Hovenweep National Monument contains six Anasazi villages, the largest of which is
detailed in the images displayed on this page. Square Tower Group in Little Ruin Canyon
is a group of masonry towers which resemble early European stone castles. The area was
first visited by nomadic Paleo-Indian hunter-gatherers c. 8000 BC, and went through the same
Archaic to Basketmaker to Pueblo transitions as occurred in nearby Mesa Verde. By 1100 AD,
they began building the Tower communities at the heads of canyons where springs were located.
Like the people of Mesa Verde, the Hovenweep people migrated to the south in the late 1200s.

Aztec Ruins was an outlier community of Chaco Culture, and was built between 1085 and 1120.
Aztec was inhabited from 1090 to 1150, when it was abandoned in the midst of the worst 60 year
period of the Great Drought. Locals moved into the structures, then in 1225 Mesa Verde people
took over and made changes to the architecture, building small kivas and dividing larger rooms.
Another drought between 1276 and 1300 hit the area, and in the early 1300s the last inhabitants
abandoned Aztec permanently, moving south to pueblos with more predictable water sources.

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Historical Background

Hovenweep National Monument (Ute/Paiute for “deserted valley”, named by pioneering photographer William Henry Jackson in 1874) straddles the Utah/Colorado border on the 500 square mile Cajon Mesa in the Great Sage Plain. Primarily known for its Anasazi Ancestral Pueblo ruins, the first people in the area were Paleo-Indian hunter-gatherers, who were present in the region from about 8000 BC. Archaic-Early Basketmaker people were present at 20 sites from 6000 BC.

The cultures of the people progressed through the Early Basketmaker II stage, when farming of maize added to the diet from about 500 BC and the people began to live in pithouses (the earliest pithouse, 405 BC, is on Sleeping Ute Mountain), to the Late Basketmaker II period, when pithouse communities became widespread. The farming of maize and squash and the high quality of the baskets, woven bags and other woven goods are additional hallmarks of this period.

From about 200 AD, a succession of people moved into the area who are known collectively as the Anasazi (a Ute/Navajo term meaning “ancient ones” or “enemy ancestors”), also known by the Hopi term Hisatsinom (meaning “ancient people”). This was the Basketmaker III era, when farming became widespread and pottery began to be used for cooking and storage. This is also the period when the bow and arrow began to replace the atlatl and spear for hunting. By 750 AD, they began building structures of stone such as Towers and Kivas, which defined the Pueblo I era.

By 900 AD, these stone-and-mortar residential and ceremonial structures became more widespread, and the Pueblo II era commenced, when villages became larger and double-coursed masonry allowed two and three story structures to be built. By the end of this era (c. 1100), people moved from the mesa tops to the head of canyons near springs.

In the Pueblo III era (1150 to 1350), the buildings seen on this page were constructed. Using masonry techniques that are similar to those at Mesa Verde, the people of Hovenweep built large unit pueblos, multi-story towers, dams and reservoirs, Kivas and moved their fields to areas where water could be controlled. This period was coincident with the onset of the Great Drought, and climatic change is likely to have placed the communities under stress which inspired changes in lifestyle. By the end of the 13th century, the people at Hovenweep had abandoned the area, migrating south to areas with more stable water sources.


Hovenweep Round Tower and Kiva X9823
(554 KB)

On the way to Little Ruin Canyon, the first ruin encountered is a Tower and Kiva. The tower is actually nearly D-shaped, as the section next to the kiva is flattened. Both the Tower and Kiva were reconstructed under Jesse Walter Fewkes in 1920.


Hovenweep Round Tower and Kiva X9825
(543 KB)

This structure was most likely a ceremonial tower associated with the Kiva. Architectural and masonry styles and the pottery found at the site indicate that the people at Hovenweep were influenced by the culture at Mesa Verde.

Jesse Walter Fewkes was an anthropologist, archaeologist and writer who, as leader of the
Hemenway Expedition, documented the lifestyles of the Zuni and Hopi people (early 1890s).
He later joined the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology and surveyed many
ruins in the Southwest, supervising excavations of ancient Pueblo sites including Mesa Verde.
He was instrumental in the creation of National Parks and Monuments to protect these sites
from the widespread vandalism and plundering of artifacts that threatened to destroy them.
In 1917-1918 he surveyed the sites around Little Ruin Canyon, and in 1918 he became the
Chief of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Fewkes excavated Hovenweep in the 1920s.


Hovenweep Little Ruin Canyon Twin Towers X9826
(805 KB)

The largest cluster of ruins in the Square Tower Group of Little Ruin Canyon are between the
canyon fork dominated by the Tower Point Ruin just out of the frame at right, down the canyon
past Rim Rock House (top center) and Eroded Boulder House below it, Twin Towers (top left),
and around the canyon to Stronghold House and Unit Type House. The fragmentary tower at the
right of the image was built across a crevice above Stronghold House (on a boulder below). It was
partially supported by a large log that bridged the crevice, and when the log finally decomposed,
the section which the log supported collapsed into the canyon, taking most of the tower with it.
In the distance to the right of Stronghold Tower are remains of the two story Round Tower.


Hovenweep Stronghold House X9828
(691 KB)

This is the upper story of Stronghold House, which was named for its fortress-like appearance by Fewkes. Much of the rest of the structure is in rubble on the canyon below. Stronghold House was built atop an angular boulder, and along with the Twin Towers exhibits the finest masonry work at Hovenweep.


Hovenweep Unit Type House X9834
(821 KB)

Unit Type House is a perfect example of the Unit Type Pueblo which is found at many of the early sites in the Southwest. The structure is composed of six living and storage rooms around a central Kiva. An “observatory” room has openings which admit shafts of light at the equinoxes and solstices.

Unit Type House is the simplest form of early pueblo, and larger complexes were basically
expansions which were created by repeating this basic plan. The central Kiva, built with fine
masonry technique, is similar to those at Mesa Verde. Pilasters atop a banquette (bench)
supported a cribbed-timber roof, and side rooms were used to store ceremonial objects.
The Unit Type House was most likely inhabited by a single family or a small clan group.


Hovenweep Twin Towers Eroded Boulder X9831
(882 KB)

Twin Towers on the left and Eroded Boulder House on the right are on the south side of
Little Ruin Canyon, opposite Stronghold House and Unit Type House. Twin Towers (as the
name suggests) are adjacent tower structures, one is oval, the other is horseshoe-shaped.
Eroded Boulder House is actually built within the eroded cave inside of a boulder halfway
down the south side of the canyon. The front walls are mostly rubble, but the walls in the
rear of the cave are mostly intact. Detail of the North sides of the structures is below.


Hovenweep Twin Towers North Sides X9831c
(784 KB)

The North walls of the Twin Towers. The smaller East Tower on the left is horseshoe-shaped, and the larger West Tower is an oval. Together, they had a total of sixteen rooms.


Hovenweep Eroded Boulder House X9832c
(783 KB)

Eroded Boulder House is a creative site. A cave eroded in a boulder was enlarged and a multi-room dwelling was built inside. Shaped stones on top are all that is left of a tower.


Hovenweep Eroded Boulder Rim Rock House X9832
(870 KB)

Eroded Boulder House and Rim Rock House on the South side of Little Ruin Canyon.

Deep inside Eroded Boulder House, where the walls are protected, there are impressions
of hands and of a corncob which was used to press the mortar into the joints between stones.

Rimrock House (shown in detail below) was probably not a house, as it lacks room divisions.
Two stories tall and rectangular in shape, the walls have openings at unusual angles which
may have been for ventilation, or observation ports to track solstice and equinox events.


Hovenweep Tower Point Ruin
Little Ruin Canyon X9835

(601 KB)

Tower Point Ruin stands atop the point over the fork of Little Ruin Canyon. It is not likely that it was a guard tower, though.


Little Ruin Canyon Detail X9836c

(500 KB)

Tower Point Ruin overlooks a commanding view of Rim Rock House (right), Twin Towers and Eroded Boulder House (left).


Hovenweep Tower Point Ruin Little Ruin Canyon X9836
(591 KB)

The part of Tower Point Ruin still standing exhibits a circular form and three-course masonry.


Hovenweep Tower Point Ruin X9837
(594 KB)

The existing structure stands eight feet tall. Note the vents or observation ports in the wall and the double-coursed masonry.


Hovenweep Castle X9840
(665 KB)

West section of Hovenweep Castle from the Northeast. This composite ruin is two separate tower-and-room structures.


Hovenweep Castle X9843
(516 KB)

One of the superb masonry pueblos of Little Ruin Canyon, Hovenweep Castle was a
dual structure. The West Tower and Northern Room Block form the Western section,
and the Eastern section was formed of a Northern Room Block, a Central Tower
with a Kiva on either side (North and South), and a Southern Room Block.

The existing parts of Hovenweep Castle form an L-shape. The Eastern section
(from the center to the left) was oriented from North to South. The East Tower (center)
was between two Kivas, which were in turn surrounded by rectangular rooms. The rooms
North of the tower were better constructed, and even now stand as tall as the West Tower.
In between the North Rooms and the East Tower was a Kiva whose walls rose one story.
Due to poor bonding of the corner masonry, some of the corners have collapsed even
though wall faces are intact. The opposite side of the North rooms has collapsed.
In the gap between the East Tower and Northern room block you can see the
East side of the West room block, the corner of which has also collapsed.


Hovenweep Castle X9839
(459 KB)

At the left of image X9839 is the West side of the North Room and East Tower. The masonry collapsed from the corner out. At right is the North side of the West Tower and room block.


Hovenweep Castle West Tower X9841
(505 KB)

The semicircular West Tower, with Room A to the right.
Room A was built later, onto the flat wall of the West Tower.


Hovenweep Castle X9845
(584 KB)

Hovenweep Castle West Tower and Room A (left), and East Tower and the southern rooms (right).
If you look closely, you can see that Room A stonework is not bonded to the Tower, which indicates
that it was built later. Note the typical T-shaped Puebloan doorway visible at the top of Room A.
There is no Kiva located in the West section, but there are two Kivas in the Eastern section.

This style of masonry is named for the nearby McElmo Canyon. This masonry style was also seen in
Chaco Canyon in construction of the late 1100s, and in Aztec Ruins, shown further below on this page.


Hovenweep Castle X9846
(637 KB)

A different angle from the West. You can easily see that Room A is not bonded to the West Tower. Note the entrance at right. All of the rooms of the Western block were connected with internal doorways, but this is the only external entrance.


Hovenweep Castle X9851
(692 KB)

In this view from the South, you can see the cliff side entrance to Room A. The access to the West block would have been extremely difficult if there had not been a multi-story structure below the cliff with a ladder leading to the Room A entrance.


Hovenweep Castle X9850
(694 KB)

The view of Hovenweep Castle from the Southwest. In this view you can get a sense of the
relationship between all of the structures, and a good view of the rubble field below the Castle.
Based upon the amount of shaped-stone rubble, it has been postulated that there was another
structure built around and behind the large boulder below the Castle which has fallen in ruins.


Hovenweep House and Hovenweep Castle X9847
(739 KB)

Hovenweep House in the foreground left and Hovenweep Castle in the background right.

Hovenweep House was the largest pueblo complex in Little Ruin Canyon, but much of it has
fallen. The section that remains is a semicircular structure with two straight walls, one wall
cutting halfway across the arc from the flat side, and the other wall joined to the first in a
T-section crossing to the inner edge of the lower section of the arc. Seems confusing.

Visualize a C with a flat wall coming a third of the way down from the top right, and a
 T with the right edge of the top crossbar contacting the bottom of the flat wall at the
right of the C, and the left side of the crossbar going 2/3 of the way across the C
 leaving a gap at the left. The D-shaped structure was originally completed with
a wall from the right end of the T crossbar down to the bottom edge of the C.

We are looking into a collapsed section of the rear arc of the C, towards
the left crossbar, and the vertical wall that forms the center of the T.

The remaining structure was a small tower in the center of the original pueblo.


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 14 Sections in the Photoshelter Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection

Direct Links to images on this page:

Aztec Ruins & Hovenweep

Indian Lands Select
(150 Selected images)


Hovenweep House, Square Tower
and Hovenweep Castle X9857

(542 KB)

The head of Little Ruin Canyon, with Hovenweep Castle on the right, Square Tower (for which this group of ruins is named) in the center, and Hovenweep House on the left. In the low area between Hovenweep Castle and Hovenweep House, a small checkdam was built to capture runoff from the slick rock.


Hovenweep Square Tower X9853c
(870 KB)

Square Tower stands on a boulder next to the spring at the head of the South Fork of Little Ruin Canyon. The three story tower may have been used to guard the spring, but its location and appearance suggest use as a ceremonial structure. The existing walls have small vents or observation ports, and the walls are slightly twisted clockwise above the second story.


Hovenweep Square Tower X9856
(796 KB)

Remains of a storage structure can be seen in the small alcove above and to the right
of Square Tower. Note the T-shaped doorway on the South facing wall. There have been
many theories regarding the Square Tower, including use as an observatory (unlikely as it
is hemmed in by the canyon walls), storage facility, defensive structure, etc. Many towers in
the Southwest were either associated with Kivas, or were used as isolated ceremonial
structures, but there is too little evidence to determine the function of Square Tower.


Hovenweep Square Tower Hovenweep Castle X9858
(542 KB)

Square Tower on the left at the head of the North Fork of Little Ruin Canyon, and
Hovenweep Castle on the promontory at the right. Note the large amount of shaped
stone on the slope below Hovenweep Castle. This rubble, along with the position
of the South facing door of the Castle directly over the precipice, has fueled the
speculation that a multi-story structure was built on the slope below the Castle
between the cliff face and the large boulder in the right center of this image.


Hovenweep Tower Point Ruin
Little Ruin Canyon X9860

(694 KB)

Tower Point Ruin stands on a promontory overlooking the fork in Little Ruin Canyon. Note the remains of storage structures in the small alcove at right center. Detail shots of the ruin taken from the promontory were shown earlier on this page.


Hovenweep Twin Towers
Tower Point Ruin X9876

(655 KB)

Twin Towers, with Tower Point Ruin and the canyon fork at the upper left. This view from the Southeast shows the door on the flat side of the smaller horseshoe-shaped tower. Detail of the South walls of these superbly constructed towers is below.


Hovenweep Rim Rock House and Sleeping Ute Mountain X9863
(551 KB)

Rimrock House stands atop the Dakota Sandstone mesa overlooking the Sage Plain and
Sleeping Ute Mountain in the distance to the East. Excavations on Sleeping Ute Mountain
unearthed the earliest pithouse dwelling in Colorado (405-75 BC), which is significant due
to En Medio Phase projectile points of the Oshara Tradition found on the site. This period
was one of the transitional phases between the Archaic and Early Basketmaker Cultures.

To the right is the edge of a circle of stones described by Fewkes as a possible shrine.


Hovenweep Rim Rock House X9865
(806 KB)

Rimrock House lack any apparent room divisions, and was not likely to have been a residence. There are many small openings in the walls, placed at unusual angles.


Hovenweep Rim Rock House X9866
(730 KB)

The openings in this two-story structure may have only been ventilation holes, but the unusual angles at which some are placed suggests possible use as a solar observatory.


Hovenweep Rim Rock House X9869
(697 KB)

The only entrance to Rim Rock House was on the partially ruined North side, near the cliff.
Access to this door was originally quite difficult, as walls extending from the Northeast and
Northwest edges of the Northern wall to the cliff face blocked it (the walls have since fallen).


Hovenweep Twin Towers X9872
(725 KB)

The South facing walls of Twin Towers. On the left is the larger oval tower, and on the right,
a horseshoe-shaped tower. These are among the finest constructed buildings in the Southwest.
The towers exhibit multiple courses of variably sized stones, with ‘chinking’ stones in the mortar and
carefully dressed masonry. The Twin Towers had sixteen rooms. The door to the oval tower is in
the Southwest corner, along with a second story window with a view of the head of the canyon.


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 14 Sections in the Photoshelter Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection

Direct Links to images on this page:

Aztec Ruins & Hovenweep

Indian Lands Select
(150 Selected images)


Aztec Ruins was misnamed by early white settlers who thought that Aztec people created the pueblo.
The name stuck even after it was determined that Anasazi from Chaco Canyon had built the Great Houses.
Aztec Ruins is in northwestern New Mexico, north of the town of Aztec and not far from Farmington, NM.


Aztec Ruins West Ruin X9671
(540 KB)

Constructed between 1085 and 1120, the West Ruin Great House has over 400 multi-story rooms,
12 Kivas and a Great Kiva which was restored by the National Park Service in 1934 under the direction
of Earl Morris, who headed the team of archaeologists who excavated the West Ruin in 1916-1922. The
West Ruin and the unexcavated East Ruin had access to water and rich valley bottom soil, and may have
acted as a source of food for the extremely arid but important ceremonial center south at Chaco Canyon
It was abandoned by 1300, when the people migrated Southeast to the Rio Grande and Little Colorado.


Aztec Ruins West Ruin Doorways X9662
(289 KB)

At left, interior doorways in the Aztec West Ruin.

The West Ruin is a D-shaped Great House with several Kivas and a reconstructed Great Kiva in the large central Plaza. It was built between 1085 and 1120, with most of the work done between 1110 and 1120. It has all of the classic features of the typical Chacoan Great House (for more information, see the section on Chaco Canyon). The Chacoans built over 400 rooms in Aztec West, and later subdivisions of larger rooms extended the structure to a total of nearly 500 rooms.

Earl Morris excavated the West Ruin between 1916 and 1922 for the American Museum of Natural History and collected a set of wood samples. Dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating) was a new science at the time, and samples from beams such as those seen in the image at left were instrumental in the establishment of the dates of construction.

The people from Chaco Canyon apparently came north during the period of massive climatic change, first building the Great House at what is now Salmon Ruins in the alluvial valley of the San Juan River during the drought of the late 1080s and early 1090s. They built too close to the river, so when the river went back to its normal volume at the end of the drought, the Chacoans realized their mistake. As a result, when they made their way to Aztec to create the Great House at Aztec West, they purposely built it 400 meters from  the Animas River, which even in flood years has half the flow of the San Juan.

Aztec is the largest Chacoan outlier in the Middle San Juan region. The Chacoans, who developed water management techniques on a small scale at Chaco Canyon, instituted large scale irrigation projects in the area developing large tracts of arable lands. A tremendous amount of corn was grown there, and evidence shows that corn meal was sent to Chaco.


Aztec Ruins West Ruin X9663
(611 KB)

Room 96, a plaza-facing room in the Aztec West Northern room block. Note the niche in the east corner of the north wall. This niche contained a skinning knife, an edged stone flake, and a few pieces of selenite when it was unearthed by Morris.


Aztec Ruins West Ruin Kivas X9664
(498 KB)

View towards the East Wing from room 116, which shows two keyhole-shaped Kivas (Kiva J and Kiva H), each enclosed in a rectangular room. These Kivas were added in the 1200s, after people from Mesa Verde moved to Aztec.

In 1130, a severe drought began that was to last for 60 years. By 1150, the Chaco society began
to decline, and this affected Aztec, which was abandoned. Local people from the San Juan region
moved into the structures and until c. 1185, they used the buildings as they found them. After 1200,
people from the Mesa Verde region moved in and made some changes to the architecture, dividing
some of the larger rooms and building some Mesa Verde style Kivas into other large rooms. These
people from the Mesa Verde region also left Aztec around 1300, after the drought of 1276-1299.


Aztec Ruins West Ruin Detail X9665
(679 KB)

Two rooms in the center of the Northern room block. The room on the right with the intact
second story doorway is room 110. The room had artifacts associated with one of the burials
in the ruin found by Morris during his excavations. This part of the structure is behind the large
circular Kiva in the center of the North room block (Kiva L), which is built within a very large
rectangular room (room 196). In the Southeast corner of room 196 outside the Kiva wall,
a burial was discovered of a young adult female, buried with a Mesa Verde-style pot.


Aztec Ruins T-shaped Doorway X9666
(478 KB)

A plaza-facing room entering the East Wing of the West Ruin at the corner of the North
room block. To the left is the wall of Kiva G. The foreground room (room 53) is one of the
rooms which had been modified by the Mesa Verde people in the 1200s. The sill of the
T-shaped door leading to the next room is nearly two feet above the original floor level,
indicating that it was constructed after the original. The T-shaped door is common
in many of the pueblos, including those at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.


Aztec Ruins Exterior Doorway X9669
(548 KB)

An exterior doorway in the East Wing of the West Ruin.


Aztec Ruins Doorways X9670
(462 KB)

The obligatory aligned doorways shot (East Wing).


Aztec Ruins Great Kiva X9661
(547 KB)

The Great Kiva at Aztec Ruins West was excavated in 1921 by Earl Morris and his team from the
American Museum of Natural History. Morris published a detailed report of his excavation. In 1934
a reconstruction of the Great Kiva based upon the Earl Morris excavation was undertaken. Some of
the assumptions made have been later proven incorrect (for instance, the height of the roof), but the
project was valuable in that it allows people to get a feel for what the interior of a Great Kiva was like.

The Great Kiva at Aztec Ruins is the largest fully reconstructed Great Kiva in North America.


Aztec Ruins Great Kiva Interior X9672
(275 KB)

This shot, from the top of a stairway like the one seen opposite, shows the raised central
firepit flanked on either side by the raised masonry vaults. The purpose of these vaults has
never been determined, although modern Hopi Kivas use a similar structure as a foot drum,
with dancers atop planks acting as living mallets. Notice the sandstone discs next to the
pillars which support the roof. Discs like these were placed into the post-seating holes
to keep the posts from settling into the soil in the holes (original posts were large tree
 trunks seated into the post-holes). At Aztec, pillars were multi-stage structures of logs
and poles, encased in masonry. Detailed information on Kivas and Great Kivas is in
the Chaco Culture section Chetro Ketl page (unreconstructed Chacoan Kivas), and
in this section’s Mesa Verde page (both unreconstructed and reconstructed Kivas).


Aztec Ruins Great Kiva Interior X9676
(251 KB)

The roof itself is different than the intact roofs seen in Mesa Verde at Square Tower House (and reconstructed Kivas at Spruce Tree House based upon knowledge gained from Square Tower House excavations by Jesse Walter Fewkes).


Aztec Ruins Great Kiva Ceiling Detail X9681
(405 KB)

The reconstructed roof is supported on beams which extend through the walls, supporting a radial set of beams which in turn support a spaced set of saplings, which in turn support the cedar splints, which were covered with adobe. Other early Pueblo Kivas have cribbed timbers supported by pilasters.


Aztec Ruins Great Kiva Ceiling X9675
(348 KB)

The height of the original building was not able to be determined, and the construction
of the roof was based on intact roofing material present in the antechamber. The fact that
other Kivas at Aztec Ruins have pilasters, but the Great Kiva does not, indicates that it used
a similar roofing technique to that used for rectangular rooms, but with a massive structure.
The supports and framework had to hold the weight of the roof as well as a foot of earth,
a total load of 90-95 tons. Morris based the height of the roof on his assumption of
the height of the antechamber (8.5 feet), giving the roof a height of over 16 feet.

The Great Kiva was a double-walled structure, with a thin exterior wall and a
relatively thick inner wall. The windows shown pierce the inner wall, allowing in
some light from the ambulatory space between the two walls. The images show
a far greater amount of light than was actually present. The image above is a five
second exposure (f/11), X9681 above right is a 20 sec. exposure. The other two
interior shots (X9672 and X9676) are three second exposures, all at f/11. The
interior is fairly dark, and normally I would shoot at a wider aperture, but the
goal of the shots was to maintain depth of field to show near and far detail.


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 14 Sections in the Photoshelter Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection

Direct Links to images on this page:

Aztec Ruins & Hovenweep

Indian Lands Select
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