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A trail that once was...
Overview: The trail to Seventeen Room Ruin, more properly known as Casa del Eco, doesn't exist at the moment. That makes this hike interesting, if not downright impossible via the more normal access point. None the less, a description can be written.
Warning: The bridge on the trail is out. The trail passes by two Navajo homesteads - be courteous and respect their property.
History: In 1875 a small group detached from the famous Hayden Survey, which was exploring and mapping the American West, came across a large ruin tucked under a north-facing alcove just south of the San Juan River. They named the ruin Casa del Eco, and the mesa into which the alcove had been excavated Casa del Eco Mesa. This name was promptly forgotten or flatly ignored by future visitors and residents. It has alternately been called Sixteen House Ruin, Fourteen Window Ruin, and the most common (today at least) Seventeetn Room Ruin. Casa del Eco was a medium-size cliff dwelling, and likely dates from the late 1200's. Having between 14 and 18 rooms, but no easily delineated plaza, Casa del Eco would have housed 3-4 families for a couple of decades. The ruin has been extensively pothunted by local ranchers and farmers, dating back to the Hayden days, and I have found no documentation of formal excavation so its exact history can't be determined with any great certainty. One last important bit of history should be mentioned. To facilitate easy access from the non-Reservation side of the river, a foot suspension bridge was built at some point in the 20th century. This was the main access point for most visitors. In 2007, however, a large spring runoff season swelled the San Juan River and severely damaged the footbridge. It hung down into the river, and presented a hazard to downstream river navigation. To prevent this causing injuries or even fatalities, the bridge was cut loose from its abutments. This means that until and if the bridge is replaced, the only access to the ruins is via a raft trip launched from Montezuma Creek.
Hike: This hike will be described as if the bridge was still in place. However, at the time of writing, the bridge had not been replaced. It is anticipated by locals in the Bluff area that the bridge will be rebuilt. Until this occurs, however, hikers should be aware that their "hike" will actually start on the south bank of the San Juan River, at the old bridge abutment.
From the parking area in the Russian Olive and Tamarisk thicket on the north side of the San Juan River, Casa del Eco can be seen. Walk across the bridge spanning the San Juan River. The trail (really a road, for most of its length) begins a gradual climb towards Casa del Eco Mesa after it leaves the vegetation at the river's edge. A couple of Navajo settlements can be seen on either side of the trail, on the sandy plain between the river and the cliffs. Stay on the developed trail - do not trespass on their grazing lands or fields.
The trail rises up to the base of the cliff. There is a slight scramble to achieve the ledge that the ruins are located on. Oddly, Casa del Eco is an exception to the usual rule for prehistoric Pueblo cliff dwellings in that it faces north. This provides great views and photographic opportunities of the cliffs north of the river (which are also riddled with cliff dwellings), as well as the ruins themselves. Also being out of direct sunlight allows for great saturation in photos.
After you have finished exploring the ruins, return back down the trail to your waiting raft or (if the bridge has been replaced) to your vehicle.
Water Sources: The San Juan River flows near the start of the hike, but it is usually muddy and not drinkable without waiting a considerable amount of time to let the sediment settle. There is a seep in the Casa del Eco alcove, but flow is usually very low. Bring all you need.
Camping: No camping within the immediate area of Casa del Eco, due to the homesteads. There are campgrounds in Bluff, nearby. Dispersed camping on BLM land north of the river is also an option.
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