BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

The Quest for Yucca House

Visiting Yucca House National Monument has always been on my list of things to do in Colorado before I die. Yucca House, no doubt one of the most obscure of the 394 National Park Service sites in the country, is an unexcavated Ancestral Puebloan pueblo site in far southwestern Colorado. After a short visit to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, which was the hub of the region's Ancestral Puebloan activity about a millennium ago, a quick trip to Yucca House seemed ideal because Chaco armed me with a better understanding of what I might see there.

But getting to Yucca House isn't exactly as straightforward as getting to the Grand Canyon.

National Monuments, generally but not always created by presidential proclamation under the 1906 Antiquities Act, vary in size and stature and include the Statue of Liberty, Devil's Tower in Wyoming, the famous Muir Woods north of San Francisco, Fort Sumter in South Carolina and many dozens of others. In Colorado, more than 300,000 people visit the wild redrock canyons of Colorado National Monument  and its spectacular 23-mile Rim Rock Drive each year. There's also the sprawling Dinosaur National Monument, the massive 210,000 acre wilderness where the Yampa and Green Rivers converge in one of Colorado's most rugged, remote and spectacular gorges.

Then there's tiny Yucca House National Monument, which sits quietly behind at least two "no trespassing" signs on an unsigned dirt road literally in the front yard of a farmhouse.

It's the "no trespassing" signs that threw me off. The atlas we were using showed the route clearly, but when we reached the end of one dirt road, the only option was to turn down what looked like a gravel driveway passing through a freshly-planted field. Visitors are warned not to trespass, and we were left scratching our heads. Out came the iPhone and the Gaia GPS app, showing that yes, we're right on track, something we couldn't verify because the National Park Service's website was down and Wikipedia's route description was incorrect. So, we kept going and ended up in somebody's front yard. Not something we expected when attempting to visit one of America's national parks.

Across a fenced cow pasture from the yard was a sagebrush-covered mound surrounded by fencing with government-issue boundary markers attached. So, we parked the car on the grass next to another "no trespassing" sign, startled some mooing cows, opened the pasture gate and slogged across cow pie-strewn mud until we came to the fence and found this:

National monument or not, the message here is clear: The National Park Service doesn't want many people visiting Yucca House. It's open to the public, but it's a fragile historic site protecting a more or less pristine pueblo unmarred by archaeologists' prying tools. Managed by nearby Mesa Verde National Park, Yucca House is undeveloped with little more than a brochure available for interpretation. If the place were easy to find and on the beaten path, Yucca House would be looted and vandalized beyond recognition. It's fate would be similar, I imagine, to many of the petroglyphs at Chaco Canyon that have been vandalized and defaced so badly, it's sometimes difficult for a casual visitor to distinguish between a 1,000 year old petroglyph and a six month-old etching of some ignorant idiot's name.

So, I won't spoil the adventure. Part of the fun of visiting Yucca House for the first time is just getting there. The NPS provides directions to the monument on its website. Once you get there though, here's what you'll find:

Late May is a sublime season to visit Yucca House and the Four Corners region. Cactus flowers are blooming everywhere: