Public tours are being offered of a little-known ancient village at the head of Yellow Jacket Canyon.
The Archaeological Conservancy, based in Albuquerque, owns the private Yellow Jacket Pueblo ruin, which is not open to the public except for special tours. The Archaeological Conservancy is now offering free tours Sept. 17 and Oct. 8.
“It is really stunning, and probably the largest village in the region,” said site steward Barbara Stagg, who is leading the tours. “Besides great archaeology, there are also great views of the canyon and Sleeping Ute Mountain.”
The Pueblo III site was occupied between A.D. 1160 and 1280 and contains more than 1,500 ground rooms, 192 kivas, 27 towers, a Great House, Great Tower, Great Kiva and a possible reservoir, according to the conservancy.
An interesting feature is a 5-foot stone monolith believed to be a solstice marker that projected shadows across walls that are no longer standing. Four other similar-size monoliths that are no longer standing have also been found.
“Imagining how they used the monoliths is part of the experience,” Stagg said. “What kind of artwork may have been on the walls that interacted with the solstice markers?”
No large structures are still standing at the site, but the ground is littered with potsherds and rock artifacts. Visitors learn about the site during a two-hour tour that covers 1.5 miles. Visual depictions of the village are shown to help tourists imagine what life was like in the sprawling village, Stagg said.
“You’ll see plenty of artifacts, kiva depressions, toolmaking scatter, and there are some partial walls,” she said.
The Yellow Jacket site hasn’t been excavated. In 1930, according to the conservancy, the Great House was damaged when building stones were put through a rock crusher to make gravel for the highway being built between Cortez and Dove Creek.
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, of Cortez, conducted extensive mapping of the site in the 1990s, revealing the immense size of the village. Data from those excavations indicated that the village was occupied from the mid-A.D. 1000s through the late A.D. 1200s, which corresponds to the late Pueblo II through Pueblo III periods.
Tours of the Yellow Jacket site have not been widely publicized, and aren’t well-known. Controlled, small-group tours are a way for the conservancy to share sites it is preserving, Stagg said. Native American tribes with ancestral ties to the Yellow Jacket Pueblo are also given private tours of the site.
The Archaeological Conservancy owns 500 archaeological preserves in 46 states, many of which are in Colorado, said Jim Walker, Southwest regional director. Over the past 32 years, the conservancy has slowly acquired the 140 acres containing the Yellow Jacket ruin complex.
You can sign up for the tour of the site at the Anasazi Heritage Center, 27501 Colorado Highway 184, or by contacting Stagg by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited.