As we left Moab our plan was to explore a few more places in the four corners area (where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet). This is one of our favorite areas in the Southwest. Hector suggested we visit Hovenweep National Monument, which frankly I had never heard of, but I am always up for seeing another of our nationally protected sites.
We camped at Cadillac Ranch RV Park, which had been recommended by friends. Check out my review of the RV park here.
We headed out to Hovenweep National Monument in the afternoon after checking in at the park. It was a long drive across a remote corner of Utah, so I was becoming kind of dubious about the whole thing. But it was a really pretty landscape along the way and we continued.
The Visitor Center was closed by the time we arrived and the ruins are only viewable along trails. But we discovered that a couple of the shorter trails were open from sunrise to sunset. And a happy surprise – dogs were allowed on the trails! Yay!
Since Hector still had what he thought was a sprained ankle (which we later found out was actually broken) we decided to take the shortest trail – one mile. That also was best for Angel with her arthritis. Plus it was less than two hours before sunset.
We set out on the path, not fully knowing what to expect since we weren’t able to check out the Visitor Center. Luckily, trail guides were available at the entry to the trails. To my surprise, there were a number of different ruins on this short path. The ruins are situated in a canyon and along its rim. It was a much more interesting place than I had initially thought.
This area was said to have been inhabited over 10,000 years ago by people who moved according to the seasons. Ancestral Puebloans started to settle in the area year-round about A.D. 900, and by the late 1200s about 2,500 people lived here.
They built many types of structures at between A.D. 1200 and 1300 that are known for their careful construction and attention to detail. These include D-shaped dwellings and many kivas, which are ceremonial structures. Some structures that were built on irregular boulders remain standing after more than 700 years.
The Ancestral Puebloans prepared the land for cultivation by creating terraces on hillsides, forming catch basins to hold storm run-off, and building check dams to retain topsoil.
The square and circular towers that they built are particularly striking, but although archaeologists have found that most towers were associated with kivas, their function remains a mystery.
Theories about the purpose of the towers are many: they may have been celestial observatories, defensive structures, storage facilities, civil buildings, homes or a combination of some or all of those. Still a mystery.
The sites were thought to be abandoned when the Ancestral Puebloans migrated south to the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and the Little Colorado River Basin in Arizona at the end of the 13th century. Although preceded by a prolonged drought, it is still not clear what different factors drove the migration. Another mystery.
As we took in the sights and read about the history, my husband the photographer was getting extremely excited about the fabulous ruins and the beautiful light. It always takes us much longer to cover ground than most other people, even when he doesn’t have any injuries. So it was slow going but very enjoyable.
We were enthralled by the towers and watched the sun set over some of the ruins that sat in the canyon. We only encountered a couple of people on the trail, and only one other this late in the day, another photographer that we spotted on the other side of the canyon. We stood still and enjoyed the beauty and quiet of the place.
Now we had two choices for returning to our car: turn around on the same path we walked out on, OR continue (adding ½ mile) and cross the canyon. Hector decided to go down the canyon. It was only an 80-foot descent, with mostly stone steps, but had some steep spots. So there we were, a guy with a broken ankle, an old dog with arthritis, and me – the only fully healthy one – descending into the canyon.
It was slow going and the light was dimming but we made it to the bottom. After a short walk came the climb back; up another 80 feet. Once back at the top, we just had a final, flat section of the trail back to the parking lot. No photos on this part since it was getting dark and we were focused on getting back.
We barely made it out to the parking area before total darkness. Not our wisest decision-making, but all turned out well. This National Monument is totally worth seeing, and we would definitely visit again to see more of the ruins.