The Four Corners Region has always been more than just a place where two straight lines cross on a map. A visitor can experience four completely different environments in the big map quadrants and that is not all. The Four Corners region is a place of great cultural significance and a lot can be learned about native heritage in this place. Thousands of ancient structures are located in this region and many modern tribal nations share a common heritage in this spiritual place.
A good Four Corners option for learn about local cultural heritage is Hovenweep National Monument, which is located in Utah just across the Colorado Border. Some of the Hovenweep satellite pueblos are actually located inside the boundaries of the neighboring Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument, so out of convenience, it is best to plan on touring both of these parks while in the general area.
The Horseshoe, Hackberry and Holly Pueblo Groups are all located within the boundaries of Canyons Of The Ancients. The best place to find directions to these satellite pueblos is the Hovenweep Visitor Center. The park brochure map will prevent getting lost, which is easy to do because there are several unmarked gas fracking roads in this area. Hovenweep Road is paved, but the road to the Hackberry Trailhead is not. This dirt road is too rough for an ordinary passenger car, but there is a hiking trail that starts at the visitor center which goes to these satellite pueblos.
Upon arrival at the Hackberry Trailhead, it will be about a one mile round trip over solid bedrock. Be sure to pack plenty of water, especially during the hot summer season. The hiking trail first goes by the Horseshoe Pueblo Group on the way to Hackberry. These two ancient sites are located in neighboring canyons and they are part of the vast Hovenweep network of pueblo complexes. The hiking trail is well marked and the terrain is fairly easy to traverse, so most visitors will have no problem doing the trek.
The Hackberry Pueblo Group Trail runs through a few juniper thickets on the high mesa and in some places the trail goes along the canyon rim, where some panoramic views can be found. This is a very remote area and there is plenty of dead silence to go around, which adds to the mystique when strolling down the trail. During the summer season the wildlife is all around, while on the flip-side, there is not much wildlife to be seen at all when winter rolls around.
The Hackberry Pueblo Group suddenly comes into view after clearing a juniper tree thicket near the canyon rim. The view from a distance instantly sets the mind in motion, while the lungs gasp for air after finishing this hike in what is a deceptively high elevation. In this moment, a visitor becomes aware of just how loud their own breathing really is and with one deep gulp of air to catch the breath, the dead silence of this remote wilderness returns.
When I showed up at Hackberry I was a bit winded because I was hiking at a very fast pace, so I could see all of the places that I wanted to experience before sundown. It took about a minute to slow the breathing down and with one deep breath, the dead silence returned. It was then that I noticed an NPS worker looking at me while sitting on the ground next to the pueblo, as if he too was waiting for the silence to return. As it turned out, the NPS worker had been there all day long and he said that I was the first to visit this place since he showed up early in the morning. We both laughed about how it was perfect hiking weather and we agreed that the rest of the world did not know what they were missing, then an interesting conversation proceeded from there.
The Park Service worker was a Native American doing a restoration project in this region. He explained that the modern cement the archaeologists used many decades ago to restore the ancient pueblos in Hovenweep was decomposing the limestone building blocks that it adhered to. The old cement had to be carefully removed and replaced with traditional native masonry material. While chatting, he was mixing local lime rich red dirt with water, then he applied the mortar with a carved stick, just like how the original masonry work was done long ago. He also made hand chipped stone chinking, which was also applied with traditional methods. Observing how the native craftsman was restoring this ancient pueblo with time tested techniques certainly was a good learning experience!
The NPS employee said he actually was very happy to see somebody come along because the isolation during the slow off-season was too much to endure at times, so we chatted some more. After explaining why I carry a big camera, the Ranger filled me in on a few details about this area that I never heard before. He mentioned an overview of the of the ancient structure locations in relation to the longstanding geographical landmarks in the Four Corners region. The extensive communication network was something we also talked about and he explained the strategy of why certain kinds of buildings were located in recurring places. Apparently, most of the smaller structures on the high ground were lookout posts for the larger structures hidden down below within the maze of canyons. We also spoke about the many spring water fed micro-environments that can be found in the canyons where agricultural practices flourished. We both agreed that this must have been a beautiful place to be way back in the day.
The Horseshoe-Hackberry Pueblo Group Hiking Trail at Hovenweep National Monument definitely is a rewarding experience! If a visitor is lucky, the National Park employees will be doing some restoration work and believe me, these people are happy to see tourists stop by to say hello when working way out in the back country. Hovenweep is a learning experience for visitors of all ages and the memories will provide mysteries to ponder over for a lifetime. All it takes is some nice weather and a little bit of hiking to make the adventure a memorable one!
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