Hovenweep National Monument
The name “Hovenweep” is a Ute word for “deserted valley.”
Just over 40 miles from Bluff, Hovenweep National Monument contains the remains of six, prehistoric, Ancestral Puebloan villages built between 1200 and 1300. The ruins are all noted for their towers–square-oval, circular, and D-shaped, and their masonry that has stood for centuries.
History of Hovenweep
The name “Hovenweep” is a Ute word for “deserted valley,” a well-suited description of the landscape of southeastern Utah. Once home to more than 2,500 people, inhabitants are believed by archaeologists to have been farmers.
Most of the structures still standing were built between 1230 – 1275 CE (before the Common Era), or about the same time as nearby Mesa Verde. Evidence suggests that an even earlier group of hunter-gatherers roamed the lands from 8,000 to 6,000 B.C. until about AD 200.
Hovenweep was first documented by W.D. Huntington during a Mormon expedition in 1854. Pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson bestowed the Ute name, Hovenweep. President Warren G. Hardening made the area a National Monument in 1923.
Sometime in the late 1200’s A.D>, the Ancestral Puebloans abandoned the region due to drought, failing crops, and possibly internal tribal conflicts. After leaving, Ancestral Puebloans settled in the Hope mesas of Arizona and Pueblos of New Mexico.
Features of Hovenweep
Hovenweep is unique because of the towers at each village site and masonry found throughout the monument. President Harding’s proclamation called out the area’s unique prehistoric structures and ‘the finest prehistoric masonry in the United States.” Stones were carefully shaped, and smaller rocks and mortar used to fill gaps to keep the elements out.
Towers are built at the heads of small canyons near springs and seeps. Archeologists believe the towers were located to protect water sources needed for farming. Others believe the towers could have been used for ceremonial purposes, celestial observation, or defense.
Square Tower. Credit: NPS/Neil Herbert
Square Tower Group is the larges and most accessible of the six villages, and has the most well-preserved structures in Hovenweep. Think of Square Tower Group as a neighborhood of knowledgeable and savvy farmers who were able to raise enough food to sustain a population of 100 – 150 people.
Square Tower Group contains the remains of numerous cliff dwellings, kivas, checkdams, and towers built along a small canyon known as Little Ruin Canyon. A wooden beam in one structure has a log cut in 1277 CE, one of the latest dates of any prehistoric structure in the San Juan region. The sixteen room Twin Towers has among the most carefully constructed buildings in the entire southwest.
Square Tower Group can be explored via three trails: The Rim Trail Loop around Little Ruin Canyon is 1.5 iles. The Tower POint Loop is about 0.5 miles. The Stronghold House to the Visitor Center path is about 300 yards.
For the Ancestral Puebloans, Square Tower Group was one of several other communities within a day’s walk of each other:
- Cajon Group is located at the head of Allen Canyon. This cluster of rock rooms were constructed on a large boulder below the canyon’s rim.
- Cutthroat Castle Group boasts unique and startling architecture that stretches below the rim of the canyon, an outgrowth of the Hovenweep Canyon. It is the largest of these ancient remains.
- Goodman Point Group plays host to a poetic cluster of pueblo buildings that partially disappear underground.
- The Holly Group appears at the head of Keeley Canyon and is famous what is believed to be the summer solstice markers of rock art.
- Hackberry and Horseshoe Group posse’s unique architectural forms, suggesting the buildings’ features to be prominent in ancient ceremonies. Stones of these buildings are set with mortar of sand, ash, clay, and water, with a marveling precision that still baffles modern architects.
Dark Sky Park and Stargazing
The Milky Way above Hovenweep Castle. Credit: NPS/Jacob W. Frank.
Hovenweep National Monument was designated as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park. You can stargaze on your own from the visitor center parking lot and campgrounds. Rangers present stargazing programs in spring and summer. Ancestral Puebloans were keen skywatchers. You can learn more about the importance of celestial events in Ancestral Puebloan life at the park. On clear nights, it is possible to spot the International Space Station at Hovenweep as it flies overhead. Check NASA’s website for the next date/time of the space station flyover.
Directions: DO NOT USE GPS. Turn off US 191 just north of Bluff to UT 162 for approximately 16 miles, turn slight right and then slight left in Montezuma Creek, Utah, to continue on UT 162 for 7 miles, turn left on McElmo Canyon Road (at the park sign) for 9 miles, turn left on County Road 5099/401 for 4 miles, turn right on County Road 413/213 for 6 miles, turn right into park. (42 miles)
Hours: Open year round. Trails are open only from sunrise to sunset. Hovenweep Visitor Center is open year round. Hours may change depending on the season, staffing, and holidays.
Entrance Fees: None
Camping: Campground is open year round, on a first-come, first-served basis. Fees are $15/sight from March 1 – October 31, and $10 for the remainder of the year.
Elevation: 5200 feet