Before I planned this trip, neither had I.
Actually, when I started planning the trip, my destination was the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, another location I hadn’t heard of previously. However, on one of my hikes at Clear Creek Metro Park, a fellow hiker, Joan, and I got talking and she told me all about her visit there, and how amazing it was. So, I started researching the area.
Canyons of the Ancients has no campgrounds, but the nearby (and in some cases, embedded) Hovenweep does have a campground. And they both have the Puebloan ruins from about 800 years ago. Their only difference is their jurisdictions (and when they were designated as National Monuments). Hovenweep is under the National Park Service while Canyons of the Ancients is under the Bureau of Land Management.
That difference in jurisdictions has once difference that I appreciated. On National Park lands you can rarely bushwhack—it’s just not allowed. But on BLM land, bushwhacking is allowed (in fact, BLM lands are usually multi-use of all sorts). So, I was looking forward to being able to do exploring on my own at the Canyons of the Ancients while still staying at the Hovenweep campground with all the amenities (read: toilets).
Here’s a map that can give you a feel for the relative sizes and locations of Hovenweep and the Canyons of the Ancients. Even the campground is shown.
[As always, click on the images for larger, more readable versions.]
The Hovenweep unit that contains the campground surrounds what’s called Little Ruin Canyon. Here’s an official map (in the brochure) showing the Canyon and the ruins within it.
After I got my tent set up, it was time to look around. When you leave the Visitor Center and start the trail, there is a nice signboard with the quickie display of some information about the ruins and the people who use to live here.
I do like that they show the people working barefoot. While we know that they made (really cool, intricate sandals) it is also reasonable to realize that going barefoot would save the sandals for when they really needed them. Here’s a closer look at one of the people.
I worked my way counter-clockwise around the trail.
Those are the Twin Towers across the Canyon. To the right of them you can see the Eroded Boulder House, built right on top of a huge rock.
In this picture I’m at the tip of the more northern canyon.
In the distance you can see the Twin Towers again, this time edge-on though. On the right side you can see the path leading to Tower Point. You might also notice a (large) feature kind of hiding behind that tree on the left. Let me move over so you can get a better look.
That is Sleeping Ute Mountain. It sits about 18 miles away in Colorado across the Utah/Colorado border. It is visible all over Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients. Expect to see a lot more of it in my subsequent blog posts.
If you look over towards the right, as it sinks back into the ground, you can see two small bumps. Believe it or not (believe it!), those are called West Toe (elevation 7325 feet) and East Toe (elevation 7765 feet). By the way, the tip of the head is at 9978 feet.
There’s a placard nearby explaining Sleeping Ute Mountain:
In geological terms, the small compact mountain range is a laccolith. During the Tertiary Period, about 10-25 million years ago, molten magma intruded through faults and cracks in the overlying sedimentary rocks. Millions of years of erosion have removed the surrounding sedimentary layers, leaving these harder domes above the surrounding landscape. As you travel the Four Corners keep looking for the “Ute”; it serves as a great landmark. Perhaps it did 700 years ago as well.
Another thing you can notice from this picture is just how flat the landscape is. The surrounding land is really pretty flat, with just a bit of rolling to it. However, it has these canyons carved into it, and of course they don’t show up until you are right on top of them. It’s really kind of weird to be driving along a flat landscape and then suddenly come upon one of the canyons.
As I headed out towards Tower Point, I noticed a set of footprints.
Whoa! There was another person exploring Little Ruin Canyon barefoot. (I mean, it really is the only way to do it, but somehow practically nobody actually ever does it.) I kept my eye out and I did eventually see the person. Here are two long-distance shots (and I’m sorry they are so fuzzy).
I never did catch up with her (but then, I also wasn’t really trying—I was looking at the ruins).
Continuing on, I made it to Tower Point.
This shot has the ruin there on the side, and across the canyon you can see the Twin Towers edge-on again. To their right is Rim Rock House, and if you look below them, closer and into the canyon, you can see Round Tower. And of course, there’s the “Ute” still sleeping in the background.
From that location at the end of Tower Point I also got a nice shot of another (unnamed) ruin that sits below.
Let me finish with a picture of Hovenweep Castle as I returned from Tower Point.
I did all this after driving in from the Grand Canyon. And I noticed during my stay that a lot of people drove in, camped for the night, and were gone the next morning. I was staying longer, and I was planning on doing a lot more.