Square Tower Loop Trail ~ Hovenweep National Monument

Square Tower Loop Trail ~ Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep was discovered by a Mormon missionary way back in 1854.  Members of the local Ute and Navajo tribes tried to discourage visiting this ancient site, because this sacred place guards the spiritual ancestors that lived here long ago. Unfortunately the treasure hunters that came along later in history paid no heed to native beliefs and they swarmed to this area anyway.  Needless to say, Hovenweep was pillaged and practically totally destroyed by 1917, when a representative from Smithsonian finally recommended that this region be protected.  Hovenweep was finally protected as a National Monument in 1923, but the extensive damage had already been done.  The National Park Service has done a great job of protecting and restoring this ancient site ever since, yet Hovenweep is now threatened once again by rampant political corruption sponsored by the destructive oil and gas fracking industries.      

International and domestic interest in visiting ancient native heritage sites in America has peaked in recent years.  Much of this is due to tourism activism, which amounts to people willingly spending money in destinations that need defending and promoting the ancient heritage sites after a visit amongst circles of friends.  Unfortunately by corrupt presidential order, oil drilling and gas fracking operations are now allowed in environmentally sensitive areas like Hovenweep and Canyons Of The Ancients, with little regard for preservation of antiquities.  If one visits the Hovenweep region today, they will see many oil wells and and gas fracking wells. The smell the rancid petroleum gas that is released from deep underground certainly is noticeable and it is quite a detraction.  

Since the outlook for preservation of the pristine wide open spaces of the west has been recently dimmed, people actually are rallying support for preservation by means of visiting the National Monuments and National Parks in record breaking numbers. Every major National Park in the west has set new attendance records and the result is quite a show of defensive support for these majestic places.  By sharing photos of ancient heritage sites and majestic places of the west, awareness is spread and those who are unaware of the jeopardy that exists are given a chance to organize counteractive measures. In this way, being an active defender of antiquities is as easy as sharing photos from the trip out west on a favorite social network!

The word Hovenweep translates to “deserted valley” in the local Ute language.  The name gives credence to how the tribes in this region have always known that Hovenweep existed and they chose to let this abandoned ancient site respectfully rest in peace up till its rediscovery in the mid 1800s.  

The reason why Hovenweep is highly respected by native people is because this place has been occupied for over 10,000 years.  Archaeologists discovered evidence of primitive occupation that dates back to 8000 BC and the civilized basket weaver culture occupation began about 2,000 years ago.  The Pueblo People were the primary builders of the ancient west and their occupation of Hovenweep began a little later in history toward 900 AD.  After extensive archaeological research, it was confirmed that many cultures lived in this area through the years and each society built structures in the Hovenweep, Canyons Of The Ancients and Mesa Verde regions.  The remnants of these structures can be seen in this modern age and a visit will provide intriguing memories to ponder over for a lifetime!

Many artifacts from Hovenweep can be experienced at the Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument Anasazi Heritage Center, which is a museum that is located nearby in Delores, Colorado.  Many ancient artifacts are also housed in the Hovenweep Visitors Center, which is also a museum in its own right. Maps, site locations, camping permits and a wealth of native cultural information can be found in the visitors center, so this is the best place to start a Hovenweep National Monument venture.

Getting to Hovenweep is not as easy as it may seem, because the the road signage in this region is minimal or nonexistent. GPS mapping systems are best for this area and old fashioned reliable paper maps work too. One of the best detailed maps of Canyons Of The Ancients and Hovenweep can be found at the Anasazi Heritage Center and it is free, so if paper maps are preferred, this is the best starting point.  

The way that Hovenweep is laid out also adds to the confusion, because part of Hovenweep is in Utah and a few satellite pueblo groups are located inside the Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument just across the Colorado border.  Some of the outlying ancient Hovenweep pueblos are on tribal land near the San Juan River, so as can be imagined, there is plenty of island hopping to do when touring this National Monument.  

For visitors that seek easy access to the ancient native heritage sites, the best place to start is the Hovenweep National Monument Visitors Center, because this is where the Square Tower Loop Hiking Trail begins. The Visitors Center and Square Tower Trail are also the only sites in this National Monument that are located along a paved road, so for those who drive an ordinary passenger car this will be the only option.  A 4×4, high ground clearance vehicle, horseback ride or hiking is the only way to get to the outlying pueblo groups in Hovenweep.

The Square Tower Loop Trail definitely is the main attraction, because this foot path runs through the largest group of ancient pueblos in Hovenweep National Monument.  There are over 30 ceremonial kivas in this section and this suggests that a fair size population of a few thousand people lived here in ancient times.  There are pueblo structures all over this canyon, so every few steps will lead to something new to discover. Some of the smaller structures are well hidden in the cliffs and atop rock outcrops that cannot be seen from the canyon floor, so it does pay to be observant as one walks along.  

It is the many ancestral towers that the Square Tower Trail is most famous for and these structures are simply amazing to see.  The architectural design of each tower is complex and these structures have withstood the test of time, other than during the era of pillaging that occurred back before this site was protected.  Fortunately archaeologists and native people have restored some of the damaged buildings to their former glory and the stronger undamaged structures that needed no restoration still look as they did when they were first discovered.  

The ancient stone block towers always seem to draw plenty of attention where they exist at any ancient heritage site. The purpose of each of the towers in Hovenweep are still not completely understood, so this leaves plenty of room for visitor interpretation.  Some say that the multi story towers were used as lookout posts or communication centers, but nobody really knows for sure what purpose the rooms inside the towers served. Evidence has shown that the overall design of this pueblo complex and some individual features do incorporate solar and celestial references that enable agricultural planning. The many hidden grain silos and food preparation rooms also confirm that agriculture was a primary purpose of the overall design, so the towers likely served a similar purpose.

Following the Square Tower Trail allows visitors to transcend into a realm of discovery and visualization of the past.  This is an ancient ancestral place and feelings associated with treading upon sacred ground do enter the picture.  With each step a new experience awaits in this majestic place and there are plenty of lessons to be learned.  When learning that the doorways and slot windows of the Hovenweep Castle are aligned with solstice and equinox events, it is then that one realizes how advanced this ancient cultures was, because these solar events signal seasons of planting, harvest, water conservation and abundance.  Noticing the location of natural springs and the ancient dams for agricultural water resource management in the surrounding terrain does help to fill in the blanks of the overall picture.  

Like many National Monuments, there is currently is no entrance fee required to access Hovenweep, however, leaving a donation in the visitors center does help the cause!  The on-site campground fees are reasonable and camping is the best choice if taking the time to explore all of the ancient pueblo sites in this area is part of the travel plan.  Modern accommodations can be found nearby in Cortez, Colorado and Jeep rentals are available in this city too.

The Square Tower Group of ancient pueblo structures at Hovenweep National Monument is truly a destination that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime!  This is the easiest group of pueblos structures to access in this National Monument and the entire Square Tower Trail Loop is less than two miles long, so there is no need for carrying extensive hiking gear.  The climate is arid year round, so all that is needed is plenty of water to stay hydrated. Wild horses always frequent the Hovenweep area, so be sure to bring a good camera in order to share the memories back home!                      


Author: wildwestdestinations

I worked as a chef in remote resorts and National Parks, which provided the time to explore western travel destinations. I have a BA Degree in Culinary Management with high honors and currently I am working on a Masters Degree in Adult Education. My food and travel blog writing began as a means to generate income during college and now photo journalism has become my lifestyle.

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