Monday, July 14, 2014

Coal Bed Canyon, the Lower Section.

Roy and I were finally able to get out, get back to the junction of Coal Bed Canyon and Monument Canyon (mile mark 8.5), and continue down CR 341 to the lower section of Coal Bed. 4-wheel drive is a must, but even that won't help you once you get to the 17.8 mile mark and I'll show you why later on.  On the map, follow the bright red highlighted road; looks like it'll go straight through to Montezuma Canyon Road....we'll see about that later on too,

Alright then, we're at mile mark 8.5 and taking off to the right to continue along CR 341.  This is another lovely, scenic drive...'s also a paradise for ATVers.  There is an ATV trail at mile mark: 10.3, 10.8, 11.2, 11.3, 11.6, 11.8, 12.8 (following the fence line), 13.2, 13.7, 14.7, 15.2, 15.3 and lets just say that this lower section of CR 341 has numerous ATV trails.  Yep, we stopped marking them down after the twelfth one.

A little description I found about Coal Bed Canyon, "COAL BED CANYON (San Juan County) originates near the small agricultural community of Northdale in Dolores County, Colorado. It drains southeast into Montezuma Canyon. Coal beds are exposed in the canyon", hence the name.  Now as we drove along, we did see many piles of black colored stone and indeed wondered if this was the exposed coal.  There were also many interesting groupings of huge boulders; this must be a geologist paradise out here!

Table Top Summit is along this road, not to be confused with Table Top Mountain in Summit County; doing research can be stressful when two places, in the same state, are the same name.  Table Top did not receive its official name until 1980 and is also known as "High Butte".

At mile mark 17.8 we came to a split in the road and while both start out fine for a 4 wheel drive vehicle; well, you'll see what I mean.

First we took the trail to the right, but were only able to go one mile before the trail became an ATV/Hiking only trail.  For us to keep going forward would have meant breaking an axle on the potholes or huge rocks; definitely NOT on our to-do list.  There was an interesting rock formation at this point though; sort of looks like a giant hand with fat fingers giving us a huge high five. 

Funny story goes with this shot; now I've come into the habit of checking the ground before I get out of the vehicle or walk too far from it.  Falling on uneven ground, landing in a prickly bush, or stepping on cow patties is not a good thing.  I'd just gotten out of the vehicle and taken only a couple of steps when Roy heard me shout, "Oh hell no!" and jump back up into the SUV, slamming the down behind me.  "is it a bee?" he asked.  I took a few photos with the zoom lens on and then showed him what had made me so excitable....

Common Kingsnake
At the time, we both did not know what kind of snake this was, but later on identified it as the Common Kingsnake; nonpoisonous, but they will strike if provoked.  So what does Roy do, gets out of the vehicle, goes a little closer to it and says, "I think it's dead.", to which I reply, "Well don't expect me to get out and poke it with a stick!!!"  To be truthful though, I was a bit excited that I had finally seen a snake in the wild; I had no intention of playing with it, but seeing it was a huge thrill.  By the way, see that little white dot on its head; nature's way of giving it a defense mechanism while it's sleeping by making it look as if it's awake.  I still was NOT going to poke it with a stick!!!

Back track to the main road and taking the trail to the left; we stopped a little way in so I could take this shot as the scene looked so pretty.  What I found out later on was that in 1875, William Henry Jackson had taken a photo of the same area while part of the government geological survery team.  At that time there were Anasazi ruins visible in the area, but overgrowth and cattle have more than likely destroyed them.

Original 1875 Photo by Willian Henry Jackson: Confluence of Coal Bed Creek and Montezuma Creek.

Now this next photo is entitled, "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here Without an ATV" and we should have foreseen that this was a warning of what may happen.  It didn't happen to us, but very well could have.

A mile down the trail seems to disappear, but no, it just takes a slight dip downward and then continues on past a cattle water tank.  The trail is a bit rougher, but nothing we couldn't handle; the scenery was getting more and more spectacular.  Then we finally saw it, could it truly be?  Yes, Montezuma Canyon Road!

I was going to be able to add another road to my series, "All Roads Lead to Montezuma Canyon Road", so continue on we did down a steep section of trail that was also partially blocked by, what appeared to be, a landslide.  We made it around the boulders fine and stopped for a spectacular viewing of the canyon below us; so beautiful !

The peak of Rocky Top can be see in the far upper right which is near to Three Kiva Pueblo

Looking downward, Roy estimated we were about 200 feet up; so close and the adrenaline was pumping high.  Back into the SUV, around a corner and slam on the brakes for what we saw before us.  A trail, but no trail that our vehicle would ever make it down; potholes, missing section of trail, huge stones.  The only way down was hiking or on an ATV; the SUV would get stuck in a pothole, break an axle, or worse yet, tip over and roll down the 200 feet to the canyon floor below.  I actually stood there and cried; we were so close, just within reach of Montezuma Canyon Road and now had to turn back.  This was heartbreaking!

The drive back was a mixture of sad and mad, but soon the scenery had our emotions soothed out again and plotting out our next adventure.  There are many more roads to explore that may or may not lead to Montezuma Canyon Road, we're going to find out which.

Mary Cokenour


  1. Great pics and description. Going there this summer. Was in the area for ruins going back to the 60's with my parents... Been looking up the ruin's stuff and coal bed is actually known for ruins but most has been washed away. How far were the "ruins area" from the Montezuma Canyon road? We hiked through when I was a kid (mid teens) and saw lots of "tells" and the rains had washed some out... My mom found turquoise beads still in a round shape like a bracelet in the corner of a washed out structure. Not supposed to take, but the next rain was going to take them all anyway and it was the late 1960's. I'm trying to figure out where I found a "citadel" at the junction/confluence of one of the side canyons in the mid 1970's (1976ish) and ran across your piece here. I'd just come out of the Marines and was still in that mindset so id'd a small hill at the confluence of one of the side canyons thought it would have made a good defensive site and found walls at the top. I'm trying to locate it again...

    1. Thanks for sharing your life, and adventures, with me. Any ruins we found, I made sure to put a mile markers on the Montezuma Canyon Road map which is on another blog post. As to ruins, we didn't find any in Coal Bed, but there's so much area we still have to explore.

    2. I was rereading some of your posts, for an upcoming visit back to this area this coming spring, and thought I could add some insight on this thread. The photo you took that closely resembled the angle with which William Henry Jackson was actually taken from a spot closer in your image, atop the mesa in the center of the wash. So, never-fear, you can quench your curiosity, and go check it out! I visited the site he photographed with my twins last October. It's one of the largest sites in the state, and that line you see going north in his photo is a still-standing line of massive monolithic stones that stretch in a line for 200 feet, and had a wall built between them almost like massive posts. The circle, left-center of his photo is still present at the site as well. The large structure in the foreground of his photo is still present but I saw no evidence of any walls that existed in his photo. It's a gigantic pile of stones now that you can't miss once you cross the wash into the site. The mesa top he took the photo also has many fallen structures, and some intact , low walls. The ascent to climb the mesa is a fun adventure to find the path and stairs built by the ancestral Puebloans, as the only way to access the top. One boulder, sitting alone near the wash, on the north side, away from the main site about 50 feet, is the only place there seems to be petroglyphs. It's a VERY impressive site, and due to erosion (like was mentioned earlier) a field team from BYU has spent the last couple years up there trying to manage the site and try to ease the erosion, and do some test excavations quickly, as this site may be washed away before it is ever truly studied.

  2. Jacques, thank you so much for this information. It has been a long time since we have been adventuring, and we truly need to get back into it. If you happen to come into Monticello, stop at the Exxon, between 11pm and 7pm, Sun thru Thurs, and say hello to my husband. He too is happy to know that folks are keeping my blog alive. Thank you again.

    1. If I'm not mistaken, I think me and my twins loaded up on fried goodies a couple times that week at that Exxon. I'll have to commit that to memory. I was an avid hiker and explorer in Yellowstone for several years, until one hike off-trail backcountry hike in Yellowstone I came across some old wikiups and tipi rings. That was about 5 years ago and it led me to fall in love with 4 Corners. Your blog has been really helpful with waypoints to find access to places I'm wanting to check out. It's a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Open-Air Museum place, and I love it.