Saturday, July 15, 2023

Not Even Not Traveling 33: Hovenweep

Hovenweep - Sunday June 25

In the morning, we loaded up and headed to another set of Puebloan ruins. On the drive, almost at the doorstep to Hovenweep, Diane spotted a hopping mouse on the road. After we arrived, I looked it up on my phone. There are indeed hopping mice native to Utah. I still haven't seen one. But Diane has.

Happily for us, Hovenweep provided the best set of Puebloan archaeological examples so far on this trip. Locals built the town in the 1200s, so the building remains might have been labeled as Anasazi at one point. But Anasazi is a Navajo term for “ancient enemy” so as you can imagine it is falling out of favor. Puebloan makes sense; the name indicates ancestors to the modern Hopi, Zuni, Taos, and Acoma peoples.

Even though we'd come for the architecture, which was brilliant, we couldn't help noticing the wildlife. There were, as usual for this climate, about a hundred lizards, a few squirrels, some big-ass rodents that might have been chipmunks on cocaine although they moved so fast it was hard to tell, and we saw warning signs about rabbits, rattlesnakes, and coyotes although none of them were in evidence. Ravens hung around every ruin. They love the park policy of not disturbing the structures. As far as the ravens are concerned, it means no one approaches their homes except maybe a few wrens or chickadees and, to ravens, small birds don't count.

Puebloans built Hovenweep by laying down local stones, which they held together with mud mortar. Because of the mortar, they are comparatively fragile. As soon as people stop living in any place cemented by mud mortar, which needs refreshed every year, the building starts to fall apart. The mortar requires upkeep. Still, the design of these buildings and the entire Hovenweep canyon was obviously excellent. Some of the buildings compare well to the best stone buildings from the middle ages in Europe. Only the use of mud mortar as compared to something more durable has reduced the Puebloan structures. As you wander through, you can see holes in the walls that once held beams and joists for outbuilding structures. There are multiple towers in the town, too. The towers supported several floors ascended by ladders as we’ve seen in similar, more intact buildings.

Hovenweep is the next best thing to Bandolier, which is better a visit than Mesa Verde (IMHO). Although Hovenweep is not by any means a secret, during unpopular visitation times it feels like one. The village feels hidden, forgotten. But wandering through it gives you an awe-inspiring impression of North American history.


As we saw in Hovenweep and other sites, desert scrub environments meant the locals needed to use dry land farming techniques. The Puebloans of the 1200s apparently did very well with them, too. They imported squash, corn, and a variety of other crops while they made use of the nearby juniper forest, yucca, prickly pear, and cholla. 


We saw obvious places where a hundred years of fire ashes were dumped daily. In some of those locations, no structures survive, not even flattened ruins. That's why I'd guess that many buildings were entirely constructed of wood or other perishable materials and didn’t survive the eight hundred years - or even the first fifty after the citizens abandoned their town. Alternatively, some of the vacant home sites might have been cannibalized for their logs and stones. As families moved out of an old, small place into two or three new ones, they would have been motivated to use the existing materials. That would explain the ash sites, too. 

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