Camping among the dramatic cliffs of the San Juan River Valley isn’t the only draw for travelers who visit Bluff, Utah. Many adventurers enjoy day excursions to nearby desert monuments. The towers of Hovensweep are just a short 40 min drive from Bluff, giving campers an opportunity to journey back in time and hike around the ancient villages of the Ancestral Puebloans.
History of Hovenweep
The name “Hovenweep” is a Ute word for “deserted valley,” a suiting description of the abandoned and lonely landscape that starkly lines the southeastern Utah/Colorado boarder. Once home to more than 2,500 indigenous people, these ancient Pueblo ruins are believed by archaeologists to have been part of an agricultural community in 900 A.D.
Shallow rivers run breathlessly through the deep, hallow canyons surrounding Hovenweep, making their lonely pilgrimage to San Juan Rivers. It is a path that was trod upon by the six village groups of the Ancient Pueblo, or Anasazi, people. Evidence suggests that an even earlier group of hunter-gatherers roamed the lands from 8,000 to 6,000 B.C. until about AD 200. Early puebloan cultures successively settled in the forgotten barren lands and remained until the AD 1300s.
First documented by W.D. Huntington during a Mormon expedition in 1854, the Hovenweep towers were instituted under government protection in 1903 by President Harding. Hovenweep became a National Monument in 1923 and is administered by the National Park Service.
A mysterious memorial to the native masonry skills, the six clusters of pueblo building are scattered with remnants of petro glyphs (ancient rock art), towers, cliff dwellings, pueblos, and sandstone homes that look as though they’ve wandered off into the sadness of the barren wilderness.
Square Tower hosts the most well-preserved structures in Hovensweep. The slots and doors are believed to detail a solar calendar. Aligned to channel a passage for the light of the summer and winter solstice, and the spring and fall equinox, the sunset pours through the buildings in predictable designs on the interior and door lintels. Square Tower Unit plays host to a loop of three hiking trails.
Cajon Group is located at the head of Allen Canyon. This cluster of rock rooms were constructed on a large boulder below the canyon’s rim.
Cutthroat Castle boasts unique and startling architecture that stretches below the rim of the canyon, an outgrowth of the Hovenweep Canyon. It is the largest of these ancient remains.
Goodman Point group plays host to a poetic cluster of pueblo buildings that partially disappear underground.
The Holly group appears at the head of Keeley Canyon and is famous what is believed to be the summer solstice markers of rock art.
Hackberry and Horseshoe group posse’s unique architectural forms, suggesting the buildings’ features to be prominent in ancient ceremonies. Stones of these buildings are set with mortar of sand, ash, clay, and water, with a marveling precision that still baffles modern architects.
Surrounding areas of Hovenweep is territory of the Navajo Nation, Bureau of Land Management, State of Utah, and private landowners.
Average temperature in the summer is 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 C).
To reach Hovenweep from Bluff, take U.S. Highway 191 to Highway 262.
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