The area of Hovenweep National Monument here at the Little Ruin Canyon, is considered the Square Tower group in the whole conglemeration considered Hovenweep and the Canyons of the Ancients.
Scattered throughout this valley are remains of a dozen or so different structures, indicating a population of some size inhabited this area, and evidence that the nearby mesa being farmed has also been excavated. There is evidence that this area may have been inhabited as early as 250 AD, but these structures that remain as a reminder of the past were built around 1230 to 1275 AD. Some of the structures involve creative structural features and mortars.
The trail is a total of 2 miles, but the Tower Point Overlook could be bypassed to save .5 miles. My opinion...don't skip the chance to see the valley from this vantage point.
The trail loops around the chasm, heads down breifly into the valley, then back up a steep (and I mean steep) incline back ot the visitor center.
See my Travelogue of Little Ruin Canyon for descriptions of some structures and a bit of history.
The Visitor's Center is situated in front of the valley housing the Square Tower group of Hovenweep National Monument. It is here that you can begin either the 1.5 mile or the 2.0 mile walk observing the Little Ruin Canyon (Square Tower Group).
The visitor's center is wheelchair accessible and has restrooms. Wheelchair access to the first overlook is possible, but past that the trail would be too uneven and dangerous.
The Visitor's Center offers exhibits about life here in this canyon, and a fantastic bookstore as well. Take a while to talk to a ranger. They are very informative, and always glad to share good information.
The visitor center is open daily 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with extended summer hours.
It cost us $3.00 a person to tour the Little Ruin Canyon, but was fantastic.
***Warning..it's hot in the summer...bring plenty of water***
***Warning #2...there are rattlesnakes...stay on the trail***
Hovenweep National Monument is a collection of ancestral Puebloan people, situated in the Canyons of the Ancients. The Cutthroat Castle Group is located in the southwestern corner of Colorado and has unique features.
Added to Hovenweep National Monument in 1956, this collection of ruins has features unique from other groups scattered throughout the Canyon of the Ancients. The Canyon of the Ancients is an area of southwestern Colorado and southeast Utah, which includes a high concentration of ancestral Puebloan ruins.
This area had a high population density, and "villages" such as this group date from around 400 AD through 1300 AD, when the area quickly and mysteriously was abandoned on a grand scale.
Unlike other ruins in Hovenweep National Monument, this group is not situated at the head of a canyon, but further downstream. This would not only make protecting the village more difficult, but also defending valuable natural springs. One theory as to why the area was abandoned centralizes around the idea that a massive drought caused the population to move on.
Another unique feature of the Cutthroat Castle group is an above-ground kiva, built atop a boulder. The kiva was a ceremonial area that connected its people with other worlds. Kivas were usually built below ground, signifying the underworld, and access to the kiva was from the roof, symbolizing the above world. In this group's case, the kiva is built atop a boulder, and access was granted from below through a slit in the boulder. Another distinguising featured was that this kiva was also surrounded by another room, unlike it's freestanding cousins throughout the canyon.
All the materials needed to support a population can be found by this seemingly remote area. Juniper and pinion trees offered building materials, food source, fire wood and even clothing materials. Quartz pebbles from the stream bed were cut into razor-like blades and tools for building, domestic duties and hunting.
To access this group of ruins, high clearance four wheel drive is required. This site is not easy to find on a map...from 491 outside of Cortez, take County Road BB and travel 6 miles to County Road 10. Turn south and go 11.3 miles. Turn left onto a rocky, dirt road for about one mile. The trail to the Painted Hand Pueblo will be on your left. Continue on just a sort way, and the trail becomes more difficult.
Due to their close proximity, these two groups of ruins share access trails.
There is a one-mile (round trip) walking trail to Hackberry Canyon that takes you past structures in both the Horshoe and Hackberry Groups.
You will come across Horseshoe Tower which sits on a point marking the start of the Horseshoe Site. The Tower overlooks Horseshoe Canyon. Though the tower is at a defensivelly startegic location, there is evidence of the tower being walled off from the mesa top...contradictary to defense.
Continue on Canyon Rim Trail to Horseshoe House. Named so for the four structures arranged in a horseshoe shape. The stone-masonry that forms the outside wall is precisely cut. The intricately pieced togetehr wall is held together with mortar made from clay, sand, and ash, mixed with water from seeps in the canyon below. Amazingly, this mortar still stands. It is not known if specialized masons were brought into this site for the construction, or if this was truly the work of Horshoe Group's inhabitants.
Just east of the Horseshoe structures is the Hackberry Site, overlooking the Hackberry Canyon. Constant and ample water seepage in this canyon may have attributed to Hackberry being the largest popoulation of "villages" in the canyons. Anywhere between 250 to 350 people may have lived here.
Like other groups in the canyons, both Horseshoe and Hackberry have the defining characteristics of the late Puebloen period. These include large multi-story pueblos and towers, located at canyon heads with seeps and springs. Rains were intermittent rains so for the survival of crops, the Puebloans constructed water-control features, with stone dams.
Mystery surrounds the reasoning for the sudden abandonment of the people of this area. Warfare, overpopulation, or even a 23 year-long drought beginning in A.D. 1276 may have been the cause.
The Holly Group's prominent features, Tilted Tower and Boulder House were inhabited between 1200 AD and 1300 AD.
The Canyon of the Ancients is an area of southwestern Colorado and southeast Utah, which includes a high concentration of ancestral Puebloan ruins. This area had a high population density, and "villages" such as this group date from around 400 AD through 1300 AD, when the area quickly and mysteriously was abandoned on a grand scale.
The Holly Group, named for Jim Holly, an area rancher when the group was found in the 1800s, was built at the head of Keeley Canyon near a natural seep (spring water source). The Boulder House is situated on a sandstone boulder, adjacent to the precious water source.
The architecture of the Boulder House and Tilted Tower are similar. Each are multi-stroy towers that seemed to have been built without scaffolding. Construction of the floors worked from the inside upwards, one floor at a time. The top of the Tilted Tower toppled into the canyon during a shift in the sandstone some time after the area was abandoned around 1300 AD.