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A hike to Indian Cave

CUCHARA — Just north of Cuchara and just over the ridge top, on the east side of the Hogback (aka the Dakota wall) is a small dwelling, locally known as Indian Cave. Recently, a group of about 30 adventurers participated in a guided hike to the cave. The trip was sponsored by the Huerfano Historical Society and led by retired school teacher Bruce Johnson. Also on the hike was John Anderson, who gave a presentation this past weekend at La Veta’s Francisco Crossing on Ute Indian prayer trees. After a brief overview by Johnson, the hikers, ranging in age from one who proclaimed, “I’m six and a half,” to some who were 741⁄2, the hikers headed out from the Cuchara Community Center. The hike was short, often steep, and for the most part, off trail. We were timber-bashing. Branches poked, roots snagged feet and rocks provided stumbling blocks as the group appreciated wildflowers and, according to Anderson, some “possible” Ute prayer trees. After being “temporarily displaced,” the entourage scooted over the ridge into the White Creek drainage arriving at Indian Cave just as sprinkles greeted them. The cave is really more of a

deep overhang. Ancient smoke stains flow skyward from the cave floor to its lip some 20 feet above. Black, shiny, tar-like bat guano accents the cave walls and ceiling. A lone bird’s nest rests on a small outcropping. The cave is situated on San Isabel National Forest land, and although removing artifacts from public lands is illegal, a makeshift sifter screen (used for finding things like arrowheads, pottery, etc.) with wooden handles was on site. A Lamar rancher with the group was astute enough to recognize some grinding stones (used to process nuts, grains, and seeds) and placed them where the cave wall meets the floor for others to view. A fire-ring had been built but was obviously made in more recent years. Unfortunately the cave has no Native American petroglyphs or pictographs. Even more unfortunately, the cave walls were scarred with numerous examples of “modern American” graffiti, as previous visitors felt the urge to place their names, drawings and initials for others to admire. The cave was originally visited and excavated by the famed anthropologist E.B. Renaud, who led numerous expeditions to south central and southeastern Colorado in the 1930s and 40s. Renaud’s work notes the cave was used by Ute Indians, who dominated the region for a time. Most likely the cave was shelter needed during summer hunts. As the light rain stopped, the current hunters, in search of knowledge rather than game, departed the cave. Heading toward more modern dwellings, several hikers conversed about what life must have been like for the Ute hunters.