Hovenweep was discovered by a Mormon missionary way back in 1854. Members of the local Ute and Navajo tribes tried to discourage visiting this ancient site, because this sacred place guards the spiritual ancestors that lived here long ago. Unfortunately the treasure hunters that came along later in history paid no heed to native beliefs and they swarmed this area anyway. Needless to say, Hovenweep was pillaged and practically totally destroyed by 1917. Fortunately, a representative from Smithsonian recommended that this region be protected, then Hovenweep became a National Monument in 1923. Even so, the extensive damage had already been done. The National Park Service has done a great job of protecting and restoring this ancient site ever since, yet Hovenweep is now threatened once again by rampant political corruption sponsored by the destructive gas fracking industry.
Both international and domestic interest in visiting ancient native heritage sites in America has peaked in recent years. Much of this is due to tourism activism, which amounts to people willingly spending money in destinations that need defending. Unfortunately, oil drilling and gas fracking operations are now allowed in environmentally sensitive areas like Hovenweep and Canyons Of The Ancients, with little regard for preservation of antiquities. When visiting the Hovenweep region today, a tourist will see many oil wells and and gas fracking wells. The smell of the rancid petroleum gas that is released from deep underground certainly is noticeable and it is quite a detraction.
Since the outlook for preservation of the pristine wide open spaces of the west has been recently dimmed, people actually are rallying support for preservation by means of visiting the National Monuments and National Parks in record breaking numbers. Every major National Park in the west has set new attendance records and the result is quite a show of defensive support for these majestic places. By sharing photos of ancient heritage sites and majestic places of the west, awareness is spread. In this way, being an active defender of antiquities is as easy as sharing photos from the trip out west on a favorite social network!
The word Hovenweep translates to “Deserted Valley” in the local Ute language. The name gives credence to how the tribes in this region have always known that Hovenweep existed and they chose to let this abandoned ancient site respectfully rest in peace up till its rediscovery in the mid 1800s. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of primitive occupations that date back to 8000 BC and the civilized basket weaver culture occupation began about 2,000 years ago. The Pueblo People were the primary builders of the ancient west and their occupation of Hovenweep began a little later in history toward 900 AD. After extensive archaeological research, it was confirmed that many different cultures lived in this area through the ages and each society built structures in Hovenweep, Canyons Of The Ancients and Mesa Verde. The remnants of these structures can be seen in this modern age and a visit will provide intriguing memories to ponder over for a lifetime!
Many artifacts from Hovenweep can be experienced at the Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument Anasazi Heritage Center, which is a museum that is located nearby in Dolores, Colorado. Many ancient artifacts are also housed in the Hovenweep Visitors Center, which is also a museum in its own right. Maps, site locations, camping permits and a wealth of native cultural information can be found in the visitors center, so this is the best place to start a Hovenweep National Monument venture.
Getting to Hovenweep is not as easy as it may seem, because the the road signage in this region is minimal or nonexistent. GPS mapping systems are best for this area and old fashioned reliable paper maps will work too. One of the best detailed maps of Canyons Of The Ancients and Hovenweep can be found at the Anasazi Heritage Center and it is free of charge, so if paper maps are preferred, this is the best starting point.
The way that Hovenweep is laid out also adds to the confusion, because part of Hovenweep is in Utah and a few of the satellite pueblo groups are located inside the Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument just across the Colorado border. Some of the outlying ancient Hovenweep pueblos are on tribal land near the San Juan River, so as can be imagined, there is plenty of island hopping to do when touring this National Monument.
For visitors that seek easy access, the best place to start is the Hovenweep National Monument Visitors Center, because this is where the Square Tower Loop Hiking Trail begins. The Visitors Center and Square Tower Trail are also the only sites in this National Monument that are located along a paved road, so for those who drive an ordinary passenger car this will be the only option. A high ground clearance vehicle, horseback ride or hiking are the means for getting to the outlying satellite pueblo groups in Hovenweep.
The Square Tower Loop Trail definitely is the main attraction, because this foot path runs through the largest group of ancient pueblos in Hovenweep National Monument. There are over 30 ceremonial kivas in this section and this suggests that a fair size population of a few thousand people lived here in ancient times. There are pueblo structures all over this canyon, so every few steps will lead to something new to discover. Some of the smaller structures are well hidden in the cliffs and atop rock outcrops that cannot be seen from the canyon floor, so it does pay to be observant while strolling about.
This rail is most famous for the ancient towers and these structures are simply amazing to see! The architectural design of each tower is complex and these structures have withstood the test of time, other than during the era of pillaging that occurred back before this site was protected. Fortunately, the archaeologists and native people have restored some of the damaged buildings to their former glory and the stronger undamaged structures that needed no restoration still look as they did when they were first discovered.
The actual purpose of each of the towers in Hovenweep are still not completely understood, so this leaves plenty of room for visitor interpretation. Some say that the multi story towers were used as lookout posts or communication centers, but nobody really knows for sure what purpose the rooms inside the towers served. Evidence has shown that the overall design of this pueblo complex and some individual features do incorporate solar and celestial references that enable agricultural planning. The many hidden grain silos and food preparation rooms also confirm that agriculture was a primary purpose of the overall design.
Following the Square Tower Trail allows visitors to transcend into a realm of discovery and visualization of the past. This is an ancient ancestral place and feelings associated with treading upon sacred ground do enter the picture. With each step a new experience awaits and there are plenty of lessons to be learned. When learning that the doorways and slot windows of the Hovenweep Castle are aligned with solstice and equinox events, it is then that one realizes how advanced this ancient cultures was, because these solar events indicate the seasons of planting, harvest, water conservation and abundance. Noticing the location of natural seepage springs and the ancient irrigation dams in the surrounding terrain does help to fill in the blanks of the overall picture.
Like many National Monuments, there was no entrance fee required to access Hovenweep at the time of my visit, however, leaving a donation in the visitors center does help the cause. The on-site campground fees are reasonable and camping is the best choice if taking the time to explore all of the ancient pueblo sites in Hovenweep is part of the travel plan. Modern accommodations can be found nearby in Cortez, Colorado and Jeep rentals are available in this city too.
The Square Tower Group of ancient pueblo structures at Hovenweep National Monument is truly a destination that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime! This is the easiest group of pueblos structures to access in the park and the entire Square Tower Trail Loop is less than two miles long. The climate is arid year round, so all that is needed is plenty of water to stay hydrated. Wild horses always frequent the Hovenweep area, so be sure to bring a good camera in order to share the memories back home!
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