CORTEZ, Colo. (CBS4) – The ruins of Hovenweep lie along the Colorado-Utah border to the west of the more famous cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde.
There’s now a new visitor center that has been built at Hovenweep National Monument in recent years. The center is a great place to check for nature walks and other programs in the park year round.
CBS4 Colorado Getaways producer Doug Whitehead made a return trip to Hovenweep at the beginning of January.
“I’ve been going there for years and this latest visit only confirms why I have always considered this a special place,” Whitehead said.
Still standing more than eight centuries after they were built, the buildings represent the final chapter of an age-old occupation of this land.
“It wasn’t just what we see here today. We’re talking thousands of years of Puebloan life here,” Todd Overbye said.
Overbye is lead interpreter at Hovenweep. He says that nearly a quarter century of drought played a huge role in the demise of what had been a successful agrarian society.
“They could not survive here like they could in the past and so they all left. Was it en masse? We don’t know, but maybe in stages, but they did all leave by early 1300 and nobody’s occupied this area since,” Overbye said.
Ties to the region, however, remain to this day. Descendents of the ancestral Puebloans like modern Hopi and Zuni people call places like Hovenweep by names passed on through generations — names that echo from their ancient past.
“If you take the time to explore Hovenweep and just sit here and listen to the silence, you might be able to hear the bustling of the community used to be here,” Overbye said.
The term “Anasazi” refers to the people who lived in the four corners region. Today the term “ancestral Pueblo people” is thought to better describe the ancestors of modern Pueblo tribes. Researchers have begun to consult with those tribes more closely in recent years because of the ancient knowledge they possess.
The technology of research has improved a lot. There is GPS, ground penetrating radar and all kinds of tools to look underground without disturbing much of the ruins themselves. 3-D pictures were developed through the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez. They’re based on information gathered with the new methods to give a better understanding of how the communities existed on the landscape. Find out more about the new research at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center website.
Reach Hovenweep by taking U.S. Highway 160 from Durango to Cortez. Just south of town follow signs west on McElmo Canyon Road into Utah and the visitor center. Several sites lie back across the border in Colorado. For more information call them at (970) 562-4282 or visit a special section of the nps.gov website.
Photo Gallery: Hovenweep National Monument