Horseshoe Pueblo Group ~ Hovenweep National Monument
Both the Hovenweep National Monument and the Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument share some common ground. Most of Hovenweep is located in Utah, but four of the ancient pueblo groups are actually located just across the Colorado border inside the Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument boundaries. The reason why Hovenweep has remote satellite sites and why the borders of both of these neighboring National Monuments are not always clearly defined can be attributed to many factors over the course of a 100 year timeline. In recent years, rampant political corruption headed by oil drilling companies has complicated the matter even more, because now large sections of these these two National Monuments are closed for controversial gas fracking exploration.
A tourist interested in visiting the Hovenweep satellite pueblo groups will find very few accurate maps on the internet and this entire region is not detailed by many modern GPS mapping systems. The roadside signage for these monuments is minimal as well and even the county roads in this area are not always marked with signage. Many of the dirt side roads are not even mapped because they lead to stinky oil wells, so this furthers the confusion. They sure do not make it easy to navigate this region, so visitors will need to allot some time to do some mapping research before setting sail.
If you can find your way to the Hovenweep National Monument Visitors Center, then you are doing real good! Cortez, Colorado is the best base camp choice for Hovenweep and Canyons Of The Ancients adventures, so Cortez is a good starting point. From downtown Cortez, follow U.S. Highway 491 south to County Road G. County Road G meanders west along the southern border of the Canyons Of The Ancients to the Utah border. Once in Utah, the road changes name several times, but the road will eventually intersect with Utah CR 413, which is Hovenweep Road on some maps. There is some Hovenweep signage along this route, but the signs appear with little warning before a turn is required, so be sure to keep the eyes peeled!
It does take about one hour to drive from Cortez to the Hovenweep Visitors Center, if one does not get temporarily lost along the way, which is pretty easy to do. The visitors center is the starting point for all Hovenweep ventures and information about the neighboring Canyons Of The Ancients can be found here too. The official park road maps and hiking trail maps that are not easy to find on the internet are freely available in this place. The park rangers can also be of great help, because they know which sections of the park are temporarily closed and which roads have been recently maintained. The rangers can also point out which of the dirt roads are too rough for ordinary passenger cars.
A second reason why the visitors center is the best starting point for Hovenweep ventures has to do with site access. Not every one of the ancient heritage sites can be accessed with a low ground clearance passenger car. For those who do not drive a 4×4, the Square Tower Loop Trail starts and ends at the visitors center and this trail is the easiest to take on. Foot trails to all of the other Hovenweep satellite pueblo locations also start at the visitors center and this includes the four pueblo group sites located just across the Colorado border.
The four mile hiking trail to the Holly, Horseshoe and Hackberry Pueblo Groups starts at the Hovenweep campground next to the visitors center. This trailhead is the best option for those who do not drive a high ground clearance vehicle. This foot trail also runs all the way to the Cut Throat Castle Pueblo Group, which can only be accessed by Jeep or a rugged 4×4 vehicle if the rough dirt road is open. I have driven this rough overland dirt road in a Jeep and I can confirm that getting to the Cut Throat Castle Pueblo Group is no easy task. Getting to Cut Throat Castle by foot is dicey too and be sure to pack plenty of water if you opt for the hike.
For those who drive a high ground clearance vehicle or 4×4, getting to the Horseshoe, Hackberry and Holly Pueblo Group locations is fairly easy to do. From the visitors center, just follow Hovenweep Road north to the Colorado border and look for the first major red dirt road on the right. There will be a large Canyons Of The Ancients billboard welcoming sign near the intersection, but there is no signage for the Hovenweep satellite locations at this spot. Just follow this red dirt road and soon a few tiny Hovenweep directional signs will appear. The main sign to look for is the white color Horseshoe-Hackberry Trailhead marker, which is also the best place to park.
The Horseshoe-Hackberry Hiking Trail is well marked and the distance is easy for most people to handle. The hiking distance to Horseshoe is only one third of a mile and Hackberry is only a little ways further, so a round trip will be about one mile. The Holly Pueblo Group is located almost one mile further down the road, so it is best to explore the Horseshoe and Hackberry Pueblo Groups first, then use the 4×4 to visit the Holly Pueblo Group.
The Horseshoe-Hackberry foot trail is well marked, however, the trail does run over some rough terrain that includes bare sandstone rock outcrops. Hard sole boots will slip all over the place on this kind of sandstone surface, especially on a wet day, so it is best to just wear gumshoe sneakers. The native people refer to this surface as “Slick Rock” for good reason, so it pays to walk with care. Even though this is a short hike, packing a snack and water is necessary for preventing altitude sickness and dehydration. Other than that, all that a visitor needs to do is be aware of the surroundings and pack a good camera!
The Horseshoe Pueblo Group is in a very remote location at the head of a long canyon. This ancient pueblo stands tall on a cliff that overlooks the lush green canyon floor below, where agricultural practices took place long ago. The remnants of granaries, dwellings, lookout posts and central tower buildings can be seen all over the Horseshoe Pueblo Group archaeological area, but many of the smaller structures have been reduced to piles of rubble by looters and natural events. There are even a few ancient structures that are hidden along the canyon walls below the Horseshoe Pueblo that are not easy to see, so it pays to takes ones own sweet time when looking around.
The main Horseshoe Pueblo structure at the top of the cliff is a round tower style building that is only partially restored, yet enough remains to cause an onlooker to easily visualize just how magnificent this place must have been many centuries ago. The Horseshoe Pueblo is just one part of a vast network of hidden canyon pueblo complexes in this region. This ancient societal network had a comprehensive communication system that stretched out to other pueblo societies in nearby places, like Ute Mountain, Bears Ears, Mesa Verde, Kayenta and Chaco Canyon. Distant ancient landmarks like Shiprock and Ute Mountain can be seen from high ground too.
It is truly amazing to see just how advanced this ancient native society actually was and a lot of insight can be gained about living harmoniously with nature can be gained when visiting this ancient sacred place. Ancient dry farming agricultural practices are a good topic to research when reflecting on how this pueblo complex design was organized. In modern times, harmonious thought processes like these are considered to be taboo by capitalists and corrupt politicians, but for the rest of us, there are things that are simply far more important than acquiring wealth by means of ill gotten gains. In this way, the ancient pueblos in the Four Corners region represent harmonious living with no monetary system to corrupt high ideals. All it takes is one visit to feel the spirituality in the dead silence of this vast wilderness area to see how peaceful this kind of existence must have been.
The Horseshoe Pueblo Group is an amazing sight to see and it is only a short hike to the other two ancient pueblo complexes in this area. No matter whether you do the four mile hike from the visitors center or you get the Jeep dusty on the rough dirt access road, the journey will surely be well worth the effort! Nowhere else will a visitor find a place that demonstrates how all of the ancient pueblo complexes in this region were interconnected. Visiting the Horseshoe Pueblo Group will provide memories to ponder over for a lifetime and this place will inspire visitors to explore more of what can be discovered nearby.
Hovenweep National Monument and the Canyons Of The Ancients may not be easy to navigate, but once a visitor gets their feet wet, everything will fall into place. It will take well more than one week to experience all that there is to tee in these two neighboring National Monuments, so it may be best to explore a little bit at a time. The outdoor temperatures can be hot during the summer months, but during winter the cold fresh mountain air is perfect for hiking. Hovenweep truly is an amazing place to gain some knowledge about the ancient cultures that thrived in this region, so be sure to chalk this native heritage site high on the outdoor adventure list!