Come tour Hovenweep with us!
We spent a couple of weeks in Ireland last year, exploring fabulous prehistoric ruins. I loved every minute of it — ruins are pretty amazing! I found myself wishing for millions of dollars so I could take my family all over Europe, exploring all the ruins. And everything else, ha, ha!
Alas, I don’t have millions of dollars. But I did sort of have an epiphany. We don’t need to go to Europe for ruins. We have them right in our backyard.
I always think of the United States as being very young. We aren’t quite 250 years old. So our building are just babies compared to Europe’s buildings. However, there were Native Americans here before us! And they left some fantastic ruins!
We studied a couple of ancient American civilizations for our homeschool last year, and decided to take a trip to visit their ruins.
There are great ruins in the area where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico converge — known as the four corners area.
We started at Hovenweep, which is only about a six-hour drive from home. Can you tell the kids were anxious to get out of the car?
Hovenweep is actually pretty small. I think there are additional ruins beyond the ones clustered around the visitor’s center, but it would have taken hours of hiking to find them. The ones around the visitor’s center are probably all within a mile.
There is a sort of gorge behind the wall pictured above, and most of the ruins are clustered around the top edges of the gorge. In fact, they all back right up to steep cliffs, which made us wonder about their builders.
Around A.D. 900, people started to settle at Hovenweep, planting and harvesting crops in the rich soil of the mesa top. By the late 1200s, the Hovenweep area was home to over 2,500 people.
Hovenweep’s towers were built by ancestral Puebloans, the group that occupied the Four Corners area, from about A.D. 500 to A.D. 1300. Similarities in architecture, masonry and pottery styles indicate that the inhabitants of Hovenweep were closely associated with groups living at Mesa Verde, Chaco and other nearby sites.
Most of the structures at Hovenweep were built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. There is quite a variety of shapes and sizes, including square and circular towers, D-shaped dwellings and a few kivas.
This is what you see a short way down the trail just beyond the visitors center.
The short hike to see them all the ruins takes you right down into the gorge, up to the side opposite where the visitors center is located, and back around. My little kids made the hike easily, but it might be difficult for anyone with mobility issues.
Here is the view from the other side. The ruin with the round ‘turret’ is the Hovenweep Castle.
There was just one little ruin down in the gorge. I guess the family who built it wasn’t too worried about flash flooding.
I suggest visiting in the spring, because it was hot already when we were there in May. The cacti were all blooming, which was amazing. We saw lots of wildlife, including that colorful lizard. And bring plenty of water — the desert really dries you out!
We spent about 1.5 hours at Hovenweep. It was very interesting, but we wouldn’t have visited if it hadn’t been on our way to Mesa Verde. It might be disappointing as a stand-alone trip.
There were maybe six ruins in all, and they were each pretty small. You couldn’t get very close to them, either. The next couple of places we visited had much larger and more accessible ruins.
If you’re really interested in Native Americans, or if you’re ever around Blanding, Utah anyway, you should stop!
Next up on our itinerary:
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