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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I hope you dance because…
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