SERIES – PHOTOS OF A FAMILY ROAD TRIP ADVENTURE
This family road trip is moving on to Moab, Utah! But not before one last Native American experience in Colorado. Today’s drive passes through the ancient archeological corridor of Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep National Monuments, providing an incredible opportunity to learn more about those who once lived in this remote and rugged land.
Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep are sites along the Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway, a 114 mile scenic, historic drive through the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. Within these lands are countless Native American archeological sites spanning thousands of years of human habitation, including cliff dwellings, giant kivas and small kivas, rock art, and whole villages.
With more than 6,000 archeological sites, Canyons of the Ancients is an incredible array of Native American history. It is also a region designed to explore on your own. Most sites are very rustic, with no park rangers on hand to direct your visit, no services to smooth the adventure. Many roads within are primitive and unpaved, barely roads at all!
Come prepared for a rough and rugged drive, leave with an incredible, informative journey through an ancient land’s past life. Come explore with us this outdoor museum!
First Stop – The Anasazi Heritage Center
The Anasazi Heritage Center is where the day’s adventure begins. The Center is home to artifacts and cultural history of the Ancestral Puebloan people, and where all the necessary information to plan the day ahead can be gathered.
Explore ancient pottery displays, depictions of Ancestral Puebloan life, and discussions of Native American culture and history. Learn how ancient corn was ground, and how textiles were woven at the hands-on exhibits. Walk through a 12th century Pueblo village.
Immerse yourself into this ancient culture. Prepare for the day ahead. Talk with park rangers about which sites to explore, and driving directions to reach them. Pick up road maps. Acquaint yourself with this vast, rugged land spread out before you.
Inside Lowry Pueblo
Maps in hand, it’s time to hit the road less traveled into Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. First up is Lowry Pueblo, a small settlement built in approximately 1060 AD. It’s as if time has stood still in this vastly remote stretch of land.
There’s not much at Lowry Pueblo beyond the ruins of it’s ancient Puebloan village, and that alone makes this site a must-stop. Take advantage of the nearby restrooms. They may be the last ones you’ll see for the next few hours!
Walk past crumbling stone walls that once encompassed the village’s 40 rooms and 8 kivas. Stand at the edge of the Great Kiva, nearly 50 feet in diameter. Step inside the one modern building, designed to protect the partially excavated ruins of Lowry Pueblo’s Great House.
At it’s peak in the 11th century, Lowry Pueblo was home to about 100 people who farmed and hunted the nearby lands. Today, it’s hard to imagine how anything edible might have grown here beneath the glaring heat of the mid-summer sun.
Exploring Painted Hand Pueblo
Continue along this journey to Painted Hand Pueblo. These ruins are considered a back-country site, which is quickly discerned by the narrow strip of rough and rocky dirt road leading to the adjacent parking lot.
Painted Hand Pueblo features the ruins of a crumbling stone tower delicately perched atop an impressively large boulder. Though these ruins have not been excavated, one can still see beneath the tower’s lofty position, a series of rooms that were once connected to the tower.
Hunt for the ever-so-faint pictographs of hands painted in one of those nearby rooms. Just remember to not touch them! And please do not remove any artifacts from the site.
Stand at the edge of the remains of an ancient civilization. Painted Hand Pueblo is truly a rustic site, no modern developments within sight, and as such provides a strikingly similar viewpoint as ancient Puebloans might also have looked out upon so many years ago.
A Back Country Hike to Cutthroat Castle
A half-mile beyond Painted Hand Pueblo is the Cutthroat Castle trailhead. Be prepared for an even more rough and rugged stretch of road to reach these ruins!
Much like the road leading to it, the trail to the Cutthroat Castle ruins is fairly rough and rugged, and not always well marked. Have a trailmap on hand and pay attention to your surroundings. Trail maps are at the Anasazi Heritage Center or the Hovenweep website.
The Cutthroat Castle trail leads hikers through cottonwood trees and past sagebrush, eventually opening up to the Cutthroat Castle ruins. Based upon structural evidence, it’s thought is that the castle was at least three stories high.
Look high, low, and all around, soaking it all in. Just remember, if you see an artifact on the ground, leave it there. It is illegal to remove artifacts, and though this is a primitive site, it is still patrolled by the National Park Service.
A Walk Along Hovenweep’s Little Ruin Canyon
The day’s last adventure is along Hovenweep National Monument’s Little Ruin Canyon, a 2 mile loop following the rim of a small canyon that was once home to Ancestral Puebloans a thousand years ago.
Walk along the canyon rim, where multistory towers perch perilously on the rim’s edge and crumbling walls of indistinct origin dot the landscape. The Hovenweep ruins are sure to have you marveling upon the skills of these ancient builders.
Archeologists are unclear as to what specific functions many of Hovenweep’s towers served. Were they defensive structures? Perhaps storage facilities? Maybe celestial observatories?
Let your mind wander, imagining for yourself what each of these towers, all these ruinous structures, represented to the Ancestral Puebloans who once lived here.
Leave this land contemplating the precision and skill the Puebloan people required to build their community within the canyon walls. How have they stand the test of time?
Tips To Plan A Day in Canyons of the Ancients
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument covers extensive amounts of land, and is a self-drive experience. Be prepared for what you want to see and do before hitting the road. Sites are spread out and miles apart, making it unlikely that you will cover it all in one day.
Here are several tips to help you plan your own day in these storied lands.
- Have a drive plan in place before heading out, including maps and trail guides.
- Utilize the Anasazi Heritage Center and it’s staff to plan your drive.
- Roads can be rough and rugged, and not all vehicles will be able to traverse all roads.
- Come prepared! This is a very remote region, with practically no available services.
- Be sure you car has a full tank of gas before heading out!
- Pack snacks and water. You won’t find either once you leave the Anasazi Heritage Center.
- It gets quite hot in the summer. Pack extra water and sunscreen if exploring in this time.
- Don’t touch or remove artifacts along trails or at the sites. That’s illegal.
Most of all, enjoy! Most sites are rarely crowded, and it’s highly likely you might just have the site all to yourselves. Learn more about the Anasazi Heritage Center, Canyons of The Ancients National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument.
Have You Driven The Trail of The Ancients?
This concludes our road trip adventure along the Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway, and through Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep National Monuments. This was a very special experience of Native American history, and one we will treasure for years to come. But now, the sun is rapidly fading, and it’s time to complete the drive to Moab.
Have you been to Canyons of The Ancients or Hovenweep National Monuments? Have you driven along the Trail of the Ancients? Do share your own experiences!
Catch the rest of the Series – Photos of A Family Road Trip Adventure:
- Road Tripping in Colorado and Utah – Photos of a Family Adventure
- Exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado.
- A Fascinating Experience at Aztec Ruins National Monument, NM
- Welcome to The Iconic Four Corners Monument, USA!
- Mesa Verde National Park – Snapshots of an Amazing, Enlightening Experience
- Inside The Oak Tree House Cliff Dwelling, Mesa Verde National Park
- Inside Animus Forks – A Colorado Mining Ghost Town Experience
- Hiking Into The Devil’s Garden – Arches National Park
- 5 Favorite Moments – A Photo Journey Through Arches National Park
- Exploring Sego Canyon’s Ancient Rock Art & Historic Ghost Town
All images by C.Biederman.