Archive for January, 2011

the towers of hovenweep   19 comments

canyon view of the “twin towers” in the Square Tower Group at Hovenweep

In early November, after camping a night at the Sand Island petroglylph site near Bluff, Utah, the dogs and I continued our journey, making our way onwards to Hovenweep National Monument. I chose to take Rte 262 off of Hwy 181 between Bluff and Blanding. The road was mostly paved and occasionally winding but fairly good. I recall it as being about 25 miles from the junction with 181 to Hovenweep, leading through arid range lands, narrow rocky canyons, and past the Hatch Trading Post. When driving through such country, I always take note of the odometer reading as I head off on some back road to find a place. Keeping my eye on the countdown, if I find myself running a few miles over the point where I should have reached my destination, that’s a pretty good indication that I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. Although that doesn’t happen too often, it’s a good strategy when navigating through country where the maps are a little vague, or the roads not too well marked. However, for the most part, I found Utah to be quite visitor friendly – most roads, even the more remote back country routes, are fairly well signed. Certainly a lot more so than some places I’ve wandered.

“Hovenweep Castle” – the name given to the largest structure in the Square Tower group at Hovenweep

The final part of the drive is over top of the Cajon Mesa, at an elevation of about 5000 feet. Hovenweep National Monument encompasses several clusters of settlements which were situated on narrow canyons where water could be sourced from springs and seasonal run-off. The Square Tower Group located on Hovenweep Canyon, is the largest cluster of structures. The visitor center and campground are located nearby. A two mile hiking trail leads along the rim on both sides of the canyon, passing by several stone structures clinging to the edge. Most of the hike is over relatively flat rock expanses which would be easy walking for most people, with the exception of the east end of the loop nearest to the campground. It passes down through the canyon, so involves a bit of steep climbing – not particularly difficult, but some would have trouble with that section and would do better to retrace their way along the rim. Leaving Sabrina sleeping comfortably in the van parked at our campsite – blinds pulled down, but all of the windows left open to allow a good stiff breeze to blast through – Sage and I set out to hike the loop. Unlike many national parks in the U.S., Hovenweep allows leashed dogs on the trails.

Hovenweep Castle as seen from the opposite rim of the canyon

We began our hike by dropping down through the canyon, which provided some welcome shade and refuge from the heat of the midday sun. There, pinyon and juniper grow among the boulders, their tortuous roots grasping rocks and burrowing into every crack and crevice. Small lizards paused then scampered off at our approach. From the east end of the canyon floor, only the “twin towers” are visible.

round tower on south side of canyon rim, and beyond, another structure clinging to the north rim

Ascending to the south rim, we approached the “twin towers” stone structure (see top photo – click on all images to see larger views). As can be seen from these photos, one of the features that sets Hovenweep apart from most other ruin sites found throughout the region, are the tower type structures. Towers may be found not only within the Square Tower Group, but also the multi-story “Tilted Tower” in the Holly Group, and the “Horseshoe Tower” in the Horseshoe-Hackberry Group, and remains of towers at the Cajon and Cutthroat Castle Groups. I very much wished that I could visit more of the ruins beyond the Square Tower Group, but Sabrina is no longer up to extended hikes and I’m unwilling to leave her in the van alone when traveling in the southwest where daytime temperatures can make the van uncomfortable unless there is a good breeze. Some day, I hope to return to hike to all of these ruins, but on this day, Sage and I enjoyed a good walk along the Square Tower trail. Note: To view a .pdf map of the Hovenweep National Monument sites, see this link.

the “Square Tower” (center) and “Hovenweep Castle” (right), and “Hovenweep House” (left) at west end of canyon.

As Sage and I continued our walk along the south rim of the canyon, we met a couple coming the opposite direction along the trail. As happens so often when I’m walking with Sage, they stopped to ask what breed of dog she might be. As also happens so frequently, they asked where I was from and if I was traveling alone. I replied and that led to other questions about my reason for being on my own, and eventually to me being on the road since Don’s death. They seemed surprised and wondered how he died as they thought I looked too young to be a widow. I used to find such trailside conversations rather difficult, but time and distance seem to have made me more comfortable, although I often find myself left in an odd mood as I continue on my way – unexpectedly reminded of how and why I am so different than everyone else. In any case, Sage cut our conversation short by suddenly breaking into a bizarre fit of snapping and fllipping around at the end of her leash. I have absolutely no idea what triggered the behaviour as I’ve not seen it before or since, but she was leaping around, snapping viciously at the air as though being attacked by some invisible foe. I now wonder if she was stung by an insect. Whatever the cause, the couple hastily departed, perhaps wondering if my dog was rabid.

house inside of a great boulder perched part way down the canyon wall

Sage and I continued onward, with me now worrying over whether she was quite alright, but also feeling slightly gloomy over being reminded of my alone-ness. However, when I’m wandering about in such wonderful landscapes, studying ruins, and plants and lizards, I am soon distracted. My attention turned to the coolest dwelling built inside of a huge boulder part way down the canyon wall (see above). I mused to myself about the individual who decided to build a house inside a boulder. Was s/he something of a renegade, choosing to live inside a boulder instead of within a stone house or tower?

It occurs that I haven’t mentioned much about the use of these towers. There seems to be quite a bit of speculation about their purpose. In his book, The Towers of Hovenweep (2004), Ian Thompson discusses the findings of various archaeological investigations. It seems that the towers probably had multiple uses as dwellings, observation posts, places to process food crops, carry out ceremonies, guard the nearby canyon springs, and even to serve as astronomy calendars. He cites the research work of Ray Williamson, an astronomer who conducted research at Hovenweep and found that the D-shaped tower section of the “Hovenweep Castle” structure has openings and other details which seem to indicate purposes related to calculation of astronomical events such as solstices (Thompson, 29).

Sage taking a break in the shade of a pinyon along the canyon rim of the Square Tower trail

Completing our circuit of the Square Tower trail, Sage and I returned to the van. With the great mass of Sleeping Ute mountain looming in the distance, I cooked our dinner at a picnic table overlooking the canyon. By the time I finished washing up our plates, a typically terrific pink and glowing southwest sunset filled the sky. With the van windows open, we fell asleep to the chirping of crickets and other familiar night sounds.

Written by bev wigney on January 12th, 2011

sand island petroglyphs   13 comments

Posted at 9:24 pm in Arizona,Art,geology,history,Utah

Baby Rocks formation near Kayenta, Arizona

In my last post about travels through Utah, I wrote of our campsite in the high desert, a few miles west of Kanab. We stayed in that area for the first few days of November before moving eastward. My original plan had been to camp at one of several dispersed sites that are located along a couple of dirt roads north of 89 between Kanab and Page. However, after making inquiries at the Kanab BLM office, it became apparent that I’d have to look elsewhere due to road closures. In such arid regions, one would think that the roads would be easily maintained, but not so. Rock falls and wash-outs can make roads entirely impassable within minutes. Clean-up and rebuilding can take weeks to several months, so it’s always wise to stop in at the local BLM office to check on road and weather conditions before venturing off the beaten path.

With my plans foiled due to a recent rock fall, I decided to spend the better part of a day on the road, driving east from Kanab, past Lake Powell and over Glen Canyon Dam, through Page, Arizona, then taking routes 98 and 160, through the Navajo Nation lands of the Four Corners region, before turning north and re-entering Utah near Bluff. Once in Utah, I figured that I would find somewhere to camp the night. The drive from Page to Bluff was my first trip through the Navajo lands. I passed a number of farms, many with hogan structures in the yard. Also seen along the way were several hand-painted signs for community horse races. Northeast of the town of Kayenta, I took the above photo of Baby Rocks, an unusual formation of sand- and siltstone that has broken up into vertical towers which resemble a gathering of people (click on all images for larger version). From the highway, it was also possible to see several of the immense rock formations of Monument Valley.

view of a panel of petroglyphs on cliff face at Sand Island site near Bluff, Utah

By late afternoon, I was back over the Utah border, heading north on 191. I crossed the San Juan River, then turned east toward Bluff. Soon, I spotted signs for the Sand Island BLM campground and made a mental note to return there if I did not find a suitable campsite elsewhere. Continuing east, I made a quick exploration of Bluff, then returned to the BLM campground. Once again, I found myself almost alone – which is always nice. I chose a campsite beneath a tall gold-leafed cottonwood, near the towering sandstone cliffs that run parallel to the river. Before making dinner, I took the dogs for a walk over to the cliffs to study the many panels of petroglyphs which were a good part of the reason for my choice of stopping points for this evening. Various sources I’ve read date some of these petroglyphs to about 2500 years old.

our campsite, as seen from the trail along the petroglyphs (far right). The San Juan River is obscured from view by the trees.

Although the elevation was over 4000 feet at this location, we enjoyed one of the warmest nights of our trip. The campground is very sheltered and the south-facing cliffs must store a great deal of heat on sunny days. Although quiet during our visit, this site is a staging area for river rafting on the San Juan, so must see a lot more traffic during warmer months of the year.

anthropomorphic figures surrounded by Bighorn Sheep and other creatures

The petroglyph panels at this site are protected by a chain link fence along the sections with the highest aggregation of figures. However, the fence is close enough to afford an excellent view of the glyphs. I walked the length of the expanse of sandstone cliff and also found a number of isolated figures high above ground level. As we followed the roadway, Ravens occasionally appeared to soar along the upper edge of the cliff face.

several Kokopelli figures appear in one area of the glyphs (figures playing flutes)

Figures at this site include many anthropomorphs, perhaps most notably, a small group of Kokopelli figures – those playing flutes in the above photo. There are also many animal figures forming lines like small herds. The petroglyphs at Sand Island are the most accessible of those located along the San Juan River. There exist many more sites which may only be viewed from the water. Perhaps some day I will have a chance to take a rafting trip to see these additional sites.

geometric and more abstract figures appear in some of the panels

I spent awhile photographing the petroglyphs in the evening and again the next morning. The warmer light a couple of hours after sunrise seemed to produce the best results. The number of figures is so great at this site, that it could provide many of hours of study for those who are interested in such things. I would return to this campground later in this trip, only to notice new figures that had somehow been overlooked during my previous visit.

After shooting more photos, I packed up the van and set out for the next stop on our exploration of southeast Utah – Hovenweep National Monument – to camp and visit the stone dwellings. More about that in an upcoming post.

cliff face as seen from our campsite

Written by bev wigney on January 5th, 2011