In an area of the United States where a 50 year old building is considered ancient history sits the Hovenweep National Monument. Starting with the hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago, this high desert outpost just an hour north of the Four Corners on the Colorado / Utah border, is a frequently overlooked treasure of the region’s cryptic past.
All too often, visits to the other major archaeological sites in the area like Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde end up feeling like a trip to the mall with its accompanying crush of people and visual clutter of signs and rope fences. Hovenweep, with an average of only 25,000 visitors each year, is the complete opposite. It is a uniquely personal, remote and beautiful experience that is well worth the drive.
Named for the Ute word for deserted valley, Hovenweep lives up to its name, sitting on the 30 mile long Cajon Mesa in the Great Sage Plain in near silence. Standing out there it seems inconceivable that thousands of people once lived and farmed in such a harsh and, to us, remote place.
Starting around A.D. 500 ancestral Puebloans began settling in the area; by A.D. 900 they began living at Hovenweep. The six villages that make up the monument were built starting around A.D. 1200 and ultimately abandoned by the end of the thirteenth century due to a combination of a 20 year drought, increased population, and hostilities in the area. The ruins left behind are a conglomerate of unique architectural styles, many still standing on their own some 700 years later.
Start at the visitors’ center and the Square Tower complex behind it. Keep in mind that at one time the sage plain that surrounds you had farm fields spread out over an area the size of 300 city blocks in every direction, and you will begin to understand the enormity and complexity of what was once a very busy place.
Stay at the 31-site campground near the visitors’ center and explore all six ruins, or spend a few days and take in some of the adjacent Canyons of the Ancients National Monument’s 176,056 acres and 6,000 recorded archeological sites.