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Hovenweep National Monument
Utah and Colorado


[photo]
Hovenweep Castle
NPS Photo

Hovenweep National Monument protects six prehistoric Puebloan-era villages spread over a twenty-mile expanse of mesa tops and canyons along the Utah-Colorado border. Four of these ruins are in Colorado: Holly Canyon, Hackberry Canyon, Cutthroat Castle and Goodman Point. The remaining two, known as Square Tower and Cajon, are in Utah. The Square Tower Group, located between Pleasant View, Colorado, and Hatch Trading Post, Utah, is the primary contact facility with a visitor center, campground and interpretive trail.

Human habitation at Hovenweep dates to over 10,000 years ago when nomadic Paleoindians visited the Cajon Mesa to gather food and hunt game. These people used the area for centuries, following the seasonal weather patterns. By about A.D. 900, people started to settle at Hovenweep year-round, planting and harvesting crops in the rich soil of the mesa top. Maize, beans and squash were grown in terraced fields. The Hovenweep people supplemented this diet through additional foraging and hunting. By the late 1200s, the Hovenweep area was home to over 2,500 people. The towers of Hovenweep were built by ancestral Puebloans, a sedentary farming culture that occupied the Four Corners area from about A.D. 500 to A.D. 1300.

[photo]
2004 summer solstice at Hovenweep National Monument. The towers may have been celestial observatories
Photo courtesy of NASA
Photo by Troy Cline

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 many kivas (Puebloan ceremonial structures, usually circular.) The masonry at Hovenweep is as skillful as it is beautiful. Even the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde rarely exhibit such careful construction and attention to detail. Some structures built on irregular boulders remain standing after more than 700 years. Many theories attempt to explain the use of the buildings at Hovenweep. The striking towers might have been celestial observatories, defensive structures, storage facilities, civil buildings, homes or any combination of the above. While archeologists have found that most towers were associated with kivas, their actual function remains a mystery.

By the end of the 13th century, it appears a prolonged drought, possibly combined with resource depletion, factionalism and warfare, forced the inhabitants of Hovenweep to depart. Though the reason is unclear, ancestral Puebloans throughout the area migrated south to the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and the Little Colorado River Basin in Arizona. Today's Pueblo, Zuni and Hopi people are descendants of this culture.


[photo]
Twin Towers on the edge of Little Ruin Canyon
Photo courtesy of USGS

Today multi-storied towers perched on canyon rims and balanced on boulders lead visitors to marvel at the skill and motivation of their builders. The first historic reports of the abandoned structures at Hovenweep were made by W.D. Huntington, the leader of a Mormon expedition into southeast Utah in 1854. The name "Hovenweep" is a Paiute/Ute word meaning "Deserted Valley" which was adopted by pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson in 1874. In 1917-18, J.W. Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution surveyed the area and recommended the structures be protected. On March 2, 1923, President Warren G. Harding proclaimed Hovenweep a unit of the National Park System.

The National Monument was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.

Hovenweep Official National Park Service Site

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Hovenweep National Monument
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