Six months ago my sweetheart moved 700 miles away to the Valley of the Sun, we’ve each made a bunch of trips back and forth for weekend visits, but this particular weekend we decided to meet halfway and do a little exploring near the Four Corners area (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona).
A few years ago we visited Mesa Verde National Park and explored it’s fabulous ruins of the ancient Ancestral Pueblans who lived there 700 years ago. Mesa Verde has a lot larger budget and considerably more well-preserved ruins, due both to protection inside the cliffs and a lot of excavation and archaeological studies. Hovenweep National Monument–Hovenweep means deserted valley–is from the same time period and the same people. Built almost a thousand years ago and abandoned by about 1,300 A.D., these sandstone block homes are incredibly impressive with multiple rooms and many with two or more stories, and windows and what I assume were thatched roofs. To date, no one can determine why exactly the Ancestral Pueblans left their communities in the Four Corners area (including the Mesa Verde peoples), but they do know that the traveled south-east and settled in central New Mexico.
From the visitor center there is a easy 2-mile loop that takes you along the rim of a small box canyon with clusters of homes along both rims and the bottom. The spring they used for water has long since dried up, but as many as 2,500 people lived here at once, the canyon echoing with the shouts of children and the noises of village life. These ancient peoples practiced dry farming on the mesa top surrounding their home growing squash and beans and corn.
Unlike Mesa Verde, you cannot get very close to the ruins, you cannot tour any of the homes or even walk inside them. However, it was fascinating to see the larger sandstone blocks held together with adobe and smaller stones filling the gaps; there were purposely square buildings, and round towers, and ingeniously built structures that used boulders as walls, building their homes nestled right next to a cliff or giant rock.
A few miles away from Hovenweep proper is a singular set of ruins called Cutthroat Castle with 5 or 6 structures in impeccable condition. Now, it’s quite a hike to get there from the main road, or a made-me-very-nervous 4WD only road (Blue Eyes is the driver for all such excursions that require 4WD and he wasn’t nervous at all, but I was). Cutthroat Castle was gorgeous, I loved that there wasn’t anyone else there, and I loved that we could get a lot closer to the ruins (we didn’t touch anything, just looked, and I took a million pictures, per usual).
If you go: there are bathrooms at Hovenweep, but no water for purchase and no other amenities. There is very little shade on the short trail and a lot of blazing sun, so bring a hat and sunscreen and plenty of water. If you have a camera lens with a serious zoom I’d recommend that as well.