CO – McInnis Canyon Natural Conservation Area, Dinosaur Quarries

Last May I stopped at Dinosaur National Monument and was beyond WOW’d by the Carnegie Quarry and Exhibit Hall (link).  On the way to and from Colorado National Monument I saw a small sign for Dinosaur Hill. On my final day at the park, it was overcast and I still had a bit of energy so decided to check it out.

It was cool to see that about 50% of the interpretive signs were done in braille.

I was underwhelmed for the most part. Kids would be extremely disappointed with the lack of fossils to see. This was the best display in my opinion.

Finding this large display of blooming Claret Cup Cactus was my reward. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many blooming simultaneously on one plant.

I also found a few blooming Mariposa Lilies and this one was extra large. It was probably 3″ at the opening. It was extra special with the bonus of a visitor enjoying the nectar.

I’d seen an exit sign for The Trail Through Time on Interstate 70 shortly after crossing into Colorado. This area was referenced on the signage at Dinosaur Hill so when I found myself in the area, I decided to take a peek.

Time to step back 150 million years.

The interpretive signs and displays were much improved as compared to Dinosaur Hill even though both are provided by the McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area.

This was my favorite.

It’s hard to believe the fossils in this site were not discovered until 1981. Makes you wonder what else is in the area. It’s also interesting to think of previous land ownership and the other nearby parcels.

The highlight for me was finding the hillsides filled with mariposa lily. Here are a few of my favorites.

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 28-29, 2019


  • BLM offers dispersed camping at Rabbit Valley. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to camp under a rainbow!
  • There is also a Dinosaur Museum in Fruita, worthy of a stop especially if you have kids. It has interactive displays plus actual research.



CO – Colorado National Monument, Let’s Go Hiking!

I’d attempted a visit to Colorado National Monument in early September 2017 (link), but it was too smoky and too hot for hiking. I was excited to give this place a second chance.

Almost immediately upon entering the park I saw this sign.

Lucky me, a couple of turns later and I had my first and only sighting over the week I spent visiting the park.

I entered the monument from the Fruita entrance (west) and after stopping at the visitor center and most of the wayside displays to reorient myself, I started hiking near the east entrance.

Hike #1 – Devils Kitchen Trail

There are a lot of unmaintained, well-used and defined trails in the area so it’s pretty easy to find yourself heading up the canyon rather than exiting at this monolithic formation (yes that’s what I did).

Looking down on Devils Kitchen, due to my navigation error.

Hike #2 – No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail 

A view of the first pool. Midday light is not the best for capturing this pool and cascading waterfall, nor the next waterfall. This is a seasonal pool and stream. It was such a delight to hike along a stream after recent hiking in more arid environments and suffering from the heat.

You can see here the size of the stream in places.

Kudos to the trail builders. It looks like the tread could use a little maintenance.

I met a couple groups who said the first waterfall was not flowing but after finding it myself, it seems they didn’t hike far enough. The location matched my Gaia map. Tip: if you don’t see this sign, keep hiking.

It was challenging to capture the waterfall with the sun shining at a less than optimal angle.

Bonus: First collared lizard sighting. He ran to the shade and said this is the best you’re getting.

Hike #3 – Upper Monument Canyon to Independence Monument 

The trail descended but thankfully not all the way to the canyon bottom. There are a few named formations along the way including this one called Kissing Couple. I guess a lot of imagination is required.

Independence Monument is probably the most famous in the park.

From each angle it looks a bit different.

I’d stopped at some of the viewpoints along Rim Drive to view Independence Monument from different angles.

There was a tiny bit of water in a few places but as per LNT expectations it’s to be left for the critters.

On my return hike, I was a little frustrated waiting for a group of about 60 kids, on a field trip, plus another group of about 10 adults to pass going in the opposite direction. It probably only took 10 minutes but I could hear them for a long ways. It was near noon and the kids were expressing their feelings of being hungry, tired and hot. But my reward was finding my second collared lizard, this time it was resting in the sun making for a much better photo. I can now check this experience off my bucket list!

A good view of the some of the switchbacks to help with the transition between the canyon rim and bottom.

Hike #4 – Coke Ovens Trail

As I climbed back toward the trailhead and canyon edge, it was tempting to skip the short hike to view the coke oven formations, but I knew I’d regret it so onward I went.

An interesting perspective of the coke oven formations.

Hike #5 – Upper Liberty Cap Trail to Otto’s Bathtub

There were several of these bench-like structures along the trail. They were all quite tall but this one was the tallest nearly reaching my chest. I forgot to ask about them at the visitors center.

The “route” to Otto’s Bathtub is not a maintained trail nor marked on maps. This junction was evidence it’s a very well used path.

Otto must have been a big guy! I’d call this a bathtub suitable for sasquatch.

There was even a little water in the bathtub’s drain.

The views were WOW WOW WOW! I enjoyed looking back into Upper Monument Canyon were I’d begun my hike to Independence Monument.

There had been a little rain the previous night which nicely filled the pot holes, much appreciated by the wildlife I’m sure. I loved walking this slickrock ramp. This view looks toward Black Ridge which I’d hike the next day.

The ridge below the snow-covered mountain is the one that houses Otto’s Bathtub and the slickrock I so enjoyed traversing.

This little guy said don’t forget about me. You like those colorful collared lizards but hey I’m the much more common variety.

Hike #6 – Otto’s Trail

It only made sense to hike Otto’s Trail after hiking to his bathtub. Who is Otto?

He pioneered many routes in the canyon including a climber’s route to the top of Independence Monument.

I was fortunate to see climbers on top one day.

Hike #7 – Black Ridge Trail

This trail provided more distant views of the canyon and surrounding mountains.

I found one of the original signs from this historic trail. I enjoyed walking along thinking about how this was a cattle drive route, something still done in my home town.

For those with ambition and interested in both a good workout and some technical hiking, you can start in the valley and hike up the old route which runs along the second level in this photo. I plan to explore on a subsequent visit.

This is a fertile valley with the Colorado River running through it. I was impressed with the miles and miles of agriculture country.

I really liked the variety of this park. The landscape was beautiful offering so much more than a canyon. I liked the options of hiking along a creek, past waterfalls, scrambling on rocks, walking ridges, etc. I left many hikes for future visits. I’ll return for certain. I’m always happy when expectations are exceeded!

Yes there were blooms!

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 23-28, 2019


  • First warning about Tularemia I’ve ever seen.
  • The 19-mile road is a slow drive as it has speed limits from 15-35 mph.
  • LNT is a problem with this being in the middle of two urban areas. Bring along a trash bag and help clean up the park. The biggest offenses I saw though was graffiti on the sandstone, plus bikes and dogs in areas prohibited.
  • There always has to be one that say’s “rules don’t apply to me!”
  • Beware of the biological soil. It takes a long time to form and easily crushes. It’s the foundation for plants and restoring desert health. DON’T BUST THE CRUST! It makes finding a backcountry campsite a bit challenging.
  • The port-a-potty requirement is becoming a bit of a standard for dispersed camping in popular desert areas.
  • Love’s and Pilot Travel Centers are good options for showers while in the area.



CO/UT – Dinosaur National Monument

I landed in Fairplay after my Lost Creek Wilderness backpack trip. I was on my way to a wedding in Boise. With a week and 800 miles before my deadline, it was time to update my loose itinerary. Options, options, options . . . 

Weather as usual would play a role.

I decided to put in a few driving miles on this weather day, pushing my way north to Steamboat Springs. I enjoyed seeing the fresh snow dusting the mountains, but most of all these glacier lilies. 

I took a stroll through the Yampa River Botanic Park in Steamboat Springs. It was impressive.

I found more signs of spring as I headed west. 

You know it’s gonna be a bad day when . . . my morning started by accidentally activating my pepper spray in my car, then this deer decided he should take a run at me from behind (surprisingly he/she survived).

Remember those new tires I got a few weeks ago? Well that front tire got smacked hard but no damage thank goodness, although the deer hair was embedded around the rim. I was lucky. My car was driveable and I wasn’t injured. 

Not only does Dinosaur National Monument straddle Colorado and Utah, but it also has several access roads and offers so much more than dinosaur fossils.  Canyon Visitor Center is on the Colorado side near Dinosaur, CO. I was on my way out Harpers Corner Road when the deer decided to smack me. Rather than continuing on into a more remote area I decided it was best to have my car check out. First though I stopped at Quarry Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall on the Utah side. 

I was beyond impressed with what I saw at the quarry. I could have never imagined such a display. My photos couldn’t begin to capture the x size with 1,500 embedded fossils. 

The area marked in red is what’s available for viewing and known as “the wall of bones.” 

The interpretive materials were outstanding. 

A shuttle bus takes you from the visitor center to the Quarry in the summer, or you are guided there on foot in other seasons. You have the option of returning to your vehicle via the Fossil Discovery Trail, a 1.2 mile jaunt. 

I found these beauties along the way. 

I drove Cub Creek Road, and using their interpretive guidebook found more photographic worthy subjects. 

Lots of geology to learn about. 

Petroglyphs can often be found on rocks with varnish (the dark areas) such as these. 

McKee Spring Petroglyphs

Rainbow Park deserves further exploration. 

Car maintenance was the first priority before further travels. 

It worked surprisingly well and held my car together for several months before returning home to have it properly repaired. Yes, it was a great conversation starter!

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 19-21, 2018


  • Fill your gas tank. My #3 near miss on this leg of the trip was almost running out of gas.
  • Avoid wet weather trips if you want to go off the paved roads.
  • This area can get quite hot in the summer. It was in the low 80’s during my visit in late May.
  • One day wasn’t near enough to experience this park. I’ll give myself much more time on my return visit.



CO – Lost Creek Wilderness, Goose Creek Trailhead

Finding early season backpacking opportunities can be challenging, especially when you desire mountains and you are in Colorado. I’d heard Lost Creek Wilderness offers spring trekking potential. 

I watched a storm broil around me the night before I was planning to start my hike. 

Lucky me, I awoke to blue skies. 

With a loop hike in mind, I had a big decision to make. Shall I go clockwise or counterclockwise? Ultimately I decided to go counterclockwise for a couple reasons. First it’s a more gradual climb and the WOW views would be saved for the finale. Second, it eliminated a long water carry up a steep ascent. Thus, off I went hiking north on Goose Creek Trail #612.

My smile couldn’t have been bigger when I found this view and trail as my starting point. What a beautiful forest. 

And then I found some of my favorite flowers. 

I was intrigued with these outcroppings composed of round boulders versus the more common linear rocks. 

I took the very short detour to see the historic buildings. 

Seeing the snow on the ridge had me feeling a bit anxious about being able to complete my loop. 

I hiked westward on Wigwam Trail #609. 

The trail had some fun stretches like this. 

I found a nice spot for first night camp. 

Nearby, easily-accessible water was a plus for these initial sections. 

Temperature dropped to 24F at my 9,600′ campsite. 

The flowers didn’t seem to care about the temperature, they were just happy to have the snow gone. 

At Lost Park, I turned south on Brookside-McCurdy Trail #607.

Reaching snowline increased my anxiety about what I’d find at higher elevations and whether I’d be able to complete the loop. 

Yes it was cold! 

This trail is making me so happy with my decision to explore this wilderness area. 

One big regret was that I hadn’t hauled up more water so I could have spent the day scrambling among these boulders and maybe even spent the night watching an incredible sunset and sunrise. This is Bison Pass and the WOW factor of the loop. I’m so glad I decided to save it for dessert.

As they say all good things must come to an end . . . well at least for now. I have no doubt I’ll be back. 

I was so grateful to find this patch of snow melting into a nice pool of water. I was tired. It had been a long day with lots of climbing and I really didn’t want to push on to the next creek. As long as I had water, I could camp!

The next morning I jumped over to Lake Park Trail #639 to continue my basically southeastern direction. 

I connected to Hankins Pass Trail #630 to complete the loop. 

It took me four hours to reach this creek from my campsite. I would have struggled to make it last night. Once again so thankful for that snowmelt.

I wasn’t happy finding this tick. 

The trail however continued to make me smile. 

The aspen were celebrating spring. 

How about that? Exiting just as another storm is about ready to dump. 

Sprinkles began just as I got into my car. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 16-18, 2018
  • Hiking Stats:



  • Obtain trail conditions and water report at the South Park Ranger Station in Fairplay
  • Leave a mouse trap set with peanut butter in your car; I caught one bugger.
  • Don’t expect solitude on this hike. Even on this weekday, early season jaunt, I saw a few others. A bigger indicator however was the number of established campsites per mile on the last stretch of trail. I’ve never seen such density.



CO – Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

I suck at driving in traffic. It creates the worse type of anxiety. After spending the morning at Paint Mines Interpretive Park northeast of Colorado Springs, I had to reverse direction with Lost Creek Wilderness as my next destination. I was happy to shake off the stress of the drive by visiting Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. 

The Petrified Forest loop trail showcases large stumps of what once was a redwood forest. This one is the largest at 38 feet in circumference.

While there are 15 miles of hiking trails, don’t expect to see any fossils. Many are housed in the Visitor Center. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 15, 2018



CO – Paint Mines Interpretative Park

While in Colorado Springs getting new tires, I noted my map was marked with a nearby POI flagged for geologic and photographic opportunities.

Flowers were nice accents among the sandstone formations. 

I bet these fields come alive with color a little later in the spring.

The bunnies seemed quite happy to claim ownership of the preserve. 

Well the bunnies do have to share with butterflies and ladybugs. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 15, 2018
  • Hiking Stats:



  • Park hours are dawn to dusk
  • Photographers will want to plan for best light on the formations; most are east facing.
  • Signage is excellent. 



CO – Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

It was May 13, 2018 and time to say so long to Joan once again. She’d used up her lollygagging quota and had no choice but to spend the next three days driving as to arrive in Georgia in time to start her new job. Meanwhile I had choices to make. 

Those fields of iris about to bloom were calling me back to the Pecos Wilderness, from which Joan and I had just spent the past four days. 

However, responsibility was pulling me north to Colorado. A couple of weeks earlier I’d stopped for an oil change and tire rotation and learned my tires were in dire shape. They were still under warranty but guess what, no Les Schwab in New Mexico. This was my story from May 1st. Life on the road isn’t always fun. 

The adulting side of me won and north I went. So here I was on May 14th, day 77 and 5,700 car miles into this grand adventure, finally entering Colorado where I planned to spend a significant portion of my summer including hiking the Colorado Trail. 

Since I hadn’t been to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and it was on my way to Colorado Springs, the nearest Les Schwab store, how could I not at least take a peek?

Most visitors were either playing in the sand near the parking area or climbing to the ridge. 

I instead took the path less traveled and found wide expanses completely devoid of other humans. 

While the suede of the dunes was impressive, it was the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that called to me. 

There’s no doubt I’ll be back to hike those great mountains. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 14, 2018


  • Be aware of weather and wind conditions
  • If you are interested in dispersed camping, don’t head toward Colorado Springs
  • Stop at the Visitor Center are you way into the park to



CO – Mesa Verde NP, Chapin Mesa . . . take a step back in time

In my previous post I shared photos from the hikes I took near Morefield Campground (link to related post). When I wasn’t hiking, I was sightseeing along the Mesa Top and Cliff Palace Loops. Far View Terrace and Wetherill Mesa Roads weren’t open yet. I stopped at all the designated points of interest, hiked all the associated trails, and viewed the exhibits. It was early season so there wasn’t much congestion and I was able to fully enjoy everything over the course of a long day. I’m glad I dedicated a day to this area.

Mesa Top Loop Drive

This is a 6-mile drive where you can see a progression of homes and religious structures of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived her for more than six centuries.

Cliff Palace

According to NPS literature, “Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America, with 150 rooms, 75 open spaces and 21 kivas.” I’m disappointed tours weren’t yet being offered during my visit. In the future I’ll make obtaining a reservation a priority.

Balcony House

This is a well preserved unit worthy of a tour. This is a 30-room, 2-kiva structure.

Spruce Tree House

I’m grateful I was able to join a tour in 2015, especially now that it’s closed for the foreseeable future (related post).

From my 2015 visit. Getting to view up close was an incredible experience.

Back to today’s visit. This ruin includes 120 rooms, 8 kivas and 2 towers.

While in the vicinity, I decided to hike the trails.

Far View


What happens when you spend extended time in a Park, chat with the rangers, and visit/hike all open points of interest, roads and trails? You just might earn an honorary Junior Ranger badge. Lucky me! 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 9, 2018


  • If at all possible get tickets for the tours. Thus far my timing has been off but oh how I want to get the up close and personal view plus hear the stories. 
  • Buy the interpretive guides. They are well worth the minimal price.
  • Plan for plentiful walking and hiking opportunities. The miles will add up in a good way.




CO – Mesa Verde NP, North Rim . . . hiking for views!

I first visited Mesa Verde National Park during the winter of 2015 (related post), when much of the Park was on seasonal closure. While more was open during this visit, some would not open for a couple more weeks (i.e. Wetherill Mesa Road and Far View Area). After stopping at the Visitor Center, I knew I wanted to dedicate a day to the Chapin Mesa Area including Mesa Top and Cliff Palace Loops. As such, I decided to begin this trip with hikes around the Morefield Campground area.

Point Lookout Trail 

Morefield Campground was still closed, so I had it and the trailhead to myself. Yep, that’s my lonely car as I headed up the trail. 

Early spring flowers are always a delight. 

How’s that for a view? 

Knife Edge Trail 

Walking the trail, knowing it was once a road, made me really appreciate the maintenance that would be required. I sort of wish they would have left the remains of the vehicles that met an untimely grave. 

Those are rocks in the trail that keep tumbling down the hillside. 

The view from the other direction, with rocks a little harder to recognize in the trail. 

Enough is enough. 

The trail provided a good vantage point to check out snow conditions in the surrounding mountains. 

Prater Ridge Trail 

You can connect Knife Edge and Prater Ridge trails. 

I found more early blooms. 

First-of-the-season ladybug. 

More high perspective views. 

Recent rains filled the potholes. 

Watchful eyes might find some traces of the past. 

Walking through old burn areas is not my favorite, but it really opens up the views. 

There are options to shorten the hike. 

Signage was pretty good, but this was one of the confusing intersections. 

This was the first time I’d seen these stakes. Since then, I’ve seen a couple others. Does anyone know about them? I’m guessing a new type of survey marker. Detailed photo below. 

One of the unusual things about this hike was hiking over the cars, which are going through a tunnel far below.

Once again, I had the trail to myself. 

Park Point Trail 

Fire is such a reality these days. It seems as a hiker you become ultra sensitive to the scars. 

Shiprock is one of the most dominant landmarks. 

A nice identifier of the distant peaks. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 8-10 2018


  • Nearby dispersed camping is available, some with fantastic views like this of the mesa.





CO/UT – Hovenweep National Monument

It’s nearly impossible to visit Hovenweep National Monument without at least driving through Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. They are intertwined in a good way. I think the concept of National Park managed units within BLM managed land makes for a flexible and positive solution. The yellow represents BLM-managed land, which includes Canyons of the Ancient sites. 

According to Park literature, “Once home to over 2,500 people, Hovenweep includes six prehistoric villages built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. Hovenweep National Monument was established in 1923 by President Warren G. Harding.” Four of the units are in Colorado and two are in Utah.

Cutthroat Castle Group 

I was extremely impressed with how the masonry was shaped to fit the surface of the base rock and become nearly a single structure. 

It was cool to see some remaining pottery shards around, even if they’d been relocated to this display. 

The earliest historic record of Cutthroat Castle dates from 1929, when it was documented by archeologist Paul Martin. The site was added to Hovenweep National Monument in 1956. Unlike the other Hovenweep pueblos, the structures at Cutthroat Castle are not located immediately at the head of a canyon, but further downstream. The Cutthroat Group also appears to have a large number of kivas (Puebloan ceremonial structures) relative to other building types. Puebloan kivas are usually built into the earth, and are typically round. An exception is the kiva incorporated into Cutthroat Castle, which rests on top of a boulder.

In Puebloan religion, the kiva is a structure that connects with different worlds. The floor is related to the world below, and is usually built below ground level. The entrance to a typical kiva is through the roof, which relates to the world above. Cutthroat Castle Kiva is surrounded by another structure or room. Access into this surrounding structure appears to have been from below the boulder on which the kiva is built, through a split in the boulder.

Though it may appear isolated, the ancestral Puebloan population at Cutthroat Castle was quite large. Natural resources in the area, particularly the forest of piñon and juniper trees, provided the Puebloans with a variety of useful materials. Piñon seeds were a food source rich in calories and protein. Piñon sap or pitch was used as a waterproof sealant for baskets. Shredded juniper bark was used for clothing and sandals. Trees were burned in fires and used as building materials. In fact, by counting the tree rings present in structural timbers, archeologists can determine exactly when these sites were built.

Researchers studying prehistoric diets have found sagebrush flowers, seeds, and leaves in the Puebloans’ waste. As a minor part of their diet, sagebrush would have been a good source of iron and Vitamin C. In larger amounts, it kills intestinal parasites. Quartz pebbles from stream beds provided material for stone tools. When these rocks are broken using another rock or a piece of antler, they have edges as sharp as glass. Puebloans shaped these hard rocks into tools such as knives, scrapers, and projectile points.

The geology of the surrounding landscape produces springs and seeps. In these canyons, permeable Dakota sandstone rests on top of impermeable Burro Canyon shale. Water from rain and snow soaks through the sandstone, but is forced to flow outward when it meets the shale. When this water reaches the wall of a canyon it forms a spring. For the Puebloans, these canyons with seeps and springs were the ideal place to locate a village. Source: NPS website

Horseshoe Group 

The walking trail to Hackberry Canyon is a one-mile round-trip walk that includes the structures at both Horseshoe and Hackberry. Structures at these sites were built approximately 800 years ago by the ancestors of today’s Puebloan people. Today their descendents are among the Pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona.

Horseshoe Tower is built on a point that marks the start of the Horseshoe Site. From this tower, inhabitants could see clearly into Horseshoe Canyon. At one time, the tower was walled off from the mesa top, raising questions about the use of such structures for defense.

Further along the Canyon Rim Trail is Horseshoe House, which is composed of four masonry structures that together form a horseshoe shape. From the trail it is easy to see the precisely cut stone-masonry that forms the outside wall of Horseshoe House. Each stone was shaped for a precise fit before being set into place. Clay, sand, and ash, mixed with water from seeps in the canyon below, made the mortar that still holds these walls together. One unresolved question is whether specialized masons built these structures, or if the entire community contributed to their construction. Source: NPS website

Hackberry Group 

There’s not much left in this unit; however, I met a team of preservation rangers who were working on this site.

About 500 yards east of the Horseshoe structures is the Hackberry Site. Archeologists speculate that Hackberry canyon may have had one of the largest populations of all the Hovenweep units because of the constant seepage of water in the canyon. As many as 250 to 350 people may have lived here. It is unclear if the residents were related or represented different clans and lineages.

The concentrations of structures at both Horseshoe and Hackberry demonstrate the importance of water to the people who lived here. Large multi-story pueblos and towers, located at canyon heads with seeps and springs, are the defining characteristics of the late Pueblo III time period. In this climate, precipitation comes in the form of winter snows, spring rains, and isolated summer thunderstorms. The intermittent rains of summer were crucial to the survival of crops, and Puebloans responded by constructing water-control features. In washes on the mesa tops, small stone dams were built so that sediment could accumulate and water could soak into the ground, flowing slowly into nearby garden plots.

A 23 year-long drought beginning in A.D. 1276, possibly combined with warfare, overpopulation, and limited resources, forced the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people to leave Hovenweep. By the end of the 13th century, Puebloan communities across southeast Utah and southwest Colorado migrated south, joining the pueblos of the Rio Grande River Valley in New Mexico, and the the Hopi in Arizona. Source: NPS website

Holly Group 

This was my favorite site. I found out later this tilted structure was most likely caused by floods.

Look at the construction where the bricks attach to the rock. 

The petroglyphs were extremely challenging to photograph due to distance, angle and light. But I got at least one spiral to show up. 

The Holly Group is named for Jim Holley who ranched and traded in this area during the late 1800s. Holly Site includes Holly House, Tilted Tower and Holly Tower, located at the head of Keeley Canyon. Traveling the pedestrian trail from east to west, the base of a tower structure can be seen along the canyon rim. This multi-story pueblo called Tilted Tower was built atop a large sandstone boulder that shifted sometime after the canyon was abandoned (A.D. 1300). The upper stories of the tower tumbled into the canyon while the footing remained attached.

The design and construction of Tilted Tower is similar to Holly Tower, which is the large multi-story tower located inside Keeley Canyon. Built atop a large sandstone boulder on the canyon bottom, Holly Tower is detached from the canyon rim, and like many of the towers at Hovenweep National Monument, it is located adjacent to a seep. In contemporary Puebloan culture, springs are special locations associated with stories that talk about the origins of Puebloan peoples. Holly Tower was built sometime after A.D. 1200, and it appears that the tower was constructed without outside scaffolding. Each floor was built from the inside, one floor at a time, building upward. Looking at Holly Tower, you can still see the steps or hand-holds that were pecked into the boulder below the entrance.

Archeological analysis of the Hovenweep towers suggests these structures were used for multiple activities, although some activities were probably very specialized. The presence of grinding stones such as manos and metates indicates plant materials were being ground, probably for food production. Stone tools typically used for chopping, scraping, and cutting suggest a variety of activities associated with daily life were occurring within the towers. The presence of bone awls suggests activities associated with weaving might have also occurred. In addition, archeologists suggest these towers were usually paired with kivas (Puebloan religious structures), and the towers may relate to how the kiva connects with the outside world. The deliberate location of towers and kivas at the heads of canyons goes beyond architecture, and has everything to do with the hydrology of the canyon and the way Puebloan peoples envisioned their world. Some of the towers and kivas are placed virtually on top of the springs and seeps that emerge from these canyons.  Source: NPS website

Square Tower Group

This is the most popular area of the Monument, with most visitors walking part or all of the Little Ruin Trail which passes by the various structures including Stronghold House, Eroded Boulder House, Hovenweep Castle, Square Tower, Hovenweep House, Rim Rock House and Twin Towers. I like how the Sleeping Ute keeps watch over the canyon. 

The Square Tower Group contains the largest collection of ancestral Puebloan structures at Hovenweep. The remains of nearly thirty kivas (Puebloan ceremonial structures) have been discovered on the slopes of Little Ruin Canyon, and a variety of other structures are perched on the canyon rims, balanced on boulders and tucked under ledges. It’s possible that as many as 500 people occupied the Square Tower area between A.D. 1200 and 1300.

Square Tower, for which the group is named, is a three-story tower built on a boulder at the head of Little Ruin Canyon. A nearby spring would have been an important resource for the inhabitants of Hovenweep. To increase water storage, a checkdam was built above the spring in order to slow storm runoff. The unique location and appearance of Square Tower fuels speculation that it was a ceremonial structure. Source: NPS website

Stronghold House: 

Stronghold House was named for its fortresslike appearance, though it is not clear whether its architects designed it or any other structures for defense. The builders may simply have been following an aesthetic sense or responding to the challenges of the terrain. What you see is actually the upper story of a large pueblo, which now lies in rubble, built on the slope below. People entered the house by way of hand and-toe holds chipped into the rock, or possibly by a wooden ladder. Stronghold House has two distinct sections, and the stone blocks are exceptionally well shaped. To your right is Stronghold Tower, built over a crevice in the cliff. At one time, a log bridged the crevice and supported part of the tower. The log rotted away, and most of the tower tumbled to the canyon bottom. Source: NPS literature

Twin Towers 

Together, Twin Towers had 16 rooms. Their architecture is amazing; the two buildings rise from the native bedrock, their walls almost touching. One is oval, the other horseshoe shaped. Their builders skillfully laid up thick and thin sandstone blocks. Original wooden lintels are still in place in one tower. These towers are among the most carefully constructed buildings in the entire Southwest. Note a deposit of soft gray material, which is weathered coal. You also pass the contact between the two major rock formations in this region. The upper layer is sandstone that forms cliffs and ledges and is the rock used in Hovenweep buildings. The lower layer is a shaly conglomerate, made up of pebbles and cobbles interspersed with layers of sandstone. Water cannot permeate the lower layer, but drains out as life-giving springs and seeps. Up the canyon at the confluence of the two arms of Little Ruin Canyon, you see large cottonwood trees, another sign that water is nearby. Source: NPS literature

Eroded Boulder House

Eroded Boulder House is another delightful structure visible in the canyon. It incorporates the huge rock under which it sits as part of its roof and walls. On top of the boulder are a few shaped stones where a tower once perched. Source: NPS literature

Rim Rock House 

Despite its name, Rimrock House may not have been a place where people lived, for it lacks any apparent room divisions. The structure is rectangular in shape and stands two stories high. Many small openings were placed in the walls, at unusual angles. Peepholes for seeing who might be coming for a visit? Observation ports for tracking the sun? Or maybe something as simple as ventilation? Their function
remains unknown.

In the canyon you can see the remains of Round Tower. It is almost perfectly circular and was probably two stories tall. 

Square Tower 

The two-story-tall Square Tower stands down in the canyon. Situated on a large sandstone boulder, it was built in a slight spiral shape, perhaps for added strength or for aesthetics. The single T-shaped doorway faces west. There is evidence of an earlier doorway facing the spring at the head of the canyon. A kiva was excavated beside Square Tower. Unlike many tower-kiva associations elsewhere, Square Tower and its kiva were not connected by a tunnel. Source: NPS literature

Hovenweep House 

Hovenweep House was the center of one of the largest Pueblo villages in the Square Tower group. What still stands was built on solid sandstone bedrock. The rest has crumbled to the ground, but a closer look reveals its former size and pattern. As with other buildings in this area, the masons took great pains with their stonework. Some boulders were pecked on the surface, a technique also seen at nearby Mesa Verde. Small, flat rocks were inserted as spalls, or chinks, in the mortar joints. The walls may have been completely covered with thick layers of claybased plaster. Source: NPS literature

Hovenweep Castle 

Hovenweep Castle consists of two D-shaped towers perched on the rim of Little Ruin Canyon. The stone
walls, two and three courses thick, show detailed masonry techniques. Growth rings on a wooden
beam in one tower indicate that the log was cut in 1277 CE (Common Era), one of the latest dates on any structure in the San Juan region. A residence was associated with the “castle,” but the people who lived here were farmers, not kings and queens. Source: NPS literature

 Cajon Group 

The Cajon Group (pronounced ca-hone) consists of a small village constructed in the same configuration as Hackberry, Horseshoe and Holly. The surviving structures are situated at the head of a small canyon, and evidence indicates that 80 to 100 people may have lived here. Under a ledge in the canyon below are several small structures that may have been built to protect and store water from the spring. 

On the western slope of the canyon stand the remains of a remarkable circular tower that conforms perfectly to the shape of three large, irregular boulders. This round structure on a completely uneven surface demonstrates the skill and determination of the ancestral Puebloans that lived at Hovenweep. Source: NPS website

The earliest people we have evidence of using the area were here during the Archaic period (5500 to approximately 500 BC). At that time, people used the area on an intermittent basis as they hunted and gathered food. The structures you see today were built during the Pueblo III period (1100 to 1300 AD). Tree-ring dating of a beam in one of the rooms indicated the tree was cut in 1168 AD, presumably very close to the time that the room was built. Source: NPS literature


I was very curious about the icon that was used on all the signage at Hovenweep. After much research it seems to represent macaws and the t-shaped doorways used on many structures in the southwest. Why the macaw? They were trade items from Mexico with feathers, remains and petroglyphs indicating they were representative of the period.

Important Reminders

Respect the message. 

Adventure Dates:

  • April 3-5, 2018


  • I was able to drive the roads with my Honda CRV 4×4 equipped with Mud and Snow tires. The roads are dirt with lumpy bumpy flowing rock which you must traverse.