Hiking the U.S.

Hoevenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

We’re catching up a bit on adventures in the past few months. When my friend Ash was visiting, we tried to get out every weekend and show them whatever we could within a couple hundred miles. Had I more money and time, I would have taken a week off to hit up Zion and southern Utah, but we made it to a few great places regardless. Two were Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and Hovenweep National Monument.

We had wanted to go to Mesa Verde National Park but most of the trails were closed and it was still snowy over most of the sites. Ash wanted to see some ruins and none of us had been to Canyons of the Ancients so it sounded like a great day trip to take. We started with a visit to the Anasazi Heritage Center, a museum dedicated to native american history and archaeological finds in the area.

Tbasketshe museum was very nicely laid out with a special showing of baskets off in a separate room from the rest of the displays, and a larger room with relics from several tribes and eras of the region. It was fun looking and imagining the development of ancient tools and medicines, house building techniques, and weapons. How well did a homemade ax made of wood, stone and agave rope work, and for how long? Who exactly came up with a way to carry water in a tightly woven basket or bake pottery in a pit fire like a kiln? These ingenious methods of making daily life perfectly livable without the benefit of metals or modern technology fascinate me, a difficult life but clearly well established through cooperation and teaching each other how to survive. It’s like looking at the history of all mankind really because most peoples, whether 2000 years ago or 20k  years ago, here or 20k miles away, had to come up with the same of similar ideas as peoples here did to get by in the world, but most evidence of that is gone in other places. I have some more books to read…if only my book stack were a little smaller.

The volunteers at the museum were very helpful, recommending a few must see places for our mere day in the area and it’s a great place to get a map to the sites and books on the history of the area.


We carried on to Painted Hand Pueblo. An unexcavated area that was once a sizable pueblo next to a cliff with an excellent vantage point via a still standing tower. The hike was fairly short and not well marked but the footsteps of other visitors and a sense of direction helped. We didn’t realize til we got back to the parking lot that you can see the tower from there as well, showing how short the hike really was. Leaving the tower we found a large crumbling cliff face to stand daringly under, and climbed out the hard way for a little added challenge. The area was especially beautiful in the late February weather, there were snowy mountains in the background yet the weather was pleasant, and fragrant sage all around as though activated by spring. I grabbed a sprig of sage that kept the kitchen smelling amazing for a week.

Painted Hand Pueblo Tower
Painted Hand Pueblo Tower
Crumbling Cliff Face
Crumbling Cliff Face
Painted Hand Pueblo View - Canyons of the Ancients
Painted Hand Pueblo View
Sage and new friend, Owlbert.
Sage and new friend, Owlbert.

After Painted Hand Pueblo we went onto Lowry Pueblo, a well excavated (though still in progress) site. I tend not to touch or walk anywhere near ruins unless I’m specifically invited, especially hearing about places like the Great Wall and Pyramids getting essentially ruined by visitors. I’m pretty satisfied seeing them 10 feet away, however, Lowry had a covered section of the village specifically intended to enter and poke around in. I walked in, still touching nothing, but it was great to see the walls around you and imagine living in such a place. After walking around to a few sites and seeing the large Kiva nearby, we sat down for a picnic.



The area between all the sites is hard to pass up as well. We stopped a couple times just to take in the scenery and get some obligatory dog photos. 


Hovenweep was our final destination and the sun was getting low, however we figured we could at least make half the loop before the sun went down. The other locations are on dirt roads with few to no amenities but Hovenweep was very developed, even featuring a paved pathway for part of the loop. This pueblo was on either side of a canyon, believed to be strategically located based on the water available there and towers on all sides possibly with the intention of protecting said water, obviously a pretty important resource there.  The mass of the pueblo was indistinguishable based on where the map said it had been, however many towers and buildings still stood or were restored all around the canyon. Not many photos were taken due to the fleeting light, but I would still recommend a visit to anyone. The drive back to Durango was about an hour and a half at that point, but again a pretty nice drive, especially after a successful day!


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