Hovenweep and the Needles

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May 28th 2018
Published: June 23rd 2018
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Hovenweep National MonumentHovenweep National MonumentHovenweep National Monument

Off the beaten track as far as national parks and monuments go but I thought it was among the best sites we saw.
Despite the “off” day in Durango, I was a little concerned about our next stop: Hovenweep. This National Monument was given the name by a Mormon missionary in 1854. The name is a Paiute/Ute word meaning “Deserted Valley”. It is. It was reportedly home to as many as 2,500 residents prior to 1300 but they are long gone. How different from what we have been seeing can this place be?

Plenty. While a lot of the ruins we have viewed have been built under overhangs in the cliffs, these ruins were actual structures built on top of the mesa. Some right at the edge of some pretty steep drop offs. One is even called Hovenweep Castle. Many of them look like miniature castles from Europe.

The main trail takes about 2 hours to tour all the structures on both sides of a fairly deep gorge. It isn’t that wide but is fairly long. As we were coming to the spot opposite where we started, the thought crossed my mind “How do we get back to the starting point?” The trail so far had been pretty level following the ridge on both sides of the gorge. Suddenly we started dropping

Not much vegetation in the park so these coverings over the tables were much appreciated.
down to the bottom of the gorge then up, up, up to the top again. It was another hot day. We were glad we had chosen the route we did. Had we hit this part first we may have had second thoughts.

The buildings were incredible. How (and why) did they build them so close to the edge? Many of the ruins which are out in the beating sun are better preserved than those we had seen under overlooks. They must have been well built.


There are only 31 campsites and there are no services other than flush toilets. And no Wi-Fi. Possibly because of its relative remoteness, it was only half full. Despite the dry weather they still allowed campfires. We still had some wood from Bryce Canyon days so were able to sit around the campfire in shirtsleeves watching the full moon come up. It was very peaceful.

I am not saying it was windy but.... The wind flapping the canopy at night drove me nuts, both the noise and the thought of it blowing away. So I got up in the middle of the night and took the canopy off, folded it

Did not expect to see a fire hydrant in this mostly vacant land.
up and stuffed it in the front of the truck. Since I didn't have my contact in, I was amazed how easy it was. Thank goodness for the full moon. Easy to see what I needed to. Of course, the canopy was for shade, not protection from the rain. I had to put it back on in the morning. Sigh. However, the only bad thing that happened was my climbing accident (see pictures).

Other Hovenweep Sites

The Hovenweep visitor centre and campground are in Utah, tight on the border with Colorado. If you cross the border and drive about 4 miles you come to a “road” that leads to three other sites: Holly, Horseshoe and Hackberry. We went to Horseshoe and Hackberry first. Not that bad a drive and a fairly easy hike. Holly is another matter. We left it for another day.

The road to Cutthroat Castle is another five miles down the “highway”. It is a numbered highway but I think we passed one, maybe two cars. I wouldn’t want to breakdown here. The “road” off the highway is a dirt track to start, much like the road to Horseshoe and Hackberry. But the sign

We weren't able to attend any presentations in the area but we thought the setting was pretty neat.
does say things like: suitable for high clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicles, impassible in wet weather. Big Red met the challenge and passed with flying colours. It was only a couple of miles in to the site but quite the trip often on bedrock with massive cracks. Unlike the other sites which were built at the head and top of canyons, these ruins were at the bottom of one. And no stream nearby. Odd.

Other guests

We chatted with a mother and daughter who we travelling around Colorado with their two dogs, one of them blind. The blind dog was one of the friendliest, best behaved dogs I have even seen. The mother was 85 and quite a traveller. She recounted many stories of her life travelling the world with her husband including five years in Kenya. You meet some pretty interesting people when you travel.

The Needles

The Needles is part of Canyonlands National Park. It is not that far north of Blanding where we stayed when we went to Natural Bridges. In fact, we had to drive through Blanding to get to the Needles. Because of our experiences with some of the parks being
Road to HollyRoad to HollyRoad to Holly

This was the "good" road. Thank goodness the wind didn't blow while we were on this very dusty road. We only passed one vehicle going the other way - one of the few places two vehicles could pass fairly easily.
full when we get there, we decided to stay in a commercial campground at Monticello. We didn't want to drive the extra hour from Monticello to the Needles to find we had to drive back to camp. Dianne searched the internet and found a campground where the user comments raved about the washrooms. Seemed like an odd thing to rave about but they were phenomenal. Almost too nice, if that is possible.

Of course, when we got to the Needles, there was plenty of room in the campground. Sigh.

But we were back looking at scenery instead of ruins. One of the interesting hikes we took showed us how the cowboys learned a few things from the Indians. Under an overhang, just like the Indian ruins, was a cowboy kitchen complete with cupboards. Apparently these camps were used by cowboys for up to a week at a time from the 1880s to 1975. The trail included two ladders and a bunch of overhangs that were very long. Would have been good cover from the brutal heat they get in the summer.


A nice small town. One of the nicest buildings was the library. Of course,
Twin towersTwin towersTwin towers

One round, one square. Unusual.
Dianne had to go in and look around. Very nice people. We even bought a bunch of books from their book sale. Good to have as we have been having a lot of trouble keeping our electronics charged and the sun is so bright, reading screens on the iPad is difficult even when they are charged.

The wind was pretty strong though. When we got back to our campsite after a day at the Needles we discovered it had almost blown away. The campground owner told us she and another guest had saved as much as they could. Even our canopy frame (without the canopy itself) had blown away. Fortunately, it couldn't go far because we were camped right against the fence. Although everything was full of sand, nothing appeared to be missing. Quite an experience. Dianne did a lot of cleaning to try to get rid of the sand that snuck into our camping bins.

And Monticello was the site of a record setting event for us. We actually went to the same coffee shop four times in two days. Once for breakfast, once for dinner and twice just for cappuccinos. There weren't a lot of other

Hard to imagine why they built structures on both sides of the canyon. Quite a hike where you walked on the level via the head of the canyon or down one side and up the other.
places to eat but it didn't matter; this place was excellent. A large group came in for dinner just before us. No place for us to sit. Hmmmm. A young couple from Texas on their way to California were sitting at a table for five and asked if we would like to join them. Very pleasant dinner and the food was great. You can meet the most interesting people when you travel.

On to Moab and the Arches

After two nights in Monticello we were ready to head for our last stop in Utah. Arches campground isn't that big and was fully reserved 6 months in advance. We were booked into a commercial campground just south of town. ToBeContinued.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 27


Thick wallsThick walls
Thick walls

This picture shows how thick some of the walls were. Two stories in some buildings?
Square cornersSquare corners
Square corners

Some of the buildings had straight walls with perfect corners.

Other buildings were round.
Current occupantsCurrent occupants
Current occupants

Didn't seem too interested in each other.
Edge of the cliffEdge of the cliff
Edge of the cliff

Why were the buildings built right at the edge of the cliffs?
Cutthroat Castle groupCutthroat Castle group
Cutthroat Castle group

Unlike most of the Hovenweep structures, this one was not built at the head of a canyon. It may have been used for more ceremonial activities.
Rough roadsRough roads
Rough roads

We subjected Big Red to a lot of abuse on these "roads". The pictures doesn't really tell the story of how rough they were. Big Red did great.
Original beamsOriginal beams
Original beams

The beams in this building are original. They date from the 1300s
Great cappuccinosGreat cappuccinos
Great cappuccinos

The site of our four visits in two days. Well worth it.
Ominous signsOminous signs
Ominous signs

We asked the campground lady if the storm was coming or going. She said they hoped it was coming because it hadn't rained in months. No luck. Lots of wind but no rain.

I guess we shouldn't have been surprised by the wind. There were lots of windmills in evidence.
Beautiful sunrisesBeautiful sunrises
Beautiful sunrises

Airplane vapour trails were an interesting addition to the morning sky at 5am.
On the way to the NeedlesOn the way to the Needles
On the way to the Needles

This tower was sitting just off the highway in the middle of a large plain. Weird.
Back into sceneryBack into scenery
Back into scenery

No ruins but lots of neat rock formations

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