Painted Hand Pueblo

Round Trip Distance: 0.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5965 - 6042 feet
Cellphone: 1-4 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Painted Hand
Fee: none
Attractions: Ancestral Puebloan Ruins, rock art

The Painted Hand Pueblo is located in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. The small village consisting of about 20 rooms was constructed around AD 1200. The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument comprises over 6,000 excavated sites on over 164,000 acres of land managed by the BLM. The best location to begin exploring the monument is at the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores, Colorado. There you will find information about sites you may want to visit as well as maps, brochures and a top notch museum.

Most of the sites in the Canyons of the Ancients and the Hovenweep National Monuments are only causally marked which leaves it to the visitor to do a little research to find them. To get to the Painted Hands trailhead from either Cortez or the Anasazi Heritage Center take Highway 491 to Pleasant View. Just east of Pleasant View turn west on Montezuma County Road BB which is marked with a sign for Hovenweep. Begin measuring your distance from this turnoff. Follow BB Road to Colorado Highway 10 (about 5.7 miles) and continue following the Hovenweep signs on CO 10. Turn left onto Road 4531 where there is a kiosk with an area map. The Painted Hand Pueblo trailhead is about 1 mile down this road. A high clearance vehicle is recommended because of a few rocky sections of road. If you are in the family car you could park at this point and hike the mile to and from the trailhead or perhaps bring a mountain bike and ride it. The upper trailhead for Cutthroat Castle, which is a Hovenweep site, is also on this road just under a half mile past the Painted Hand trailhead. The website for Hovenweep has a good map to printout and bring with you that shows their sites.

The ruins can be seen just under the rim of the cliff to the northeast of the trailhead. An easy trail leads around the rim to the area above the ruins.

As the trail approaches the edge of the mountain it begins a counter clockwise loop. The little hands burned into the posts seem to suggest taking the right fork.

The trail gets a little primitive from this point on. There are a few rock shelfs to scramble down to get over the rim and at one point there is a narrow slot about waste deep to slip through.

The main tower is built upon a large outcrop of rock. When viewed from the opposite side you can see that it also had a dwelling beneath it. The stones that were once part of the tower and its lower room are strewn all around the boulder.

The trail continues to the east from the tower. The trail is well marked and easy to follow but there is some loose rock and scree.

A few ruins can be seen along the cliff as you continue along the trail to the remains of another tower and a multi level dwelling. Looking at the side of the cliff you can see several holes that were notched into the rock for logs that may have separated 2 different levels.

Near the far wall you will see the faint remains of a painted hand.

On the outside of the far wall are some faint petroglyphs. The brochure states that: "the figure with the upraised arms is similar to Fire Clan representations of Maasaw, the creator that carries a torch and is still taking care of the universe." - Wilton Kooyahoema, Fire Clan, The Hopi Tribe

A few pottery shards are laid out upon a rock in a pile of rubble. It is illegal to remove artifacts and the area is heavily patrolled. It is a very nice touch to be able to visit a site and see items such as this that have been there for hundreds of years.

The trail continues past the last ruin and climbs back up the cliff. The climb up seems much easier than the descent was at the other end.

It is very surprising at first to be getting 5 bars of cellphone signal in such a remote area. Perhaps it is because they want to make it easy for people to report any looting or vandalism and if they can call from here the BLM and National Park Service might be able to catch the culprits red handed. The Painted Hand site is a short hike but if you begin your day at either the Anasazi Heritage Center or the Hovenweep Visitor Center by the time you visit Lowry, Painted Hand, Cutthroat Castle, Horseshoe/Hackberry, Holly and the Square Tower you will have filled out a full and rewarding day. To get even more from the visit you might pay attention to details such as the type of masonry work. Are the stones more flat and narrow or do they look thick and rounded like a loaf of bread. It is fun to find similarities with various sites and to spot variations at specific sites that might imply different periods of construction. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.