Mysterious Abandonment Of Hovenweep

In the high desert country which straddles the border between southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado, the Hovenweep ruins with their mysterious towers induce a strange silence, something you cannot quite explain.

At the famed Mesa Verde ruins, forty or fifty miles to the east of Hovenweep, you hear the shouts of excited children, the scoldings of their anxious parents, the lectures of park rangers.

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the Aztec ruin, eighty five miles to the east southeast, you hear breezes wandering through towering cottonwood trees.

At the Chaco Canyon ruins, one hundred and thirty miles to the southeast, you hear coyotes howl in the night, sometimes, it seems, right outside your tent.

At the Canyon de Chelly ruins, ninety miles to the south southwest, you hear the bleat of the Navajos’ flocks and the bark of their sheep dogs.

In our experience at Hovenweep (a Ute word meaning “deserted valley”), you hear nothing at all for long periods. When you see the occasional visitors during the day, they seem to walk along the trails and among the ruins in deliberate quietness. They seem to speak with hushed voices.

Throughout the ruins, visitors may find castles, towers, check dams (for irrigation), cliff dwellings, pueblos, and houses. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout the ruins, visitors may find castles, towers, check dams (for irrigation), cliff dwellings, pueblos, and houses. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The silence reinforces the mysteries of the Hovenweep ruins and their towers. Investigation of the standing walls, the circular depressions, the stone masonry rubble, the towers and the artifacts of Hovenweep is much like reading chapters in open-ended mystery novels. In both cases, you find clues about the authors, their origins, their cultural traditions, but you can never discover answers to all the riddles.

Hundreds of acres of the surrounding, communally owned land were farmed. The classic three Anasazi crops—corn, beans, and squash—as well as some cotton were raised. Their agricultural traditions dated to a time more than a thousand years earlier, when their ancestors began raising corn which had origins in southern Mexico and Central America.

The buildings cling to the canyon rims. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The buildings cling to the canyon rims. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They hunted the wild animals and gathered the wild plants of the Cajon Mesa, ranging across its desert shrublands at about four thousand eight hundred feet on its southwestern end to its pinyon and juniper forests at some six thousand eight hundred feet on its northeastern end.

They crafted a distinctive assemblage of clothing, woven fiber sandals, blankets, jewelry, utensils, stone tools, ceramic vessels, and ceremonial objects.

Nobody knows what happened here. For centuries, the Anasazi carved a place for themselves out of the rocky Southwest landscape. Then the Anasazi left. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nobody knows what happened here. For centuries, the Anasazi carved a place for themselves out of the rocky Southwest landscape. Then the Anasazi left. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although this region was probably visited by nomadic hunters as long as 14,000 years ago, it was the Anasazi who occupied this area from about 500 to 1300 AD and who built the masonry towers and pueblos which the Monument protects.

These structures were discovered in 1854, more than 30 years before the more famous cliff dwellings at nearby Mesa Verde. Hovenweep was set aside as a National Monument in 1923 for protection and preservation.

By the end of the thirteenth century, the people of Hovenweep—like other Anasazi across the region—abandoned their area, departing slowly over a period of years, leaving behind a tangle of mysteries. Several theories have been proposed as reasons for the Anasazi’s departure, including drought, overpopulation, and disease.

They left, archaeologists once thought, to escape a long, severe drought, but the Anasazi apparently just moved to other locations which suffered the same drought.

They could have left, some archaeologists now argue, not just because of drought, but also because of depleted wood resources, pressurized internal disputes, unraveling social ties, dwindling trade relations, unsustainable group interdependencies, failed religious leadership.

The ruins of this ancient civilization can be found in the high desert of the Four Corners, amid miles of washes, canyons, and rolling hills of juniper. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ruins of this ancient civilization can be found in the high desert of the Four Corners, amid miles of washes, canyons, and rolling hills of juniper. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They may have left, still other archaeologists think, because they came to believe that they could never succeed at Hovenweep and other regional locations in the search for harmony and balance.

What factor, or combination of factors, caused the Hovenweep people and other Anasazi to abandon their homes during the same period over a large region? No one can say for sure.

The abandonments and relocations raise questions about the Anasazi region in general, but the towers hold mysteries for the Hovenweep ruins in particular.

The monument is noted for its solitude, clear skies and undeveloped, natural character. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument is noted for its solitude, clear skies and undeveloped, natural character. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I hope you dance because…

Time.

Time is a wheel.

Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along.

Tell me, who wants to look back on their years and wonder where their years have gone.

—Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers, I Hope You Dance

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