Hackberry Pueblo Group ~ Hovenweep National Monument

Hackberry Pueblo Group ~ Hovenweep National Monument

The Four Corners Region has always been much more than just a place where two lines cross on a map.  This region has been occupied by many cultures for thousands of years and the native tradition of the four directions has been part of this place for just as long a time.  Nowhere else in North America can a person head into any of the four compass map quadrants and experience four completely different environments.  The Four Corners region has always been a place of cultural significance and the thousands of ancient pueblo archaeological sites are located here.  The ancient pueblos in the Four Corners region are still revered by native people as sacred places to this day and there is a reason why they will forever be respected as such.  Many modern tribal nations share a common heritage in the Four Corners region and by visiting the ancient sites a better understanding can be gained. 

A few good places to gain a better understanding of Four Corners cultures are the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Bears Ears National Monument, Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument.  Some of the Hovenweep sites are actually inside the boundaries of the Canyons Of The Ancients, so it is best to plan on touring these two neighboring National Monuments as one big destination.

In a recent Hovenweep National Monument article about the Horseshoe Pueblo Group, details are mentioned about the hiking trail or Jeep trail options for getting to the right place. This article also mentions that the dirt road to the Horseshoe, Hackberry and Holly Pueblo Groups is too rough for an ordinary passenger car. Some hiking will have to be done to get to the Hackberry Pueblo Group, so be sure to pack plenty of water, especially during the hot summer season. This is a remote wilderness area and rescue is a long way away, so it is best to be aware of the surroundings when visiting this place.

Because part of Hovenweep is located in Colorado, while the official visitors center is located in Utah, finding your way around by automobile can be confusing.  Every road in these parts changes name on either side of the state line and the signage is minimal, so it does take some careful planning or plain old dumb luck to find the ancient pueblo destinations in this place. As always, the best way to avoid confusion is to get a map at the official visitor center. The rangers also will provide information about closures and dirt road conditions, which will come in handy when visiting the Horseshoe and Hackberry Pueblo Groups.

The hiking trail first goes by the Horseshoe Pueblo Group on the way to the Hackberry Pueblo Group.  These two ancient sites are located in neighboring canyons and they are part of a vast network of pueblo complexes in this region.  The hiking trail is well marked and the distance to the Hackberry Pueblo Group is one half mile. The round trip is only one mile and the terrain is fairly easy to traverse, so most visitors will have no problem doing the hike. 

The Hackberry Pueblo Group Trail runs through a few juniper thickets on the high mesa and in some places the trail goes along the canyon rim, where some panoramic views can be found.  This is a very remote area and there is plenty of dead silence to go around, which adds to the mystique when strolling down the trail.  During the summer season the wildlife is all around, while during winter there is not much wildlife to be seen at all.  The lack of wildlife during the winter season adds to the silence, which becomes quite ominous at times.  The dead silence does have a way of setting a peaceful tone in all who visit this ancient sacred place. 

The Hackberry Pueblo Group suddenly comes into view as one clears the juniper tree thicket near the canyon rim.  The view from the distance instantly sets the mind in motion, while the lungs gasp for air after finishing this short high elevation hike.  In this moment, a visitor becomes aware of just how loud their own breathing really is and with one deep gulp of air to catch the breath, the dead silence of this remote wilderness area returns.

When I showed up at Hackberry I was a bit winded, because I was hiking at a very fast pace, so I could see all of the places that I wanted to experience before sundown.  It took about a minute to slow the breathing down and with one deep breath, the dead silence returned.  It was then that I noticed a native looking at me while sitting on the ground next to the pueblo, as if he too was waiting for the silence to return.  Actually as it turned out the guy had been there all day long and he said that I was the first to visit this place since he showed up early in the morning.  We both laughed about how it was perfect hiking weather and we agreed that the rest of the world did not know what they were missing, then an interesting conversation proceeded from there.

The Native American sitting by the ancient Hackberry Pueblo was actually a National Park Ranger that was doing a restoration project in this region.  He explained that the modern cement that the archaeologists used many decades ago to restore the ancient pueblos in Hovenweep was decomposing the limestone building blocks that it adhered to.  The old cement had to be carefully removed and replaced with traditional native masonry material.  The National Park Ranger was mixing local red clay mud that is rich with lime with water and applying the grout with a carved stick, just like how the original masonry work in this region had been done for thousands of years.  Hand chipped stone chinking was also applied, which he also made on the spot.  Observing how the Native American Park Ranger was restoring this ancient pueblo with traditional time tested methods certainly was a good learning experience! 

After saying how lonely it gets when restoring ancient pueblos in remote places, the Ranger said he actually was very happy to see somebody come along.  After explaining why I carry a big camera, the Ranger filled me in on a few details about this area that I never heard before.  The details included an overview of the organization of the pueblo locations in relation to the longstanding geographical landmarks in the Four Corners region.  The extensive communication network was also something we talked about.  Apparently, most of the smaller structures on the high ground, which are currently stone rubble piles, were lookout posts for the larger structures hidden within the maze of canyons in this region.  We also spoke about the many spring water fed micro-environments that can be found in the canyons that the ancestors once called home.  We both agreed that this must have been a beautiful place to be way back in the day.  The Ranger then pointed to a pueblo structure hidden in the canyon that most visitors never notice and I sure did appreciate that mention.  I then continued about my ways, so I would no longer interfere with his great restoration work.     

After having a pleasant conversation way out in the middle of nowhere, I continued my photo mission in between periods of just standing there in deep meditational thought.  When experiencing an ancient pueblo group like Hackberry, the mind naturally wants to put the pieces of the puzzle together.  Visualizing how the buildings must have once looked, figuring out the purpose of each structure and tracing the foot paths that the ancestors once trod upon are all things that run through the mind when gazing at this ancient place.  For those who have been to the other ancient pueblos in this region, some of the mysteries will be understood.  Captivating is the word and it is difficult to set the feet in motion to leave after finding some peace of mind in such a remote place. 

The Horseshoe-Hackberry Pueblo Group Hiking Trail at Hovenweep National Monument definitely is a rewarding experience for those who are interested in learning about the native cultures of the west!  If a visitor is lucky, the National Park Rangers will be doing some restoration work and believe me, these people are happy to see people stop by to say hello!  Hovenweep is a learning experience for visitors of all ages and the memories will provide mysteries to ponder over for a lifetime.  All it takes is some nice weather and the gumption to get up and go to make the Hovenweep visit a memorable one!                        

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