Two easy ruins at the HQ of CotANM
The BLM's Anasazi Heritage Center, located outside of Cortez, Colorado, is headquarters for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Built during the construction of McPhee Reservoir which damed the Dolores River, the Anasazi Heritage Center was designed to be a repository of artifacts removed from sites now buried under McPhee Reservoir. When CotANM was created, the Anasazi Heritage Center was made into the main contact station for the monument. The Visitor's Center has a great museum and two Anasazi ruins on the grounds.
Dominguez Pueblo is a small multi-room pueblo at the base of the hill to the south of the AHC. Not much remains of it, just a few low walls to demonstrate to visitors that not all Anasazi habitations were giant sprawling complexes like Cliff Palace or Hovenweep. Most dwellings across the Great Sage Plain and Montezuma Valley, across which stretches CotANM, consist of small unit pueblos, just home to an extended family.
From the BLM's Anasazi Heritage Center: This small structure at the Anasazi Heritage Center sits at the base of a hill below the much-larger Escalante Pueblo. It probably was home to a family of of four to six people.
The Dominguez site has four rooms marked by low stone walls... all that remains of a roofed structure built about AD 1123 with poles, brush, and earth. The easternmost room appears to have been added after the first three were built. Just south of this room block is a dirt-walled kiva 11 feet in diameter. It was not possible to stabilize the kiva, so it was reburied to keep it intact.
With its blocky stonework and separate kiva, Dominguez Pueblo is a good architectural example of the local Northern San Juan branch of the Ancestral Pueblo culture.
Although it may seem small and plain, the site is significant because it shows that local people lived close to the Chaco-style Escalante Pueblo. Its proximity to Escalante, and their overlapping dates, suggest that the two settlements shared some community activities.
View this ruin from the path from the parking lot on the way up to the Heritage Center. Once inside pay the entrance fee and view the museum. It is well worth the admission price, as the museum has some great displays, including a wide variety of pottery and artifacts, a reconstructed pit house, and some "be an archaeologist" exhibits that can show you how to determine the makeup of sherds, how to read a stratigraphic column, etc.
Once you've seen your fill inside the museum, its time for the hike up to Escalante Pueblo. This trail is paved, but climbs 105 feet in 1/2 a mile. If you're not used to the altitude, this can be quite a "winder." The Anasazi Heritage Center again has some information about the pueblo:
Escalante Pueblo was a compact village on a hilltop overlooking the Dolores River. Archaeologists believe it was occupied three different times, based on tree-ring dating of the wood used in its construction. Ancestral Pueblo people built the main complex in AD 1129 and lived there for at least nine years. The Spanish explorers Escalante and Dominguez made note of this site in 1776 during their trek across the Southwest.
The architecture and masonry indicate that Escalante Pueblo was one of the northernmost settlements influenced by the culture of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, about 100 miles south. Some archaeologists speculate that such villages were part of an interdependent system spread across the Four Corners area. Escalante may have been a gathering place for religious or social activities of people in the smaller surrounding villages.
The pueblo is a rectangular block of about 28 rooms surrounding a kiva (a round subterranean room probably used for religious purposes). Other rooms were used as work areas, sleeping quarters, and storage. These rooms are larger than those typically found in the local region, and their walls were made of parallel faces enclosing a rubble fill core... both features typical of Chacoan construction. Lowry Pueblo is another nearby Chaco-style site.
About AD 1150, after a short abandonment, Escalante pueblo was briefly reoccupied by people from the local Northern San Juan branch of the Anasazi tradition. A final occupation, also by the Northern San Juan people, was very short and occurred sometime around AD 1200.
From the Pueblo, there is also a great view of McPhee reservoir, which is the reason for the AHC in the first place. If you feel like a swim the lake is just down the road from the AHC. While the trail itself is waterless, there is a water fountain at the base of the trail, as well as in the AHC itself. Make sure you fill your water bottles before climbing the hill.
After you complete the tour of the pueblos and museum, head back to your car at the base of the hill. If you're interested in exploring CotANM further, talk to the folks behind the front desk for some more ideas - they're very knowledgeable and will set you on the right track.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.