Rabbit brush and sage go to seed; cottonwoods afire, preparing for winter. The sun warms the jumbled blocks of boulders that line the shallow, wide canyon. Ancient ruins, fragile and exposed, lean against canyon walls. Black on white and corrugated shards litter the ground. On one rock I find three deeply etched spirals of the Basket Makers. Into the large canyon complex I walk, obeying the pull, the call, of Cross Canyon, attending to its story.
Debra Van Winegarden,
The proposed wilderness includes both Cross Canyon and Cahone Canyon Wilderness Study Areas. The canyons comprise the northwest corner of the Canyons of the Ancients, proclaimed a National Monument by President Bill Clinton in June 2000.
The steep canyon
rims drop abruptly from surrounding mesas into 300 to 900-foot
deep canyons. Inviting pools and waterfalls fill canyon bottoms
lined by graceful cottonwood trees. Cross Canyon contains a lush
desert riparian zone.
The long riparian canyons formed by the two WSAs provide a haven for wildlife and were a source of sustenance for Anasazi Indian inhabitants who lived there between 450 and 1300 A.D. The ruins and artifacts left in this area are everywhere, in concentrations of 40 to 60, and occasionally 100, sites per square mile, making it the most dense collection of cultural resources anywhere in America. Undisturbed Cow Mesa attracts particular attention from archaeologists as it was never chained to tear out pinyon-juniper forests. Undisturbed landscape and extensive Anasazi sites make the natural setting of this particular area scientifically priceless. A complete inventory of these sites does not exist, but many are eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. An alarming number of sites suffer
from vandalism. Wilderness designation would provide protection by limiting access to horseback or foot.
Kivas and small storage structures are hidden among the rocks and cliffs. Ruin Canyon holds an intact square tower similar to those found at Hovenweep National Monument. The off-chance of discovering rock art on canyon walls or pieces of pottery in the dirt makes exploring these isolated canyons exciting and mysterious.
Cross Canyon would
fill an ecological void as a representative of the Great Basin
Sagebrush ecosystem, an ecosystem not yet included in the
National Wilderness Preservation System, and of the pinyon-juniper
ecosystem, of which there are only two representatives in the
wilderness system in Colorado.
These canyons possess a rare combination of scenic beauty, remoteness, and archaeological value. Cross Canyon is both a culturally significant and unique addition to the wilderness system.
The USGS mineral report for the area indicates low potential for uranium, the likely target of mining claims.
Numerous pre-FLPMA oil and gas leases occur within the area. There has been no development of these leases to date within the WSAs. As the leases expire, BLM will allow future leasing only with no-surface-occupancy stipulations. BLM's management policies indicate an awareness of the area's fragile nature, both ecologically and archaeologically, but fall short of the complete protection afforded by wilderness designation.
There is no
commercially valuable timber in the area. Both WSAs are closed
to motorized recreation. Portions of three cattle grazing
allotments exist in the two WSAs, totaling about 1,415 AUMs.
These offer no conflict with wilderness designation.
The stream in Cross
Canyon flows briskly year-round and is fed by numerous springs.
BLM holds water rights to many of these springs, including a 2.5
gallon-per-minute right for the spring in the middle of Ruin
Canyon. The only upstream water rights consist of a couple of
conditional and abandoned diversions in the amount of 1-2 cfs,
and several developed springs.
The proposed wilderness encompasses all of Cross Canyon, running for approximately 20 miles from the Utah state line to the private land at the canyon head near Cahone. Another 23 miles of major tributaries that contain substantial ruins or wilderness values are also included within the proposed wilderness.
All of Cross Canyon
WSA and Cahone Canyon WSA are included, as well as the roadless
portion of Cross Canyon which separates the two WSAs. The
boundaries of this roadless addition of 2,800
acres are defined by the rim of the canyon. Its inclusion would minimize management problems by preventing future vehicle access on old roads and would create one intact, topographic unit protecting all of this unique canyon ecosystem.
citizens added approximately 700 acres in McLean Basin and 200
acres along the south rim of Ruin Canyon.