Each year over half a million people make a pilgrimage to Mesa Verde to see the truly astounding cliff dwellings. The unique stone towers
and other buildings at Hovenweep attract far fewer visitors. Its relative obscurity comes from its location. Although on paved roads, Hovenweep's
20-mile expanse of mesa tops and canyons sheltering 6 villages lies along the Utah-Colorado border in truly in the middle of nowhere. Make the journey
The people who lived at the heads of small canyons were farmers, but they also built stone towers that are the signature construction of
Hovenweep National Monument
Visited by photographer William Henry Jackson in 1874, he named it Hovenweep based on the Ute Paiute word that means deserted valley.
People lived in Hovenweep as far back as 10,000 years ago. By 900 AD is was the site of permanent communities. Hovenweep was one of the linked communities
that stretched across the area now known as the Four Corners. Most of the buildings were constructed around 1230 to 1275, the height of the ancient
puebloan culture and contemporaries of the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde
It is estimated that over 2500 people lived there. No one is certain as to the function of the towers. Everything from observatories, to storage
facilities, as well as homes has been suggested.
Square Tower Group and Hovenweep Visitors Center
Start at the visitor center where you can visit the remains called the Square Tower group that stretch along Little Ruin Canyon
. There are other groups of
ruins that can be visited. You can download the map
, but youíll want to start at the
Visitors Center regardless.
The large and diverse towers at the Square Tower group provide a stunning introduction to the communities strung along the rim. Watch the movie which
depicts what the community would have looked like when it was inhabited. Then, take a walk along the Rim Trail Loop
If you canít make the entire trail, do go far enough to pick up the Tower Point Loop
which will take you to the foot of Hovenweep Castle
and Tower Point. Don't let the name mislead you - the people who lived in the canyon were farmers raising the Three Sisters
of corn, beans, and
squash and storing the excess for leaner years.
Tower Point also offers a commanding view up and down the canyon. Note the double wall construction - the time-consuming process of handbuilding the
walls was undertaken twice.
For those comfortable on steeply inclined paths, you can walk down the trail into the canyon and gaze upwards from the valley to the towers.
If You Go:
Take bug spray, and use it. Although it's a high desert climate, there's enough water somewhere to support a seasonally healthy population of biting
insects. The roads leading to the Visitors Center are paved, but those within the Monument are dirt that are not well maintained. They can be impassible
in wet weather.
Reach Hovenweep from Cortez, Colorado via County Road G / McElmo Canyon Road. Download a Map
Accessibility: There is a paved path that links the Visitor Center and the first overlook.
There are no facilities in the park other than at the Visitors Center - no food, no gas, no water. It will take between about 75 to 90 minutes to reach Hovenweep from Cortez. Bring with you whatever you will need for your visit.
While in the area, Cortez, Colorado makes a great central location. Learn more about visiting Cortez Coloraod is Mesa Verde Country.