Tuesday, 17-June – Natural Bridges → Hovenweep National Monument
Trip miles: 76 miles
Route taken: UT-275 E → UT-95 S → US 191 S → UT-262 E -> Hovenweep Rd The last 15 miles of road are rough and uneven, there is good signage for the National Park. Speeds ranged from 65mph to 35 mph through populated areas.
Average Gas mileage: 27.9mpg
Weather: warm (68F) in the morning, hot (92F) with strong gusts (+30mph) and breezes in the afternoon
Elevation: 6500ft -> 5200ft via a 7110ft mesa
- using our phone's compass again to pick a campsite with afternoon shade and a good wind block
- walking the Little Ruin Canyon Rim trail to view the various ruins
Last night's gusts did not abate until early this morning but the temperature was low enough to keep the Pinyon gnats in bed while we ate breakfast and packed up the tent. There was one gas station opportunity to buy ice on the Ute Reservation before turning onto Hovenweep Road.
After a two hour drive we were at the Hovenweep Visitor Center in the Square Tower Unit. The forecasted weather for today was a high of 92F and 30+mph wind gusts, dying off to 20mph by midnight. Sitting behind our little picnic table wind screen we were sure the wind predictions were low. However, when there was a short pause in the wind it was so hot that we were glad to have the cooler, windy conditions. During our morning drive we could see the surrounding mountains, but by noon the air was so full of dust that even the nearby Abajo Mountains were not visible. Given the windy conditions we did not venture out to the outlier ruins. We sat reading behind the wind screen at the campsite most of the afternoon and somehow managed to cook a simple dinner.
About Hovenweep National Monument: The six separate units which comprise Hovenweep N.M., Square Tower, Cutthroat, Goodman, Hackberry, Holly and Cajon, protect the unique remains of 6 ancestral Puebloan villages which have features not found in other locations. In 1923, the name of this newly-proclaimed National Monument was taken from the Plaiute/Ute language meaning "deserted valley". It is estimated that the villages were deserted in the early 1300s AD, possibly due to persistent drought conditions. Mormons were the first Europeans to see the ruins in 1854. The longest trail in Hovenweep is the 2-mile trail in the Square Tower Unit. The trail in the other 5 units are no longer than 1 mile round trip. The Square Tower Unit is the only one of the six that has a paved road into it. High-clearance vehicles are recommended for the unmaintained dirt roads.
About Hovenweep N.M. Campground: This is another pretty, slightly less primitive, first-come-first-served National Monument campground. The campsites have tent pads and shaded, wind-blocking picnic tables. The sites are not as big as those in Natural Bridges but there are some juniper trees between the sites for a little privacy. There is not as much dust, even in this strong wind. Some sites accommodate campers as long as 36 ft. but all sites are 'dry'. The bathroom has flush toilets and cold-water sinks with a water source outside. There is a 5-gallon/person water limit but we couldn't see how that limit was enforced, perhaps on the honour system. By 19:00 not even half of the 31 sites were taken.
Little Ruin Trail – This 2 mile trail along the rim and around the end of Little Ruin Canyon is flat for most of the loop, then descends 80 ft to cross the canyon and return to the Visitor Center. From the Visitor Center to the first overlook, about 300yds, the path is paved. To best appreciate the architecture displayed along the trail, estimate about 1.5-2 hours for the walk. For visitors choosing to not climb down into the canyon, the walk back along the rim is about 2.5 miles long. The Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Hovenweep were most probably constructed between 1230 and 1275 AD,, about the same time as the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde and 300 years later than the great houses at Chaco Culture NM. The ruins at Hovenweep are considered some of the best preserved examples of ancestral Puebloan canyon-head communities in existence. Along the trail visitors can see various types of architecture, including towers, D-shaped dwellings, the Eroded Boulder House and oval shaped structures. The accompanying trail guide provides prompts of the interesting details to look for in each structure. For visitors not wanting an in-depth study of all the ruins in all 6 units, the Square Tower Unit gives a good overview of the ancestral Puebloan dwellings in this area. This hike can be done as a break in the middle of a longer car trip to another location.