD for adults from March through October and free for everyone from November through February.

How to Get There

The Anasazi Heritage Center is located on Highway 184 in Dolores. From there it is at least 22 miles to the nearest major archaeological site. Highway 184 connects to Route 491 in the west, which leads past all turn-offs to the sites.

Similar and Nearby Landmarks

Colorado is home to a few other national monuments: Hovenweep National Monument, Chimney Rock National Monument, and Dinosaur National Monument.

Other major landmarks in the state are Rocky Mountains National Park, the Garden of the Gods and the Red Rocks Amphitheater.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Apr 02, 2015

Pictures of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Cortez, Colorado - Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Cortez, Colorado - Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Photo by Larry Lamsa


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