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The Monarch Pass Game Drive

High atop the Continental Divide, near Monarch Pass, on the eastern margin of the Upper Gunnison Basin, are the prehistoric remains of an intriguing and innovative hunting method employed by ancient tribes.

The Monarch Pass Game Drive was an ingenious system of low boulder walls, hunting blinds and ambush pits designed to lure big game to waiting hunters at altitudes ranging from 11,520 to 12,020 feet. The hunters hid in concealment, waiting for the right moment to launch a coordinated attack using spears and bow and arrows.

Game animals such as bison, deer, elk and mountain sheep were driven into the rock “funnels” by women and children where the game eventually found itself with nowhere to go, making for easy targets for the waiting hunters.

Photo by Mike Rosso

The kill were butchered on-site and the meat was carried to nearby camps for preparation and consumption. Some of the meat was dried to make jerky or was mixed with berries and seed and pounded on a rock anvil to make pemmican. The hides, hair, antlers and bones were used to make covering for huts, clothing, cordage and tools, leaving little left for scavengers.

There are 12 drive sites identified along the divide ridge and many of the stone walls are still visible to this day. Game trails also have been found along Colorado’s northern Front Range.

Radiocarbon dating and projectile points found at the Monarch sites suggest the drive was used for thousands of years (possibly from 3000 BC to AD 1800) by various prehistoric cultures. Lithic scatters and evidence of campsites have been found at the sites, providing additional evidence of the hunting grounds.

The intricacy of the drive system and its location on the crest of the Continental Divide illustrate the sophistication and determination of prehistoric man in procuring the vital necessities of life while limited to stone tool technology.


The game drive system is accessible only by foot, horseback or mountain bike. It is located north of the U.S. Hwy. 50 crossing of Monarch Pass, approximately 20 miles west of Salida.

From the east side of the pass, take Old Monarch Pass Road, FS 237, for about a mile. On your right is a gated road leading into the Monarch Ski Area. Park here and you will see a sign for the Continental Divide Trail which parallels the gated road. You are now within the boundary of the ski area. The trail ascends to the top of the Panorama lift and continues along the Great Divide ski run. As the trail leaves the ski area boundary, there is a sign which designates the Continental Divide Trail, which also overlaps the Colorado Trail and the Crest Trail. Continue on the trail for about another mile or so and you will see a metal interpretive sign for the Game Drive on the right side above the trail. If you climb up a bit further, you can look down upon the drive grounds and make out the remains of the walls.

It’s about a six-mile round-trip hike from the gated road on Old Monarch Pass to the site. Make sure and bring sunscreen, plenty of water and rain gear, as the high mountains can be unpredictable at all times of the year.

As this is a protected site, please don’t disturb the area or remove any artifacts from it.