August 25-29, 2011, Cortez, CO

We left Mt. Pleasant Thursday morning and headed to Cortez, CO.  We stopped at a viewpoint along I70 about 50 miles west of Greenriver, UT.  We thought this rock formation looked like a lion lying at the base of the bluff.

We are staying at the Sundance RV Park in Cortez, CO.   This is a very nice park in town just across the street from a beautiful city park.  Our site is really big, shady and has a nice grassy area.

We are surprised that even though we are on Main Street in the middle of town this is a very quiet RV park.  We have taken the dogs on long walks around the large park complex across the street.  The park has soccer fields, baseball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, Frisbee gold course, swimming pool, recreation center, two ponds and lots of grass.  We spent Thursday afternoon and Friday relaxing and getting some chores done.  Saturday morning we went to the Farmer’s Market and bought some home grown tomatoes and squash.  Saturday evening we went to the Cortez Cultural Center and toured their museum and art gallery.  We watched a performance by the Roach Family Dancers, a husband and wife from Gallup, NM who performed some traditional Indian dances.  Mrs. Roach sang traditional songs her mother had taught her and Mr. Roach also played the flute.  We enjoyed their performance.

Sunday we went to Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments.  We first stopped at Hovenweep Visitor Center and watched a short film about the archeological sites at the monument.  The canyons and mesas in this area hold many archeological sites where ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indian tribes lived. Most of the buildings still standing at the sites were constructed from 1230 to 1275, about the same time as the dwellings at Mesa Verde.  Hovenweep, which is a Ute/Paiute word for “deserted valley”, was named a National Monument in 1923 to protect these sites.  The Visitor Center is located in Utah but the other developed sites are located in Colorado.

Behind the Visitor’s Center is the Square Tower Unit located in Little Ruin Canyon, which is located in the heart of a 500-square-mile raised block of land called Cajon Mesa.  We hiked a 2 mile trail around the rim of the canyon.
This is a view across the canyon of Twin Towers on the left and Rimrock House on the right.  Downhill and to the right of Twin Towers is Eroded Boulder House.  Together, Twin Towers had sixteen rooms and were built very close together.  One tower is oval and the other is horseshoe shaped.  These towers are among the most carefully constructed buildings in the entire Southwest.  Rimrock House may not have been a place where people lived, for it lacks any apparent room divisions.  The structure is rectangular and stands two stories high.  Many small openings were placed in the walls at unusual angles.  The function of the openings in unknown, maybe peepholes or observations ports for tracking the sun or maybe ventilation.

We thought Eroded Boulder House was very unusual.  The structure incorporated the huge rock as part of its roof and walls.  There was also once a tower on top of the rock.

This structure is called Stronghold House, which is the upper story of a large pueblo built on the slope below, which now lies in rubble.  The entrance to the house was by way of hand-and-toe holds chipped into the rock or possibly by ladder.

At the top of the canyon Square Tower is sitting down in the canyon.  It is built on a large sandstone boulder and is two stories tall.  The Hackberry Trees beside the tower is where the spring is that allowed the early Puebloans to survive here.  On the canyon rim behind Square Tower is Hovenweep House, all that remains of one of the largest Pueblo villages in the Square Tower Group.  The larger structure on the right is Hovenweep Castle – two D-shaped towers.  Growth rings on a wooden beam in one tower indicates that the log was cut in 1277, one of the latest dates on any structure in this region.

We were fascinated by the intricate stonework on these structures and how the early Puebloans survived in this harsh environment.  It was about 90 degrees out and we were glad the hike was only 2 miles!

 Northeast of the Square Tower Unit about 4 miles (and in Colorado) we stopped at the Horseshoe and Hackberry Units.  From the parking lot we hiked a half mile to the Horseshoe and Hackberry sites in Hackberry Canyon.  It is estimated that Hackberry Canyon may have had one of the largest populations of all the Hovenweep sites because of the constant seepage of water in the canyon.  As many as 250 to 350 people may have lived here.  This is Horseshoe House, which is composed of four masonry structures that together form a horseshoe shape.  We could get close enough to be able to see the precise masonry work on the outside walls.

About a mile down the road we stopped at the Holly Site at the head of Keeley Canyon.  This is Boulder House inside the canyon.  Boulder house is a large, multistoried tower built on a large sandstone boulder and is located next to a seep.  The guide booklet stated that it appears this tower was built without outside scaffolding.  Each floor was built from the inside, one floor at a time, building upward.  Looking down at Boulder House, you can still see the hand-holds that were chipped into the boulder below the entrance.

This is another pictured of Boulder House from the other side of the canyon.  Between Boulder House and the structure in the bottom right corner is what remains of Tilted Tower.  Tilted Tower was a multi-story pueblo built atop a large sandstone boulder that shifted sometime after the canyon was abandoned.  The upper stories of the tower tumbled into the canyon while the footing remained attached to the boulder.

Down the canyon a short distance is the Holly Solstice Panel.  As the sun rises on and around the summer solstice, a small slit formed by the upper edges of the two boulders allows only a narrow band of light to pass through.  A band of light lands on the surface of the far boulder that is protected by an overhang of rock.   

The band of light begins as two smaller bands that gradually become brighter and eventually join together into one.  At its maximum intensity the band connects the centers of two petroglyphs – a spiral and a set of concentric circles – which are several feet apart.

We decided that it was too hot to hike any more so we did not stop at the last site in Hovenweep called Cutthroat Castle.

We crossed into Canyons of the Ancients National Monument which was named a national monument in 2000.  We stopped at Lowry Pueblo, an Ancestral Puebloan village constructed around 1060 and inhabited for about 165 years.  The pueblo stood two or three stories high, with rooftop entrances reached by ladders. It started out as a small village with a few rooms and a kiva.  More rooms were added and by the time it was abandoned, the pueblo had grown to 40 rooms, 8 kivas and a Great Kiva.  
A metal roof has been erected over a portion of the ruin to protect it.  

The Great Kiva is a short distance from the pueblo.  It is 47 feet in diameter and is one of the largest kivas found in this area.  A few years ago a visitor from an Indian tribe interpreted the structures inside the kiva as representing “winter people” and “summer people”.

On our way back to Cortez we stopped at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, CO, which is the information center for the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.  Lowry Pueblo is the only developed site in the monument that is not in the back country so it is the only site we visited.
We enjoyed our day visiting Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments and are continually amazed at the stonework in the ruins and how many of the structures are still standing.

We enjoyed our stay in Cortez – it was very relaxing.  The dogs are going to miss our walks in the city park.


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