Ismay Rock Shelter

Round Trip Distance: 0.3 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4892 - 4963 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 30 mins.
Trailhead: Ismay Trading Post
Fee: none
Attractions: Indian rock shelter, petroglyphs, pottery shards

The Ismay Rock Shelter is located just north of the Ismay Trading Post which is almost on the Colorado/Utah state line. The Ismay Trading Post was built in 1921 by John and Eleanor Heffernen Ismay back when County Road G, that runs through McElmo Canyon, was so rough that the drive into Cortez, Colorado, 30 miles east, was impractical just to pick up a few supplies. The trading post and its proprietors have been well thought of and respected throughout the years by everyone in the area.

To get to the rock shelter turn north into Yellow Jacket canyon on the east side of the trading post. A few hundred yards into the canyon a faint path can be seen leading up the hill to a large boulder near the crest. There are some sections of private land in this area but this particular spot seems to be on BLM land which should make it part of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument although there are no signs in the area.

Rock shelters are quite common throughout the southwest. Some of them probably date back to archaic times. The Ismay Rock Shelter is particularly interesting for several reasons.

A pile of willows that may have been used for a sleeping mat take up a portion of the available space.

Numerous petroglyphs adorn the face of the large boulder. Many of the etchings look very similar to those found elsewhere. Note the concentric circles and spiral. There is also a symbol that is sometimes called a 'Homecoming' symbol that is made of 3 connected semi circles. Long scribe lines run from one side of the boulder to the other. The meaning of symbols vary between groups and any interpretation is mostly speculative.

The backside of the lower boulder that forms the immediate roof of the shelter also has engravings. These are easy to miss as they are facing away from you as you approach the site.

There are numerous pottery shards in the area that appear to be of an older style none of which showed signs of any paint or decorations.

A few mud nests from some cliff swallows cling to the rough portion of the large boulder.

The Ismay Rock Shelter and petroglyphs are more of a pit stop than a hike but it is a very interesting site to visit if you happen to be passing through McElmo Canyon on your way to Cortez or Hovenweep and it is well worth the short climb up the hillside. Be sure and buy something at the trading post if it happens to be open. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.