THE GREAT OUTDOORS — If you have never visited or even heard of Hovenweep National Monument, here is everything you need to know to decide whether you should plan a trip this year.
Hovenweep was designated as a national monument by President Warren G. Harding on March, 2, 1923, according to Sierra Coon, chief of interpretation at Hovenweep. Located in the southeast corner of Utah, the monument is only 784 acres total and is spread across six separate units: Square Tower, Cajon, Holly, Horseshoe, Hackberry and Cutthroat Castle. Most of the units are surrounded by Bureau of Land Management land, but Cajon (the southernmost unit) is surrounded by a Navajo reservation, Coon said.
With only about 40,000 visitors per year, Hovenweep is “really a hidden gem,” Coon said.
Here are some of the popular things to do there:
Unique petroglyph display during summer solstice
Hovenweep is home to several remaining structures from six villages of ancestors to today’s Pueblo people. In addition to the structures, which Coon said are more than 700 years old, visitors can see petroglyphs from the ancient civilizations who lived in the area.
Coon said that visitors should plan on coming during the summer solstice: Friday, June 21. The petroglyphs at the Holly Unit “put on quite a show at the summer solstice, when a spear of sunlight splits three spirals pecked into rock,” she said.
The unique light show occurs at sunrise, and there is a viewing spot for the petroglyphs marked by a sign.
Hiking to ancient structures
The most popular activity at Hovenweep is hiking the Square Tower Loop Trail, according to Coon. The 2-mile loop trail can be accessed from the visitor center and takes hikers past several ancient Pueblo structures.
The remains of nearly 30 kivas (Puebloan ceremonial structures) have been discovered in the area, as well as a variety of other structures that can be seen perched on the canyon rims and tucked under ledges, according to the National Park Service website. There were possibly as many as 500 people who lived in the area between 1200 and 1300 A.D., the website says.
The hike is moderately strenuous and offers great views of every structure. Most people spend one to two hours on the hike.
Square Tower is the only unit in Hovenweep that can be accessed by a paved road, and between the visitor center and the first overlook, the trail is paved and wheelchair accessible, according to the website.
It should be noted that no overnight backpacking is permitted in Hovenweep, and mountain biking is not allowed, Coon said.
Stargazing at a designated International Dark Sky Park
Hovenweep is one of 11 designated dark sky areas in Utah, and “the night skies are worth admiration,” Coon said. The hiking trails close at sunset, but there are night sky programs available at the visitor center during the spring and fall.
There are also several programs and special stargazing events offered at the International Dark Sky Park throughout the year. They can be found on the Hovenweep Facebook page.
So, whether you want to escape the pollution from the inversion and visit now, or want to wait until the summer solstice, Hovenweep has a variety of activities that are great for all ages and every time of the year. Visitors should note that as of August 2018, the Cutthroat Unit is closed to the public.
Have you been to Hovenweep? Let us know in the comments!