Part 5: Hovenweep Ruins, CO


Navigation Links
 Trip Home Page     


The Trip

From Mesa Verde National Park, we decided to head west to see Hovenweep Ruins.  Neither Kathleen nor I had been there before, so we headed out.  These ruins were in a rather remote location so some travel miles were required.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

The slick rock country of western Colorado and Utah has a rather unique life form living in the wind-blown sand: fungus and lichens.  Collectively, it is referred to as cryptogamic soil.  The surface of the soil is textured with towers of black fungus 1-3" tall.  This sand is very fine and the fungus serves as a binder that keeps it in place allowing plants to grow.

The trail to the ruins starts at the visitor's center.  Only a short distance away we could see some of the towers of Hovenweep.  These towers are "D" shaped and are built on a large set of boulders that are separate from the cliff walls.  The walls are made from "pecked stone" which is created by taking a hammer stone and chipping away at a sandstone block until the faces are flat.  This is a very time-consuming and labor-intensive process.

In the canyon below the D Towers was an eroded boulder that also housed ruins.  This dwelling is small and would have been a challenge to live in.

Close to the eroded boulder dwelling was the remains of a circular tower.  It is doubtful that this was a dwelling and more likely it was a ceremonial structure.

It is a mystery to me why these structures were built right on the cliff edge.  There was plenty of flat rock areas away from the edge that would have been much easier.  The issue of defensibility was raised in literature, but preventing attack from one direction also means that escape is prevented in that direction as well.  It all depends on anticipating the direction of the attack.

How much of these walls were original versus reconstructed was not disclosed.

Across the canyon more structures were visible.  The tower on the left has sharp corners rather than rounded corners.  The eroded boulder dwelling is visible at the lower left of the photo above.

This structure was built on an outcropping.  Sleeping Ute Mountain is in the distance, with the head at the left.

This structure was built on a round-topped boulder in the canyon.  The rough, irregular surface of the boulder would have made living in this structure particularly challenging.  Why build here?

The main towers at Hovenweep were in good shape.

The towers used both straight and curved walls.  Windows were nowhere to be found.

Down in the floor of the canyon there was a square tower.  Note that the under-cut below the tower was filled with stones, which I assume was to allow the the rock to carry the load of the tower without collapsing.

Across a small finger canyon we could see another tower, again built right on the edge of the cliff.

This is a Utah Juniper, dead and leafless.

In the slick rock country, blowing sand acts as a erosive force and scours interesting shapes into the rock walls.

We left the main ruins area of Hovenweep and headed north to the "Holly" site.  At Holly, like the main site, structures were built of pecked stone and placed right on the cliff edge.  The far structure in the photo above was built on a boulder that has since shifted due to erosion of the underlying strata.

Given that the mortar used is mud-based, it is surprising that any portion of the structure survived the collapse.  Perhaps the collapse was something that occurred over a long time interval thus limiting the shock of impact.

The tower in the foreground was built on a boulder.  The far tower was again constructed near the cliff edge placing the structure at risk should the cliff collapse.

This end of the tower was oddly shaped.

The tower was clearly multistory, but no access doors were present.

Defensibility is the only reasonable explanation of why one would build a multistory structure on a boulder in the middle of a canyon.

The center of this structure is filled with rubble presumably from the collapse of the upper walls of the tower.

We left the Holly ruins site and headed north toward Horseshoe ruins.  Looking at many collapsed structures "ruined" us, so we settled for a telephoto shot from the cab of Thor as we drove past.  From Horseshoe, we hit the pavement and headed north on county road 10 toward Lowry ruins.

We followed the signs to the Lowry Ruins.  These ruins have been "stabilized" so it was possible to see them up close.  The Park Service had a huge, very robust roof placed over the main ruins to protect it from additional weather damage and erosion.

The walls at this pueblo were quite thick and were composed of pecked stone.

The shelter protected a large kiva in the center of the pueblo's walls.

The kiva was large enough that I could not capture it in one photograph.

Nearby was another kiva, even larger, perhaps 50 feet in diameter.  The floor of the kiva had low walls in the shape of figures.  A local Ute Indian identified the figures as "winter people" and "summer people".  The head of this figure is at the top of the photo above.  Archeological evidence suggests that this kiva was in use for the entire occupancy of the Lowry site.  It was rebuilt/reconfigured multiple times by the Lowry residents.

The figures were not identified as to which one was "summer" and which was "winter".

Hovenweep had more ruins than I had expected.  Additionally, these ruins were mostly free-standing as opposed to built into cliff alcoves and caves.  The ruins are reasonably well-preserved (and refurbished) and are worth a visit if you are in the area.  But, beware, these ruins are rather remote.  Our map showed the main roads as being dirt, but they were paved when we visited.  The outlying ruins are accessed by rather rough dirt roads and will require a high-clearance vehicle.  Access to Lowry ruins was via dirt as well, but the road was in good shape, albeit heavily traveled and somewhat washboarded.

After seeing Lowry ruins, we headed north to a campsite on the Dolores River.

Navigation Links
Previous Adventure
Top of this Page
  Next Adventure
Trip Home Page  
Bill Caid's Home Page

Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2018, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.