Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments

NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank

After my last posting I drove 234 miles from Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction the Four Corners area. First on my list of destinations was Hovenweep National Monument, Utah.  Think of it as the the close cousin to Mesa Verde National Park.

Hovenweep (meaning deserted valley) was originally inhabited by paleo-Indians approximately 13,000 years ago. As hunter gatherers they took seasonal shelter beneath canyon overhangs. Initially nomadic they began to cultivate corn, beans and squash and social structures that led them to stay in the area year around starting in about 900 A.D. Their stay lasted about 400 years before moving south to the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and the Little Colorado River Basin in Arizona. Today's Pueblo, Zuni and Hopi people are descendants of this culture.

By 1200 A.D approximately 2,500 people lived here. The monument resides in an even larger area known as the Canyons of the Ancients. Remnants of three preserved Ancestral Puebloan villages are scattered throughout the 275 square mile monuments. They plus the the ruins at Hovenweep Visitor Center area are the primary cultural attractions.

I especially enjoyed the nine structures located along the two-mile Little Ruin Trail. The setting was tranquil and transcendent. I saw no more than four other people during the entire visit. One could readily imaging being alive in the canyon 750 years ago and seeing residents gardening in the small farm plots, children playing on the mesa, and families gathered in the ceremonial rooms or kivas. This was village life at its most basic.

After a short drive I was totally alone during a one-mile hike to Painted Hand Pueblo in the adjacent Canyon of the Ancients. There was but a single structure isolated on the canyon wall overlooking the Great Sage Plain to the south. I could imagine these pueblo occupants trying to survive apart from the larger nearby settlements.

The Hovenweep Monument has a 30-site campground without power or water hook-ups. Most visitors stay in campgrounds in nearby Cortez, Monticello, or Montezuma Creek since they are all within a short driving distance of Mesa Verde, Four Corners, and the Anasazi Heritage Center. These sites are all great introductions to Mesa Verde National Park, next on my RV adventure.

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