Distance: 2.0 miles
Elevation: 5220 - 5120
Time of Year: Anytime (avoid mid-day heat in summer)
|Sleeping Ute Mountain rises above the "Twin Towers"|
Hovenweep National Monument is located in a remote corner of southeastern Utah, just a couple of miles from the Colorado border. It is so remote, that you have to drive 28 miles off of the main highway (US-191) between Blanding and Mexican Hat, UT on rough county roads to reach it. But, even the main highway is in pretty remote territory. But, if you are on your way to Moab from Arizona or on your way south, it is well worth the detour, as it protects the some of the greatest examples of free-standing stone masonry of the Anasazi/Puebloan cultures in the entire Desert Southwest.
From US-191, there is a sign indicating the turn onto UT-262. Then, there are a series of turns onto various county roads to reach Hovenweep. But, there are always signs to let you know where to turn. But, just in case, it might be a good idea to have your GPS ready. Hovenweep is actually a conglomeration of six individual sites along the desolate Cajon Mesa that at one time supported a population approaching 2,500 people. The largest site is the Square Tower Group. That is where the main visitor center is, as well as, this particular loop trail. One additionally nice thing about this hike is that it is dog friendly, which is rare for a national park.
The trail starts out from the visitor center as paved until it reaches the ledge of Little Ruin Canyon and the first of many masonry structures called Stronghold House. From here, the trail makes a loop around the canyon edge to see many structures. You can choose to go either direction, but we went counterclockwise (right) to see most of the structures straight away.
|Many of the structures are visible on both sides of the canyon in the distance|
The trail passes a number of structures and others are clearly visible on the otherside of the canyon. What is amazing about this site is that it supported a population estimated to be almost 1,000 people. Yet, the canyon bottom is dry and there are almost no trees on the landscape. It was inhabited between 500 and 1200 AD. But, that was a time when the region was cooler and wetter and there is a vast forest of pinyon pines and a riparian forest in the canyon floor. As the climate dried and the trees had been cleared for building materials and firewood, springs became more inconsistent and times more desperate.
The villagers build retention walls along ditches draining into the canyon to back water up and allow it to soak into the soil and rock to replenish the springs. But, the mega-droughts of the 1200-1300's that did in so many other Puebloan cultures in the region also caused the citizens of Hovenweep to abandon the area.
There are a couple of cottonwoods and some willows in the canyon bottom today. But, for the most part, the trees are gone and the climate is very different. The trail passes some really unusual structures that are hard to determine their uses. Some sit isolated on large boulders, one sits within an eroded boulder itself, and others seem to neither fit the bill as religious structures, defensive towers, homes based on the location of their entrances or window. But, one theory is that several of them were store houses for corn and other crops.
Eventually the trail descends into the canyon bottom itself, allowing you to look up at the structures from below. The trail then climbs up the steep south face of the cliff approximately 100 feet on a trail carved directly into the rock and then shortly thereafter you return to the Stronghold House. Be aware of temperatures approaching 100 degrees in mid-summer and possible icy conditions in winter. But, most of the time the sun should be out and temperatures tolerable.