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Hovenweep National Monument is a small monument on the Colorado/Utah border, not too far from Cortez (Colorado) and Bluff (Utah,) but not particularly close to anything else other than the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. After passing the sign for it a few times with no real idea of how far it was from Bluff or Cortez, we decided to make a pit stop here on our way back to Bullfrog from Cortez.
Humans started living in this area over 10,000 years ago (that’s crazy!) and became the year round home of about 2,500 people int he late 1200s. However by the 13th century, the area was abandoned most likely from a combination of factors: drought, depletion of resources, warfare, and factionalism and they began moving south. Here is the more in depth history.
The drive from Cortez to Hovenweep is one hour, fairly uneventful, and not particularly scenic, but it’s not all that long for out west. It’s a small monument with ancient peubloan ruins around the rim of a small canyon with a hiking trail connecting all (or most) of them. A bonus for making the drive out here is that there is no entrance fee!
Once you get to the park you’ll see the visitor center right away. They have limited hours, so check those before going if you really want to watch the movie or get something. From the visitor center, continue away from the parking lot to get to the ruins. First you’ll come up to a view point and the rim trail will leave from here.
Just at this view point you can see ruins across the canyon and some remains around you. We started following the trail to the right from this spot. I’m not sure if it goes to the left. I’m sure it connects there somewhere, but it’s very obvious on the right, so we followed it.
This direction first brought us to some smaller ruins along the rim on our side. You can see ruins across the canyon the whole walk, which is pretty flat most of the way. Eventually we got to the Hovenweep Castle, which was the biggest, most intact, ruin that we made it to. We went just a little farther before turning around because it was SO HOT and we didn’t have water because we weren’t expecting to walk that far. It was probably close to 110 degrees and we were there around 5 PM. Don’t forget to bring water.
We went back the way we came stopping for a few more pictures along the way before heading home. While this may not be the most exciting, most impressive, or most convenient ruin site, it’s worth a stop if the topic interests you and you’re in the area. Over the summer I’ve enjoyed learning more about the archaeology and history of the Four Corners area. I’m still no expert, not even close, but I do enjoy it. I’ll always stop for ruins and petroglyphs now.
It’s no Mesa Verde, but it’s still cool to see. If you only have time to visit one ruin site, I’d definitely go with Mesa Verde. It’s a lot more impressive. The structures are way bigger and there are literally thousands of them. The scenery itself isn’t much better than what you see here, but that’s not what the park is about. It’s about the history and the culture, which I think I would appreciate more after knowing more about the area. I didn’t love it when I went, but I’d love to go back still, especially to do one of the tours into Cliff Palace.
Tips for visiting Hovenweep National Monument:
- Go in the winter if you can. The weather will be a lot more pleasant. Fall would be good too.
- If you want a different ruin site to visit that is on a main scenic drive, check out Butler Wash.
- It’s a great stop on a Trail of the Ancients road trip or for history buffs
- If you do go in the summer, bring water if you plan to do the hiking loop. It’s not that long, a couple miles, but it’s not easy when its 110 degrees out. (trust me)
- This park isn’t particularly close to anything, but if you’re in Cortez (for Mesa Verde) for Bluff, Utah, it’s an easy afternoon trip.
- The only way to see the ruins is by hiking. You cannot drive close to them. It’s a super short walk to the first overlook though, where you can still see some. To get closer you’ll have to hike more.
- Wear sunscreen and/or a hat. There is no shade here.
- Finders Keepers by Craig Child is a great book to prepare for a trip to the Four Corners area, especially if you plan to see a lot of ruins.
- Camping is available in the park for $15 per night.
Have you been to Hovenweep? Do you want to go? What are your favorite ruins?