In 1990, November was declared National Native American Indian Heritage month. This made us think about the units of the national park system that include native american culture and history. There are many. One of our favorites is Hovenweep National Monument located on the border of Utah and Colorado.
Hovenweep National Monument
Found by a Morman expedition in the 1850’s and designated as a national monument by President Harding in 1923, Hovenweep contains six clusters of pueblos and extensive archeological sites. Evidence shows that the area was populated for thousands of years; but about 700 years ago the ancient Pueblo people began to transition from a hunter-gatherer culture to farming, putting down roots in what is now Hovenweep; building villages and using the ample water resources to farm the dry land.
Talented stone masons built structures both on the canyon rim and perched on boulders below the rim. There are tall towers – some square, some round – and multi-room pueblos that may have housed 80-100 people.
Today you can take a short walk on a self-guided loop trail and visit some of these structures – Hovenweep Castle, Hovenweep House, Square Tower, Rim Rock House, Twin Towers, Stronghold House and Unit-type house. As you wander the canyon rim, you can almost picture what it would be like to live in this gorgeous high desert mesa.
There are only a couple of trails – an easy two-mile trail from the visitor center or a longer 8 mile round trip that connects the Square Tower and Holly groups of ruins. The park asks you to stay on the trails for your safety and to protect the ruins. You can’t go into the towers, but you can get up really close and see the detailed stone work. Like we mentioned when we talked about Chaco Culture National Historical Park it is fascinating to see the straight lines, smooth curves and exact corners – how did they do it with the tools available at the time?
Canyon of the Ancients National Monument
Three of the four separate sections of Hovenweep National Monument are surrounded by adjacent Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado. Together they preserve over 20,000 archeological sites; some of the highest density remains found anywhere in the US. Most of the stone structures are from the ancient Puebloans era.
You really need to visit both national monuments. At Canyon of the Ancients, along with the stone towers you will also see remains of pit houses, cliff dwellings and kivas, ancient petroglyphs, and evidence of stone and earthen dams used to channel water from the many springs in the area.
Note: Canyon of the Ancients National Monument is an example of a national monument not administered by the National Park Service. This one is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Planning your Visit
This is a harsh environment. Summer is hot; winter can be cold. In fact, when we visited, the irrigation equipment in the nearby farm fields was frozen! Plan your visit accordingly.
The closest towns to Hovenweep National Monument are Monticello in Utah, or Cortez in Colorado. If you are visiting Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, Hovenweep is a hidden gem just 1 hour away and gets 1/10th of the visitors. Here you can really walk along the silent paths and feel what it would have been like to live there.
There are many units in the national park system where you can visit ancient native american homesites. We encourage you to think outside the box and visit more than just the ones labelled “National Park”.
Need Help Planning your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.