Hovenweep is a Paiute/Ute word that means “deserted valley”. While it is currently deserted, this canyon shows sign human habitation dating back 10,000 years, and at it’s peak was home to approximately 2,500 Puebloan people. Around 1300 A.D. the entire population of agriculturally focused Pueblos in the four corners area migrated south into Arizona and New Mexico. Whether because of drought or conflict, no one is quite sure why they left, but they did leave behind fascinating evidence of their daily lives.
The ruins are mostly rock towers and kivas, which are Puebloan communal structures. Although the community at Hovenweep was closely associated with the group at Mesa Verde and other nearby sites, they didn’t rely as heavily on cliff dwellings for habitation. There are however, many excellent examples of the construction techniques used to build stand alone structures on the rim of the canyon. The area was recognized as a historical site worth preserving and was made a National Monument in 1923 by President Warren G. Harding.
What Makes It Great
The main attraction at Hovenweep is of course the ancient rock towers, but there are many other things that make this National Monument great. The towers sit above a beautiful canyon, and the short two mile trail leads you around the rim over slickrock from rock cairn to rock cairn. The trail will be easy for just about everyone, making it ideal for a family outing. The views from the trail are also a major attraction. Not only the view into the gorgeous high desert canyon, but also to the east there is a impressive panorama of Sleeping Ute mountain.
As you make your way across the rocks there are a variety of informative signs, showing the history of the area and some of the possible techniques used to create the rock towers. I found it impressive and very interesting, considering they still guard the rim of the canyon many centuries after their inhabitants left. Because of the mild climate in this part of Utah, Hovenweep is also accessible for most of the year, making it a worthwhile stop for every season. Even in the winter it remains open, and is actually quite beautiful with snow covering the ancient stone walls.
Who is Going to Love It
Because this is a historical sight, those with an interest in history will enjoy Hovenweep the most. If you have any interest in Native American culture, especially Puebloan history, then this National Monument should be on your bucket list. Any archaeological buffs will love the excess of proof of ancient human existence in this area, and love the towers themselves.
They were built over 700 years ago with very primitive techniques on irregular boulders, yet they are still standing. The fact that a civilization without modern tools could build towers so structurally sound is amazing, and those who enjoy history at all will appreciate this fact. Families with smaller children will also love Hovenweep as a nice option in the area. The mild terrain allows anyone to enjoy the beautiful scenery. There is really only one short section with any notable altitude change, crossing the canyon floor to reach the other side and complete the loop.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Cortez take 491 North towards Dove Creek. After 18.7 miles take a left on Road Bb, and then travel 6 miles to Road 10. Here take a left and follow Road 10 for 20 miles to the entrance of the National Monument. There are plenty of signs when you start getting close, and there is literally nothing else around, so it’s hard to miss..
Because this is part of the National Park system, all national rules apply. Dogs must be kept on leashes, and exploring off trail is strictly prohibited. Not only is this a delicate desert ecosystem, but the land is also protected because of the historical significance of the ruins. In order to preserve this national treasure for future generations, please follow the rules and stay on the trail.