Mesa Verde, Part 6: Hovenweep

This is Part 6 of a 7-part series about Mesa Verde National Park. To read the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. For the next installation, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!


Most Ancestral Puebloans in the Mesa Verde area did not live within the boundaries of present-day Mesa Verde National Park. Rather, they lived in the surrounding area of what is now known as the Four Corners region, where Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico come together and kiss at a singular point.

What distinguished those who lived on what is now the national park, is the tight concentration of hundreds of cliff dwellings. In the rest of the community, there weren’t as many of these precariously perched pueblos.

But the shortage of good places for cliff dwellings didn’t stop them. Hell, these Indians erected structures all over the place. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is located about a dozen miles northwest of Mesa Verde National Park, and it’s covered by the ruins of thousands of structures constructed by the Ancestral Puebloans. There are more than 8,300 recorded sites, containing villages, field houses, check dams, reservoirs, kivas, cliff dwellings, shrines, petroglyphs, sweat lodges, and so forth. But there are many more unrecorded sites, with an estimate of up to 30,000 total sites at this monument.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument was established by President Bill Clinton in the year 2000. But prior to that, a much smaller national monument was created in this area, in 1923, by President Warren G. Harding. It’s called Hovenweep National Monument.

A wall of Rimrock House, at Hovenweep National Monument. Note the small rocks shoved into the adobe mortar. This helped reinforce the mortar, and at the same time, pushed the mortar deeper between the sandstone layers.

Hovenweep consists of six non-contiguous areas where a half-dozen Ancestral Puebloan villages once thrived. You have to have a high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle to reach five of the sites. But you can easily drive to the site known as the Square Tower Group, using any kind of vehicle, as it’s all paved road. This was the group we visited, in my brother’s motor home.

The Square Tower, that distinguishes the Square Tower Group. On the canyon rim above it is a ruin known as Hovenweep House. Note the blue-shirted national park worker sitting at the right of Hovenweep House, in this photo. He was erecting a scaffolding, apparently for some sort of maintenance work.

Hovenweep is a Ute/Paiute word, meaning “deserted valley.” And it was deserted alright. The inhabitants abandoned this area about the same time that Mesa Verde was deserted in the late 13th century. And about the same time Mesa Verde exploded in population, around 80 years before it was deserted, so did the Hovenweep area. The population ballooned, due to immigrants from the Chaco Canyon region of New Mexico.

This population explosion expanded the labor force and made possible the great structures found at Hovenweep National Monument. Archaeologists consider the Hovenweep preserves to be the finest examples of Ancestral Puebloan masonry found anywhere. Here they constructed two and three-story sandstone and adobe buildings perched as if teetering, along and over the edges of canyon cliffs.

The Twin Towers at Hovenweep. They appear to have once been much taller, which leaves me wondering if the Indians had airplanes 800 years ago.

In addition, tall, stone towers were built upon lone boulders and ledges within the canyons. Great, castle-like structures were erected along canyon rims, where a careless exit out a doorway could send an Indian tumbling a hundred feet below. When observing these ruins, one thing is certain. The Ancestral Puebloans harbored no fear of heights.

Hovenweep Castle. Looks somewhat similar to the old castles constructed in Europe.

The walls of the structures at the Square Tower Group, where I hiked with my brother, were two and three layers thick, by our observation. This probably accounts for how well-preserved these ruins are. The walls are so strong, they do not decay and fall apart easily, even while exposed to the full elements of the sun, wind, storms, and freezing weather.

Unit Type House. This ruin at Hovenweep is considered by archaeologists to be a perfect example of the typical building plan of the Ancestral Puebloans. It contains a few living and storage rooms, and one kiva. Two openings in a wall were possibly used to mark summer and winter solstices. It was possibly the home to a family or a clan.

The ruins at Hovenweep are a testament to the engineering genius of the Ancestral Puebloans. We were in awe while touring these structures, and left with a feeling of great respect for the people who settled, built, and thrived in this community.

In our next and final post, we’re taking a trip to a landmark in the Four Corners area, that has probably been used by Indians for thousands of years, as a navigation guide.

Eroded Boulder House. This dwelling at Hovenweep exploited an unusual rock formation, where erosion cavitated a boulder, leaving an overhang. The Puebloans simply had to build walls, without any need to construct a roof.


Categories: Travel

23 replies »

  1. They really do look like “castles”, which begs the question of whether they were defensive. Curious how the times of their constructions correspond to the arrival of the tribes from the north that now occupy most of the lands in the region.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think they were most likely defensive. And not just from humans, but from wild animals. It’s true they could be laid siege upon, but so could European castles. That’s the weakness of any fortification.

      It seems after they left, other more nomadic tribes came in and took their place. These were probably the tribes they built their “castles” to protect themselves from.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Where they kissed”… sounding like a Hallmark story now. πŸ™‚

    I doubt if I would have survived back then. With as “graceful” as I am, I would have most likely fallen to my death when I was young.

    Liked by 1 person

Go ahead, blurt it out:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.