Road Trip Pit Stops and Ancestral Puebloans

Over the weekend, I made the long drive to Texas from Utah with my sister and her husband. To help break up the drive we stopped at a couple of places on the way including two national monuments and three LDS temples. I had been to both of the monuments before but my traveling companions had not. Both Hovenweep and Aztec Ruins National Monuments are very important sites with ruins from the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in the four corners region over 700 years ago. If we had more time, we would have also stopped at Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Culture National Historic Park, but those will be saved for another adventure.


This national monument lies on the border of Utah and Colorado south of Monticello, UT. It is a collection of ruins from people who lived in the area over 700 years ago. The most accessible of the ruins is called the Square Tower group and runs along the rim of a small canyon. Many of the structures are right around the top while a few reach into the canyon or are built in boulders in the canyon. It is pretty amazing that these buildings have lasted so long in such good condition since they are completely exposed to the elements.

There is a trail that takes you around the canyon from which you can see the ruins, many of the up close. You can see how they built a dam to collect water and may have farmed on the flat land around the canyon or in the canyon bottom. The trail is only 1.5 miles long and fairly easy with almost all of it being level ground around the canyon rim.

The monument also has other ruins and a campground. Be aware that it is over 40 miles from Cortez, CO, the nearest town and is high desert meaning really hot in the summer and possible snow and ice in the winter. We reach the monument from the west following a road just out of Bluff, UT. After taking this trip, I realized we should have gone towards Cortez and taken the turn off at Dove Creek. This would have been quicker and less driving through middle of nowhere desert/canyon terrain, even though the drive was pretty at times.

Aztec Ruins

This national monument is in the small town of Aztec, NM just east of Farmington, NM. As opposed to the Hovenweep structures being spread out as if individual buildings, this is one big structure with only a couple of outlying buildings. Archeologists are still unsure of exactly what all of the space was used for, suspecting that rather than being used like a large apartment complex it was more like a large office complex.  This is an amazing site to visit and ponder and it’s part of the Chaco UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also considered a sacred site as there are many kivas that were used for sacred rituals and ceremonies.

A visit to this monument begins with a short video introducing you to the Ancestral Puebloans and the significance of the region for these people. When you pay your fee,

Inside the Great Kiva

you are given a guide book to use on a self-guided tour through the site. This is a great feature of this monument because there are two tours given in one book. One tour gives you the more informational version telling you what is what and how it was discovered and so on, while the other gives you an anecdotal tour with stories from the ancestors of those who once lived there and it tells you of the site’s significance to today’s Puebloan Indian cultures.

The tours and video can take you around two hours, but you can do just the informational tour in about an hour. One of the highlights is the Great Kiva, a very large kiva that was discovered during the sites excavation and restored by the discovering archeologist to what the building may have been like when this was an active city.

On our drive we also passed other sites of interest but had no time to stop including Mesa Verde, Chaco, Billy the Kid’s grave, Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque Old Town and so much more. I would love to go back and visit some of these sites especially with the visits I have already made to Ancestral Puebloan sites.

If you are planning a road trip this summer or anytime in the future, be sure to plan a little time for adventures along the way, even if it means getting to your destination a day later, it will break up the drive and make it a more enriching experience.

Now go have an adventure!

One response to “Road Trip Pit Stops and Ancestral Puebloans

  1. Pingback: My World Heritage Adventures | Adventure Patches·

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