Hovenweep National Monument

A half day or more trip to some of the finest and most accessible collections of Anasazi ruins in the area.

Main site

★★★★

Wow factor

★★★★

Overall rating

★★

Difficulty

★★★★★

Access road

★★

Crowds

Outlying sites

★★★

Wow factor

★★★

Overall rating

★★

Difficulty

★★★

Access road

Crowds

Spread over 5 different locations on the Utah/Colorado border, some accessed on fairly good dirt roads, this is not a place that attracts crowds. There are a couple of reasons for this, I believe. One is the proximity of Mesa Verde, just an hour’s drive away which soaks up much of the ‘Anasazi’ tourist traffic. The other is a lack of a major town in the immediate vicinity. Cortez and Blanding are some miles distant. Also Hovenweep is not on a route  to anywhere. You have to make a special visit here. All of which makes visiting it a very pleasant experience.

 

It was once home to some 2500 people from around 900-1400AD, although nomadic people were in the area for over 10,000 years. Most of the structures built here date from 1200AD. The feature of Hovenweep are the square and round multi-storey towers. They’re not uncommon but I’ve never seen so many in a single place. We won’t know why they were built but recent research favours a defensive use. There are plenty of other structures to see of many different shapes and sizes.

 

Start off at the visitor centre and hike the main Square Towers Group trail around and in Little Ruin Canyon. This is the centrepiece of Hovenweep and is the busiest due to being the only section accessible via a paved road. That’ll take you 1-2 hours.

 

Next take the paved road north-east just over the Colorado border and turn south to the Horseshoe, Hackberry and Holly sections. The unimproved dirt roads were in good condition when I was last there. It won’t take you more than a couple of hours to visit all three. Horseshoe Tower is built on a great vantage point over the canyon. Further along the rim are a collection of structures built in a horseshoe shape. Check out the quality of the building. A little further on is Hackberry. At Holly you can see the remains of the large, square Holly Tower (look out for the moki steps below it) and Tilted Tower, built on a huge boulder that has slipped to the canyon bottom from the rim. Look around the site for rock art, some of which may be related to the summer solstice. Holly, in particular, is a magical place.

 

If you have time you can continue north on the paved road to a turn off to the Cutthroat Castle section, or if you’re bedding down at Bluff or Blanding, visit the Cajon section on the way back. (I’ve not visited either of these.)

© 2015-2020 Bob Palmer.