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We’re in UTAH, Karen

I have to remind myself that not everyone knows the location of Hovenweep National Monument.   It is one fairly small US National Park site of about 390 in the western hemisphere, and it’s hard to get to.   You really have to want to come here, because it’s just not on the way to anything.

hovenweep-hackberry.jpgHovenweep National Monument is actually a series of small parcels of land scattered across the southeast corner of Utah and the southwest corner of Colorado.   It’s a bit confusing to people, I think, for several reasons.   First off, a lot of people think that only places with “National Park” in their name are actually national parks.   Actually, the National Park Service system includes National Monuments (NM), Nat’l Historic Sites (NHS), Nat’l Recreation Areas (NRA), Nat’l Memorials (N MEM), National Seashores (NS), Nat’l Historic Parks (NHP), Nat’l Battlefields (NB), Nat’l Scenic Trails (NST), and a few oddballs like the John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway (near Grand Tetons).   All told, there are about 390 sites in the United States, plus a few in US protectorates like Guam, Samoa, Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.   The number keeps rising as new parks are being authorized all the time.

To make things more confusing, this national monument is surrounded by another national monument: the recently-formed Canyon of The Ancients Nat’l Mon.   So as you are driving from one “unit” of Hovenweep NM, you are also in and out of Canyon of the Ancients.

But wait, there’s more.     Some national monuments are not in the Park Service system, but instead are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).   Easterners are often not familiar with BLM, but out here in the west BLM owns vast tracts of land, which is often open to recreation, mining, and drilling.   BLM Nat’l Monuments often are just open space with a few primitive 4WD roads and no developed facilities (such as a Visitor Center or campground).   Sonoran Desert Nat’l Mon in Arizona is one example, and so is Canyon of the Ancients.

hovenweep-square-tower.jpgAt Hovenweep, the Visitor Center and campground are in the “Square Tower Unit” of the park, located in Utah.   Today we drove northeast to three other units where more ancient Puebloan ruins can be seen.   The Horseshoe & Hackberry Unit, Holly Unit, and Cutthroat Castle Unit are all located just 4-9 miles away, but they are in Colorado, and they are within Canyon of the Ancients Nat’l Monument.

This results in an interesting study of how the two government agencies administer their land.   The Hovenweep units are fenced, have better signage, pit toilets at every trail head, and are more closely monitored.   Camping is prohibited except at the campground we’re in.   There’s also a day-use fee to access any part of Hovenweep.   The rest of the land is BLM, and the rules are less clear (and possibly less restrictive).   There’s no fee or services in the BLM’s Canyon of Ancients Nat’l Monument.

Visiting all five units of Hovenweep will certainly be a very full day, or even two days.   We have visited four so far, and hiked most of the trails.   To visit the other ruin sites you need only a car (you can hike right from the campground but it adds 8 miles roundtrip to the day), assuming the roads are dry.   If wet, the guides say they “may be impassable.”

The only site that can’t be reached by car is Cutthroat Castle.   You can get most of the way in with a car and then hike down to the sites, or if you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle like us, you can have an interesting drive down and hike just 0.1 miles to the site.   After doing three other hikes, we chose the interesting drive.   4WD Low Range all the way and it was great fun.

hovenweep-painted-hand.jpgBecause of the BLM/NP borders, it happens that the exceptional “Painted Hand” pueblo ruin is also on the same access road as Cutthroat Castle.   Because it is on BLM property (and thus part of Canyon of the Ancients NM), the brochure you get at the Hovenweep Visitor Center doesn’t even mention it, and it’s not depicted on any of their maps.   But it’s right there, almost impossible to miss   as you head to Cutthroat, and you must visit it.   Painted Hand has towers, kiva depressions, pictographs, farming terraces, and great views.   Best of all the round-trip hike is less than a mile.   I’m glad we visited Mesa Verde first, so we knew what we were seeing.

We’re still alone here.   We did see one other couple visiting some of the ruins today, but other than that it has seemed as though this is our own private national park.   We could really stay another night, but we’re juggling our desire to visit Capitol Reef and other places as well.   One limiting factor of this park is that it has no dump station, and because of the remote location they ask that we take all our trash with us as well.   With careful conservation, those factors won’t force us out for a few days, so the choice is ours to make.

5 Responses to “We’re in UTAH, Karen”

  1. Danine Says:

    Go to Capitol Reef!!!

  2. Karen Britting Says:

    Hey thanks, Rich! Now I can search on “Utah” AND my name!

    Hmm… maybe you could add my name to all entries for places you think I’d like! heehee

    — Writing to you from south-or-mid-western North Hero, Vermont. : )

  3. Utah Recreation Says:

    It looks like, from your pictures, you got to see some very picturesque locales. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  4. DesertStream Says:

    Check out the great kiva at Lowry Ruins if you have a chance.

  5. Rich Charpentier Says:

    Rich, glad you got by to see several of my favorite spots. DesertStream is right, get to Lowry as well. Just a super cool spot.

    I need to return there. Been a little more than 2 years since I last walked all those places!

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